Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2009 > October 2009 > A Nowhere Approach to India’s Nowhere Revolution

Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 46, October 31, 2009

A Nowhere Approach to India’s Nowhere Revolution

Sunday 1 November 2009, by Ajay K. Mehra

The political, social and administrative discourse on Naxalism, India’s hydra-headed ‘nowhere revolution’1 , that in the past five years has spread from ten States to twenty, from 168 districts to 223 (out of about 626) and 2000 police stations, is turning queer. With both the Indian state and the Maoists flexing their muscles and daring each other with their might, the space for sane speaking, dialogue and solution, if at all there was ever, appears invisible. An attack on intellectual engagement that could shape a coherent holistic policy, always pernickety, appears to be the greatest damage the current atmosphere has done. All shades of intellectual opinion, ranging from non-partisan critique of strategies on both sides of the fence to veiled or even directly supportive of the ‘revolution’, have been dubbed as ‘Red-sympathies’, leaving room only for bureaucratic and security-centric thinking and policy options. Little wonder, unleashing the full might of the Indian security structure is being considered, including the extent to which the Air Force could be engaged – from their taking on the Maoists on their own or sending the IAF commandos in chopper has been discussed.2

Iniquitous land distribution, development deficit and arising structural impacts, which have been among the main causes of the Red rebellion since the Telangana movement (in a year six decades of its winding up on Stalin’s diktat would be complete) and its resurgence in the 1960s (the legendary story of Naxalbari), 1970s and 1980s (Srikakulam and beyond) and 1990s onwards (the gradual expansion of the so-called Red corridor), 3 is still being kept for attention only on the margins of policy and strategic papers. The States, which over the decades have virtually surrendered their turf to the Maoists for a variety of reasons, are not only looking up to the Union Government to bail them out of this mess, but also meekly following its diktat. Indeed, the Union Home Minister and others in the Union Government do mention that developmental programmes would be speeded up in the Naxal affected area.

In the face of the latest determined belligerence of the government, the Maoists have displayed sufficient resolve. They have rejected both the propositions—their laying down arms as well as coming to the negotiating table. In fact, their response has been reflected in various violent incidents in Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. Despite a veil of doubt on whether Jharkhand Special Branch Inspector Induwar was murdered by the Maoists and the Bihar violence was their handiwork or part of the State’s caste conundrum, the escalation of Naxal violence in the country since the general elections has indeed gone up.

That the complex enigma of Maoism in India deserves immediate resolution is unexceptionable. The resolve on both the sides points to a bitter battle.4 Whether or not the government is able to put an end to this phenomenon, which in fact never died since the Telangana movement, a massive collateral damage, that is being sternly accepted as an unavoidable price, is indeed on the cards. That ‘security action first and everything else later’ argument would surely come in the way of a holistic look at a number of issues and leave the paradoxes where they are, as they have been left unattended with some cosmetic actions in the past, should concern every right thinking citizen of India. The latest example of such a paradox is the massacre of the Musahars (a mahadalit caste in Bihar), which some say is a caste feud rather than a Naxal action, has been highlighted by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar disregarding the D. Bandyopadhyay Committee Report on Land Reforms that he had commissioned. Obviously, a more constructive engagement is called for to treat this festering sore on India’s body politic.

Recent Context

The recent arrests of Maoists Kobad Ghandy and Chhatradhar Mahato and the ‘successes’ of the security forces mark the latest triumph of the government in dealing with Naxalism. Ghandy got into the police net in Delhi while being treated for cancer. Mahato was arrested following a prolonged shadowing leading to a sting operation by the cops posing as foreign mediapersons. Not surprisingly, this method, which creates suspicion on the journalists and could affect future media reporting, has been objected to by the media people internationally.5 Many have also questioned the credibility of such actions. The Union Home Ministry’s current belligerence reflects also in the criticism of the intelligentsia for providing intellectual support to Naxalism and ignoring their human rights violations.6 The MHA has to take into account the attempts by the State Police to harass the media to obviate reporting of rights violations by the security forces.7

Brutal retaliations by the Maoists following these arrests in Jharkhand, where they beheaded a Police Inspector of the Special Branch, and in Maharashtra, where they ambushed a police party killing seventeen of them, reflect the bind in which the Maoists have put themselves. Indeed, doubts have been raised if the Maoists are behind this and other related incidents in Jharkhand and Bihar. For, according to the human rights groups, most of the recent news relating to the Naxals in the media has been police handouts. Given the low credibility of the police in the country, doubts have been raised on the emanating information. However, that the Maoists over the past decade, or more, have tended to use brute force against real or suspected dissidents too is a disturbing reality that has led to paradoxes of various kinds. Therefore, whether a particular piece of news is beyond the pale of doubt does not hide their violent and brutal ways.

Lately, the Union Home Ministry also appears to have turned its face away from the report of the Planning Commission’s expert group on ‘Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas’, an initiative purported to have been aimed at a humane approach to resolving the peculiar challenge that Naxalism poses to the Indian society and polity.8 This much discussed and celebrated report found roots of social support in the Naxal affected areas in prevailing economic inequity and such social maladies as untouchability, deplorable condition and exploitative location of the adivasis, status of women, the unresolved (since independence) land question, politician-bureaucratic-contractor control over forest resources ignoring the rights of the forest dwellers, displacement-rehabilitation problem, and so on. Several of these questions have earlier been raised in numerous researches on this issue. I have particularly highlighted the land, Dalit and adivasi questions as well as developmental dichotomy, displacement-rehabilitation hiatus, dominance structures that continue to be significant locally and operate with the politician-bureaucratic-contractor nexus that has overlapping roles and loyalties.9

Recent advertisements in the national media highlighting brutal violence against innocent people by the Naxals is unexceptionable and a reminder to all peace-loving Indians of the bestiality and futility of the politics of violence, whosoever carries it out in whatever fashion wherever; but particularly in India where the democratic culture is still seeping in. Several scholars, commentators and analysts have criticised the Naxals for democratic deficit and violence, including activities that would be branded criminal even if the utopia of a Maoist state was realised in India.10 However, given the spread of the Maoist violence in India since the mid-1980s, its expansion in different degrees in more than half the Indian States and its concentration in resource-rich but impoverished regions of such States as Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and so on, is an indication of the Indian state’s inability to solve the land question and bridge the development deficit and intervene in social sectors, retreat of the Indian state, consequent acceptance by people (willingly or out of situational constraint) of the logic of violent revolutionary politics and the intricacy that this phenomenon represents. The complexity is not merely about a group of motivated ‘revolutionaries’ pursuing an ideology that collapsed as the world was looking forward to the dawn of a new millennium and its irrelevance in the People’s Republic of China. It is also about various levels of intricately interwoven nexus it operates in and thrives on.

The State’s Logic

The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, chose to speak on his government’s resolve to deal sternly with this ‘greatest internal security threat’ the country faces at an unlikely place – the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai. He also did mention the need for looking at the root causes that lead to the alienation of communities such as the tribals.11 P. Chidambaram too has repeated the development catchphrase. However, a strong message of dealing emergently with the Maoist violence with force has clearly been conveyed by the government. Along with most political parties and State governments, the CPM and the government it leads in West Bengal too have pledged support to the ‘strategy of force’ formulated by the Union Home Ministry.12

Mohan Bhagwat, the new Sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, in his first Vijayadashami speech to the RSS swayamsevaks indicated a five-pronged strategy to deal with Maoism. He prescribed elimination of terrorist activities through simultaneous tough action by the government and the administration; strengthening the security forces by modernisation and empowerment; enhancing the capability of intelligence agencies; extensive training and awareness programme for the entire population on security of individual and society; and freeing the society from unemployment, exploitation and corruption.13 Obviously, given the traditional umbilical ties between the RSS and BJP and the post-2009 elections BJP’s dependence on the RSS, it is likely that BJP’s position would not be any different.

This brings in a rainbow political consensus on how to tackle the Maoist challenge. Since the Naxals have gathered credible arsenal and maximise its use by carefully planned guerilla attacks on the security forces, public officials and establishments with little concern for collateral damage and they even target the perceived hostile civilian population, the logic of ‘force’ being advanced by the Indian state is naturally accepted. The inspiration is being drawn from ‘Operation Steeplechase’ in 1971 that crushed the Naxalbari movement, though not Maoism, with a clandestine help from the Army.14 The present blueprint plans to deploy the CRPF and its Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) force in order to capture back the Naxal dominated areas. The police would be backing them up in the respective States. The media reports suggest that a similar operation planned now would have an equally furtive role for the defence forces. The possibility of the IAF firing at the Naxals in self-defence has been under discussion and perhaps the Army too would form the back-up force, which indeed is likely to be covert. For, though the MHA has ruled out large scale deployment of regular Army units in anti-Maoist operations, Home Minister P. Chidambaram stated recently that small teams of the special units of the Army could be used for ‘surgical operations’, a term pregnant with innumerable possibilities if this is likely to follow the 1971 model. It must be remembered that the Army’s help in commando training for forces specially raised for this purpose is already being taken.15

The Revolutionary Vicious Circle

India woke up to ‘life and freedom’ with revolutionary politics in full swing in the Telangana region, then part of the Nizam’s Hyderabad state. The movement spearheaded by the Communist Party of India (CPI) folded up in five years. By the time it was withdrawn by the CPI on Stalin’s personal advice in 1951, it had become feeble due to the onslaught of the Indian state. However, it did make significant contribution in redistributive justice as far as land was concerned. It is a moot point whether it would have been withdrawn had Stalin not advised the Indian Communist leaders, but the force of the Indian state had weakened it.

Yet, the idea of revolution travelled to another context and State within a decade and intensified after the split in the CPI in 1964. The eventual eruption of the Naxalbari movement in West Bengal in March 1967 brought out the prevailing socio-economic contradictions conducive to revolutionary politics. Another split in 1969 brought a final break between the parliamentary and revolutionary communist movements in India. The significant fact, however, is that Naxalbari movement that gave India’s Maoist movement a name in perpetuity, was weakened by land reforms carried out by the State Government and eventually use of force with covert support from the Army.

But even on this occasion neither the context nor the idea died. Even as the Indian state patted itself for putting an end to the ‘Naxal menace’ by 1972, it sprouted in Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh. The context again was exploitation and landlessness of the tribal population there. It remained rather dormant during the 1970s, but picked up in the 1980s and consolidated since the 1990s. The Indian state has used force from time to time, but aside from objective conditions providing a rationale for Maoism, the rusted internal security structure, corrupt administration and opportunistic political leaders of the country have ended up ceding physical, social and political space to the revolutionary movement.16

Force certainly has not proved to be the panacea to eliminate the violent Maoist movement, which has increasingly become brutal. The prevailing situation is even more complex than what was there in the 1940s and 1960s, even in the 1980s and 1990s. Land reforms have not been carried out in full measure. The farmer’s suicides indicate that the immiserisation of the peasantry continues. The economic boom since 1991 has widened the income disparity in the country. The displacement-resettlement hiatus continues. The tribal situation would take its time to improve with the Forest-dwellers’ Rights Bill.17 The liberalisation-globalisation dynamics has created new structures of exploitation with the emerging nexus of administration-politician-contractor-entrepreneur, at times with overlapping roles.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the Maoist movement has never been short of groundswell of support. The leaders never had problems in mobilising the poor to struggle against exploitation. Interestingly, however, the movement always had ideologues and top rung activists of a very high intellectual calibre. The recent catches show that this trend continues. Just to concentrate on the recent ones, Kobad Gandhy and Anuradha, Vernon Gonsalves, Saketh Rajan, Sridhar Shriniwasan, Sabyasachi Panda, Ravi Sarma and B. Anuradha, all are well-educated and have left behind their comfortable lives to struggle for the poor and the exploited out of commitment.18 While the logic of the state and government does end up blaming the intelligentsia for their sympathies for the Naxalite movement, the outrage on the neglect of the poor and their victimisation, many a time of the innocents that is considered unavoidable collateral damage in anti-Naxal operations, leads some passionate amongst well-educated to struggle for them. Indeed, situations that lead to such logic deserve to be constructively engaged. Unfortunately, the situations and thought processes that have led such persons to the revolutionary ideology have not been unraveled as yet.

Righting the Inhuman Wrongs

Some of my human rights friends point out that currently the urban human rights community is not as much engaged with the issue of Naxalism, which is being taken care of by local groups in the respective areas. The shining urban India is unconcerned with alms-seeking toddlers on every crossroads (literally), it is least bothered about the intricacies of the Naxal puzzle. A majority appears to be with the government’s position: they are blissfully ignorant about the tribal stakes that have exacerbated the issue. Therefore, human rights arguments in favour of the victimised are unlikely to disturb either India or most of Bharat. The Maoists too have prepared a rationale for it. The argument given by P. Chidambaram in New Delhi on October 15 in favour of a strong anti-Naxal action in face of their blowing up public utilities and infrastructure appears unexceptionable.19

Though the human rights community has not generally come out strongly against the Maoists on their attacks against innocents, they have expressed outrage whenever the Naxals have indulged in heinous acts such as the Jharkhand Police Inspector Induwar’s brutal murder.20 The rights groups claim lack of transparency in the way the government has been presenting facts event after event. Many a time, according to them, facts turn out to be different from what has been stated. The Khagaria massacre, for example, was attributed by Dipankar Bhattacharya, the General Secretary of the CPI-ML (Liberation), to lack of land reforms and resulting caste feud rather than on Maoism.21 The rights groups maintain that they criticise the use of extra-constitutional methods used by the Indian state, which breeds more violence. Some, for example, pointed out that Mahato is not a Maoist and his arrest has been opaque. They feel that the government is pressurising them unfairly to overlook excesses by the state machinery.

There is obviously a chasm, which currently appears unbridgeable. This hiatus arises from the fact that the human rights movement has mostly pitched itself on the universality of human rights and the state’s duty to protect them. The Indian human rights community also gets pitched against the state and willy-nilly its stance appears shriller against human rights violations by the state rather than by non-state actors, except in cases of terrorism. And, Maoism is not considered terrorism by them.

Recent thinking, however, shows that the concept of human rights has developed in waves; each call for rights served the purpose of social groups that tried to stop further proliferation of rights after their own goals were reached. Although defending the universality of human rights as norms of behaviour, scholars argue that the philosophy on human rights does not need to be universal. There is a call for a ‘soft universalism’ that will not impose rights on others but will share the experience of freedom and help the victims of human rights violations. Wiktor Osiatynski, for example, has suggested in his recent publication that the enjoyment of social rights should be contingent on the recipient’s contribution to society. He has argued that although a state of unlimited democracy threatens rights, excessive rights can limit resources indispensable for democracy. He further argues that although rights are a prerequisite of freedom, they should be balanced with other values that are indispensable for social harmony and personal happiness. There is a clear message for caution on human rights claims and there is no better issue than Naxalism in which this is applicable.22

These arguments are still not part of the human rights discourse in India. They are thus unlikely to see eye to eye with the government, whatever the appeal. Since the government has decided to go for the security option, it is unlikely to have the human rights groups on board. The current anti-Naxal thrust, therefore, is likely to raise a cantankerous debate between the government and the rights groups.

A Difficult Chase

The first three waves of revolutionary politics were sought to be contained by force, but as demonstrated earlier, two were contained only temporarily. The third one beginning with Srikakulam was never contained. The phenomenon kept spreading. The fourth phase since the consolidation of various factions and groups towards the beginning of this millennium has escalated to the present alarming stage. By now the Indian state, which includes the Union and various State Governments, has ceded considerable ground to Maoism, both physical and moral. I am certainly not arguing that this gives the Maoist liberated zones political legitimacy in Indian democracy; this has nonetheless created the ‘chicken and egg’ debate—security first or development first, because the Naxals sabotage development to deny the Indian state any access to the liberated zones.

This, however, has led to complexification of the politics and anti-politics of the Naxal phenomenon in India that needs to be understood in order anticipate the problems that may arise in the course the anti-Naxal operations likely to be executed soon. First, it is nobody’s case that this security-development vicious circle has to be broken without a high collateral damage. Second, some among the most glaring contradictions that emerged in recent years found expressions in the eruptions in Kalinganagar (Orissa), Singur and Nandigram (both in West Bengal) as well as disquiet elsewhere in the country wherever plans to acquire land to establish industrial projects or SEZs were being implemented. These signs of popular ire emanating from the people’s distrust of the government’s intentions and efficacy about resettlement, for the past record of the Indian state does not inspire confidence, may be lying dormant now, but are not dead. Moreover, aside from the compensation amount, the high technology projects being set up in the acquired land have little space for the uprooted. Naturally, with the people apprehensive of being overwhelmed by the forces of globalisation, which is the new context of ‘development’, the seeds of ‘revolution’ take root.

These also bring out, what has been known for a long time, the nexus between mainstream politics and ultra Left politics. Three recent cases of popular upsurge backed by the Maoists clearly brought out this nexus. Earlier, in Andhra Pradesh both N.T. Rama Rao and Channa Reddy had sought the help of the PWG to improve their electoral fortunes.23 This dichotomy has given rise to all kinds of political incongruities over the years, which still persist. The All India Trinamul Congress led by Mamata Banerjee, now a part of the ruling UPA, was accused of taking Naxal help in the famous Singur and Nandigram movements. The CPM is still accusing her of such a nexus.24 Whether there are other undeclared links is difficult to say. And, whether such undeclared links would come in the way of operations being planned is also difficult to say.

Surely, the Indian security establishment, minus the State Police, must have made a fair assessment of the ground situation as it is preparing to launch the offensive. The likely weaker role of the State Police, which is not upto the challenge, is certainly going to be the Achilles’ heel of this operation. That a Special Branch police officer in Jharkhand, who was not paid salary for six months, was beheaded,25 that the junior officers in the affected States seek security at the level of their seniors,26 shows the state of terror that the Naxals have been able to strike. If the State Police are sitting duck for ambushes and get terrorised to seek security, what kind of security can they provide to the people? Ved Marwah has succinctly exposed the chinks in the State Police’s armour in his latest book and argued for greater coordination, which presupposes a certain degree of efficiency on the part of the State Police.27

Conclusion

The situation is indeed a complex one that deserves caution. Despite the ferocity of the Naxal violence, it would be advisable for the government to minimise collateral damage and human rights controversy for its own credibility. For, a tough win by losing faith of the people would not do any credit to the government, whether or not the human rights community criticises the incident. Besides, this would be strengthening dominant groups and structures of dominance which would continue with their exploitation regime. Setting community against community of the Salwa Judum variety too has not proved to be an ideal model, whatever the official claims. The vulnerable groups—Dalits, adivasis and any other—must be won over. Whether this is possible in a short period is a moot point, but sincere efforts in the form of right policy would definitely help the government.

It is not besides the point that none of the concerned policies—based on The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, the Land Acquisition Act and The Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007—that are supposed to obviate the alienation of the population targeted by the Naxals, has inspired confidence. Obviously, the contentious issues of land, forest produce and rehabilitation and resettlement of the displaced, which have remained tardy since the 1950s,28 will have to be taken out of the chicken-egg dilemma and the government must show visible efforts. It has significantly been noted by various studies that the wages of the tendu leaf pickers, most of whom are adivasis, has improved due to Naxal protest.

Obviously, the report of the expert group appointed by the Planning Commission needed greater attention. In none of the statements and announcements either the Prime Minister or the Home Minister has even referred to it. In fact, in an informal interaction with the media in the Capital P. Chidambaram parried a pointed question on it. The report is succinct, brief and to the point. The Planning Commission also had sponsored a discussion on it involving a cross-section of the intelligentsia.

Police reform, central to any issue of internal security, has been deliberately delayed by the government. Though some of the State Police have special units to deal with what is considered as Naxal terror, there is no replacement to the State Police. They are and continue to be the first line of defence any security issue in the country. Even though it would be foolhardy to recommend waiting for Godot of police reforms before an action is taken on Maoism, the government should visibly be seen to be doing something to be believed.

References

1. See Ajay K. Mehra, ‘India’s Nowhere Revolution: Riddles, Mysteries and Enigmas’, Mainstream, Vol. XLIV, No. 34, August 12, 2006, Independence Day Special, pp. 31-38.

2. See The Hindu, October 8, 2009 and The Times of India, October 9, 2009, p. 13.

3. See Ajay K. Mehra, ‘Naxalism and Militant Peasant Movements in India’ in K.M. de Silva (ed.), Conflict and Violence in South Asia, Kandy, Sri Lanka, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 2000, pp. 235-79; ‘India’s Experiment with Revolution’, Working Paper No. 40, Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics, South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, September 2008, http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/volltextserver/volltexte/2008/8710/pdf/Heidelberg_Paper_Mehra.pdf. for an analytical debate and a contextualised discussion on Naxalism.

4. See Ajay K. Mehra, ‘A Bitter Battle’, The Statesman, August 12, 2009.

5. The globally networked International Federation of Journalists was ‘deeply disturbed’ by the implications of the operation. ‘The police operation in West Bengal compromises the status of journalists and spreads a pall of suspicion over the profession,’ the organisation’s Asia-Pacific Director, Jacqueline Park said.

Columnists and former editors Nihal Singh and Inder Malhotra described the incident as unfortunate. Singh said it had ‘diminished the role and profession of journalists’. Malhotra said he found sting operations problematic and unethical, whether that involved policemen posing as journalists or journalists posing as other people. He said he did not see any public good being served by such deception. The Hindu, September 29, 2009.

6. While the intelligentsia generally comes under direct or indirect verbal criticism, journalists and human rights activists face stern police actions that are most of the time beyond the limits of the law. The case of Binayak Sen, a medical doctor, public health expert and human rights proponent in Chhatisgarh, is among the most blatant misuse of the law and order machinery and the criminal justice system in India on Naxal related cases. His links with the Maoists was established because he treated poor tribals and as an activist of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties also pleaded against their exploitation. Despite the global outrage he spent two years in incarceration till he was granted the bail by the Supreme Court of India. See for details, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binayak_Sen.

7. Chhatisgarh State continues to be among the major violators of human rights. The Indian Express reported on October 7, 2009 the Chhatisgarh Police serving notices to a number of journalists, both print and electronic, for interviewing some Maoist leaders.

A senior cop of the Chhatisgarh cadre recently wrote in the media describing the Naxal violence and questioning any defence of them. While the argument against the Naxal terror is unexceptionable, this does not justify a high collateral damage, or harassing the common people, who are caught in the crossfire. See, R.K. Vij, ‘Reign of Terror’, The Indian Express, October 9, 2009.

8. Government of India, Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas, Report of an Expert Group to Planning Commission, New Delhi, 2008.

9. See Ajay K. Mehra, ‘Naxalism and Militant Peasant Movements in India’ in K. M. de Silva (ed.), Conflict and Violence in South Asia, Kandy, Sri Lanka, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 2000, pp. 235-79; ‘India’s Experiment with Revolution’, Working Paper No. 40, Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics, South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, September 2008, http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/volltextserver/volltexte/2008/8710/pdf/Heidelberg_Paper_Mehra.pdf, and ‘Exclusion, Margina-lisation and Naxalism’, Third Frame: Literature, Culture and Society, 2 (2), April–June 2009, pp. 107–154, (New Delhi, JMI).

10. Ajay K. Mehra, ‘India’s Experiment with Revolution’, ibid.

Also see People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Where the State Makes War on Its Own People: A Report on Violation of People’s Rights during the Salwa Judum Campaign in Dantewada, Chhatisgarh, 2006, http://www.pudr.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid= 48&Itemid=63.

11. Rahi Gaikwad, ‘Naxalism the Greatest Internal Threat: Manmohan’, The Hindu, October 12, 2009.

12. The Economic Times, October 12, 2009.

13. http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name= Content&pa=showpage&pid=312&page=8.

14. ‘Operation Steeplechase’, a joint Army-paramilitary-police operation was carried out in July-August 1971 over a 45-day period that was preceded by the deployment of three full-size divisions, besides the crack 50 Para Brigade to West Bengal. Mercifully, the 40,000 troops deployed managed to create domination without firing a single bullet.

The operation being proposed currently is quite in line with the 1971 experience. In an interview to The Indian Express, Lt. Gen. J.F.R. Jacob (retd), who, as the Chief of Staff of the Eastern Command, oversaw the Army operations against the movement, admitted that the operation was ‘black’, without written orders. ‘I asked for orders in writing from Sam Manekshaw (the then Army chief). He replied that there could be nothing in writing and records were to be kept,’ he reminisced. Manu Pabby, ‘Anti-Maoist Operation has a ’71 Template’, The Indian Express, October 14, 2009, p. 10. Given that the Naxals are better trained with more deadly arms, a violent battle is expected this time.

15. Op. cit.

16. For the historical trajectory of the Maoist movement and its political nuances, see Ajay K. Mehra, ‘Naxalism and Militant Peasant Movements in India’ in K.M. de Silva (ed.), Conflict and Violence in South Asia, Kandy, Sri Lanka, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 2000, pp. 235-79; ‘India’s Experiment with Revolution’, Working Paper No. 40, Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics, South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, September 2008, http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/volltextserver/volltexte/2008/8710/pdf/Heidelberg_ Paper_Mehra.pdf.
17. A recent report from Madhya Pradesh, one of the Naxal affected states, details the fight of the local tribals against ‘a feudal social system, a corrupt Forest Department, or their own fate’. The report from Khara village in Rewa district describes how feudal forces with tacit approval from the local administration still call the shots in most rural India. Explaining the dispute a small piece of land under state forest department that was promised to the tribals for mining, the up-sarpanch said, ‘Even the then SDM agreed to give us pattas for this land, but he was transferred. When we didn’t get it, we seized it. The district administration started a media campaign and termed us naxalites.’ (sic!) Mahim Pratap Singh, ‘The Sorry Plight of Khara Tribals in MP’, The Hindu, October 17, 2009, p. 9.

I would like to highlight the branding of dissident groups, in many cases poor tribals or Dalits, as Naxalites by the local administration in collusion with the local structures of dominance as one of the endemic problems related with this phenomenon. This should be linked to our discussion later on human rights questions.

18. See the report ‘The Big Picture: Regular Rebels’, The Indian Express, September 27, 2009, pp. 12-13 and Srinivas Janyala, ‘Now, A Scientist Held for Naxal Links’, The Indian Express, October 15, 2009, pp. 1-2.

19. Express News Service, ‘PC Lists Damage from Maoist Bandh, Questions Their Agenda’, The Indian Express, October 15, 2009, p. 3.

20. Binayak Sen, the Chhattisgarh icon of human rights who spent two years in jail on charges of colluding with the Naxals, in an interview to The Indian Express (October 9, 2009), condemned the beheading of the Jharkhand special branch police inspector Induwar and other similar acts of violence by the Maoists. He, however, also emphasised that violence in society was a consequence of state violence in India, which was not benign, that is, to protect people. He condemned any kind of violence by the state or any non-state actors. His emphasis was on debating development and implementing developmental policies.

21. Shoumojit Banerjee, ‘Lack of land reforms led to carnage: CPI (M-L)’, The Hindu, October 11, 2009.

22. Wiktor Osiatynski, Human Rights and Their Limits, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

23. I have explored this relationship in greater detail in ‘Left-of-Left: The Link Between Revolutionary and Mainstream Politics’, The Statesman, Friday May 29, 2009.

24. The Times of India, October 9, 2009.

25. Ibid.

26. The Indian Express, October 8, 2009.

27. Ved Marwah, India in Turmoil: Jammu and Kashmir, the Northeast and Left Extremism, New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 2009, Chapter 3.

28. See Ajay K. Mehra, ‘India’s Experiment with Revolution’, Working Paper No. 40, Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics, South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, September 2008, http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/volltextserver/volltexte/2008/8710/pdf/Heidelberg_Paper_Mehra.pdf. for discussion on implication of the displacement-rehabilitation hiatus. I have demonstrated with data that Naxalism has been concentrated in states where the hiatus has been wider. Also see the work by Walter Fernandes on this theme.

The author is the Director (Honorary), Centre for Public Affairs, NOIDA.

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