Without a political consensus between the Union Government and the Maoist-affected States, and without breaking the nexus between the States and the Maoists, the insurgency cannot be effectively tackled
The ambush by Maoists on July 2 in Jharkhand reflects the total ill-preparedness of the country against the insurgents. Like the avoidable monsoon tragedy in Uttarakhand, the all-weather Maoist threat afflicting the country will not be resolved anytime soon. Like the monsoon’s invasion of India’s pride, the Delhi international airport, the Maoists will shortly migrate from rural to urban areas. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will then have at least one more chance — at the next Chief Ministers’ meeting — of sombrely declaring that the Maoists pose the gravest internal security challenge to India. This ritualistic twice-a-year reiteration of the threat since 2004 is a record stuck in its groove, which refuses to break.
The recent Darbha ambush in Chhattisgarh, meant to be a wake-up call for the sleepaholic establishment, will pass by, even though it was called by Prime Minister Singh as an assault on democracy that eliminated the Congress’s political core from the State. Nothing, it seems, will shake the Government from its stupor till the Maoists arrive in Delhi, which is their political objective, with the war cry: “Dilli ghere lebo, ghere lebo” (We will besiege Delhi). The tangible cost that India incurs from shadow-boxing the Maoists is more than one per cent of its GDP, according to an estimate.
Why not blame the British? After all, it were they who decided in 1925 to preserve the social fabric and culture of the tribals in the forested Dandakaranya belt — approximately 1,23,000 sq km bordering seven of the nine Maoist-affected States. Like in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan, the British did not extend the administration to Dandakaranya. The Maoists have fully secured 40,000 sq km of this area where they run a parallel administration calling it a ‘liberated zone’. Abujhmad in Chhattisgarh, which the security forces tried to penetrate recently, was found impregnable, covered by three layers of mines and defences — much like the departed Prabhakaran’s sanctum sanctorum in Wanni in Sri Lanka. Colombo displayed political will and national unity to reclaim the liberated zone.
By contrast, New Delhi shied away from mounting a surgical operation in Chhattisgarh in 2005 following an unmanned aerial vehicle detecting a big, hot Maoist camp which, even after the Prime Minister and the Home Minister showed extreme enthusiasm to tackle, was not removed. That is why, while the drains in Delhi may get de-clogged, the Maoist wound will become cancerous.
The reasons for this diagnosis are varied and many. The Maoists are waging a full-blown insurgency to capture political power. It is not, and never was, a law and order policing problem — which is a State responsibility under the Constitution. Internal security is a national issue subsuming considerations of federal autonomy, and needs to be brought on the concurrent list. Justice AK Patnaik recently said that Maoism is due to oversight of Schedule V and VI of the Constitution regarding rights of tribals and forest dwellers over forest land and its produce. While Schedule VI applies to the North-East, the complaint is that Governors have failed to exercise their authority under Schedule V in protecting tribal rights but no one has challenged their exalted omission. Only last month, Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Kishore Chandra Deo wrote a letter to Governors over violations of Article 244 of Schedule V in the failure towards protection of tribal rights. The Law Minister must clarify whether Schedule V as later modified is defective in law and, therefore, non-implementable?
It is apparent that State intelligence and police forces do not have the requisite capability and motivation to subdue the Maoists. Neither do, at present, the Central police forces. Without a political consensus between the Union Government and the Maoist-affected States, without putting aside differences between the ruling party at the Centre and those in the States, and breaking the nexus between the States and the Maoists, no headway can be made. Clearly, there are constitutional, political and capability problems which include the lack of a unified counter-Maoist grid and strategy, backed by a unified command. Special Forces are required as also a more creative employment of the Army and the Air Force, for a breakthrough. The Army was used in West Bengal in 1969 — a full Infantry Division and the Parachute Brigade — to form the outer cordon for the police to defeat the Naxals in the Birbhum forest areas.
The big myth surrounding the Maoists is that they are fighting for the rights of tribals. They’re doing nothing of the sort; they’re are only promoting their political interests. When the Maoists in Nepal with whom they have fraternal links, abandoned the bullet for the ballot and urged the Naxals to join the political mainstream, they were chastised by their Indian counterparts for betraying the people’s armed struggle. The pro-tribal mirage of the Maoists is backed by a platoon of intellectuals who glibly talk of the ‘alternate narrative’: The Maoist understanding of democracy and sustainable development etc, and being Gandhians with guns.
This is a load of gibberish. Maoists are anti-development and have excelled in depriving tribals of what little development State and Union Governments are able and willing to provide. They have demolished schools, health and welfare facilities, roads and culverts, bombed drinking water and sanitation projects... the list is endless. These Gandhians have stuck grenades and IEDs in the skulls and abdomens of dead soldiers. This variety of barbarity was excelled only by Attila the Hun. The misguided intellectuals have put an undeserved halo around their heroes.
The recent consensus in the all-party resolution on dealing with the Maoists was impressive, but it cannot hide the intrinsic institutional handicaps which continue to debilitate State and Central responses. Neither in Jammu & Kashmir nor in the North-East did the Union of India allow the creation of ‘liberated zones’ at any time. Sopore in Kashmir briefly enjoyed this status, but it was promptly cleared by the Army and the BSF. Freeing the 40,000 sq km area, which is equal to the Chinese territorial claim in Ladakh, from the Maoists must be a priority task to re-integrate the tribals. You do not need an all-party resolution like the one against Pakistan and China to reclaim every inch of territory lost.
It is time to implement earnestly a Government policy of focussed security operations, governance and development; restoration of land to and rights of tribals, and political engagement at an appropriate time. But first, we must rectify the deficiencies and defects in the response mechanism in a time-specific schedule.