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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 37, August 29, 2009

Manmohan Singh and Naxal-Maoist Upsurge

Clash of Models of Development

Monday 31 August 2009, by Ambrose Pinto

The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has described the Maoist uprising as ‘the biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country’ as several States, like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, are facing internal insurgency by Naxals and Maoists. The Maoists, in turn, have declared Dr Manmohan Singh as the biggest threat to the security of the country. While the Prime Minister has made it clear that the government will not hesitate to use the armed forces to curb Naxal and Maoist violence in Jharkhand and other places, the Naxals and Maoists have asserted their desire to continue their struggles against the state. During the last three months, the Maoists have killed almost 110 policemen in Chhattisgarh and have been responsible for violence in other parts of the country. The writ of the state has been given a serious blow in Lalgarh area where the Maoist People’s Committee is in full control of everyday affairs and in several other parts of India. In Karnataka the group is getting a hold in forest areas.

Both the Prime Minister and the Maoists are honest and sincere in their statements and pronouncements. They mean what they say. Nobody in the country doubts the sincerity and honesty of our Prime Minister. The commitment of the Maoists and Naxals to create a new social order through armed struggle is also not doubted. What really is then the issue? The real issue is the battle between two models of development. Dr Manmohan Singh represents a neo-liberal model of development which is premised on foreign investments, welcoming of multinational and transnational corporations at the cost of destroying local entrepreneurship and resources. World recession has caused havoc even in the lives of the upwardly mobile. Unemployment is on the increase. There is misery and impoverishment all over the country. Farmers in the country have been committing suicides in the southern part of the country known for years as the more prosperous area than the north. The neo-liberal model has failed. And yet, the Prime Minister and his government continue to talk the language of neo-liberalism. Instead of working on an alternative model of development, in spite of the miseries caused by the neo-liberal model of development, the government continues the rhetoric of the free market.

It is this model of development that the Naxals and Maoists are opposing. They are asking for a local model of development that would not destroy the life and livelihood of the people from subaltern communities instead of the global model. They are asserting for inclusion. Because they are excluded from the present model of development, the Naxals and Maoists have found new recruits who have come to believe that armed rebellion against the state is the only way to break the hold of corporations and foreign capital who are in nexus with the state. Both the Naxals and Maoists are committed to the owning of local resources by local people instead of mortgaging the country for transnationals and multinationals. Their struggle has been for land rights and the right of the Dalits and tribals to control their land. There is an increasing awareness among the poor that the successors of the founding fathers have failed to accommodate the legitimate grievances of the impoverished communities inhabiting India. Instead of working for land reforms and equitable distribution of resources, in recent years the governments have been providing free land and resources to foreign companies. Special economic zones are a theft of the land from the tillers. Corporations have been destroying ecology and environment. They have refused to be accountable to the state. As a result of the neo-liberal policies, the socio-economic situation has worsened of late especially for the poor, the tribals and the Dalits. In fact, the major force of the Naxal and Maoist cadre comes from the members of the socio-economically discriminated communities who have been robbed of their resources in the name of development. At present, the Maoists have a presence in 40 per cent of India’s geographical area and are especially concentrated in a region commonly known as ‘Naxal belt’ comprising 92,000 square kilometres. The reason for the increasing influence of the Maoists and Naxalites is the deteriorating socio-economic situation in vast parts of the country, especially in the rural, tribal and forest regions.

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In the last week of July 2009, according to several NGO organisations, there were mass demonstrations across India demanding democracy in the forests. Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Orissa also witnessed chakka jams, rasta rokos, dharnas, morchas and other protests. Tens of thousands of people joined morchas, dharnas and rasta rokos. Their demands were to halt the Forest Department’s interference, exclusion of rights of holders on forest land to outsiders, and violation of people’s rights under the Forest Rights Act; to recognise tribal rights and power to protect and control their forests and resources; to stop illegally destroying forests and robbing the indigenous people of their resources through diversion for private companies and large projects. There is no doubt, political exclusion and socio-economic underdevelopment lay beneath the estrangement of the peasants, casual workers and tribals. The vicinities in which the Naxalites operate are in dire need of economic development. The local villagers view the new development with tremendous insecurity since they are aware that they will not be able to gain from such developmental projects. The majority of the populace considers economic projects simply an excuse for ‘rapacious developers’ to seize land from the tillers without adequate compensation.

The claims of the Maoists that they are fighting on behalf of the rural poor and the landless peasants cannot be totally ignored. Given the fact that the state has embraced neo-liberalism or market economy, the Maoists justify their actions as part of the political programme to overthrow the Indian state, comprising the big landlord-comprador, bureaucratic, bourgeoisie classes and the multinational and transnational corporations that back them, through armed struggle and establish a people’s democratic state under the leadership of the proletariat. It is unfortunate that civilians have become victims of both the Maoist violence and the State governments’ plans to curb the Maoists. The Maoists have been using force to recruit membership. In many States, the private armies and vigilante groups have been sponsored by the government to counter the Maoists. Tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced by the fighting between the Maoists and counter-insurgents. In one of the worse affected states, Chattisgarh, over 40,000 tribal people have been moved to the inadequate government camps. The Maoists are building up a wider network involving associates in neighbouring countries. The wider strategic motive of the Maoist rebels is to carve out a Compact Revolutionary Zone (CRZ) spreading from Nepal through Bihar up to the Dandakarnaya region of Andhra Pradesh.

Successive Union governments have mooted multi-pronged solutions to resolve the problem of the Maoists but without any concrete result on the ground. Deploying armed forces is no solution. That would only aggravate the issue. Instead the government authorities must show their commitment to implement land reforms, weed out corruption and provide people just and responsive governance in order to deprive the insurgents of their fodder. The Naxal problem is solvable. Unfortunately, politicians and high-ranking bureaucrats do not see it. It will be ugly for the Government of India to mix it up with the jihadi problem or treat it as a law and order issue. The passage of the Forest Rights Act in December 2006 was a historic step forward for the struggle against the autocratic, brutal and repressive rule of colonial laws and the Forest Department in India’s forests. But the mere passage of a law is not enough to overturn a century of oppression. Today, the fight continues for a new order in the forests—one built around democracy instead of bureaucracy, around the people rather than the officials, and around the forests and their citizens rather than the corporates and capitalists. The best way to fight Naxalism is to reform the Forest Land Act to give land ownership to tribals and to share larger amount of profits (from minerals) with the locals. Similarly, it is important to work out land reforms and create employment for marginalised communities. Otherwise, it will be inhuman to fight against Naxalites or Maoists. Theirs is a fight for their legitimate resources and a share in India’s economy that is mortgaged to multinationals and transnationals. When the global economy becomes local and the local economy becomes the economy of the people of the locality, Naxalism and Maoism will surely disappear. On the other hand, if local resources and livelihoods continue to be mortgaged to multinational and transnational companies and the poor are looted of their legitimate resources, the extremist forces would only strengthen themselves.

Dr. (Fr.) Ambrose Pinto SJ, is the former Director of the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi, and the present Principal of St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore

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