By Afreen Hashmi, National Law University, Jodhpur.
The Naxalite armed movement based on Maoist ideology has challenged the Indian State for more than 40 years now. In 1967, unequal land distribution and forced labour led to the first uprising that could be described as Maoist, in Naxalbari village, in West Bengal (where – the word Naxalite now used interchangeably with Maoists originated). The problem is deeply rooted, highly complex and is fought in the heartland of the country and can be considered as one of the biggest internal armed conflicts in the world. The Naxalites have expanded their influence in Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, the areas being gradually called the ‘red corridor.’
The Maoist problem can be traced back to the time of the British Raj when the landlords and revenue collectors, who acted as intermediaries between the British and the rural population, exploited the peasants. The peasants had to pay a certain amount of generated crops to the landlords and collectors. Because of lack of any knowledge concerning agriculture management, the output could not be enhanced as a result of which the peasants failed to give the landlords and the collectors their required share, leading to indebtedness of the peasants and they were now forced to bonded labour on their formerly self – owned land. Most affected were the tribal people.
When Indians took over the political administration from the British Empire in 1947, the issue of land reforms and redistribution was taken up only hesitantly. When the Constitution was adopted by the Parliament in 1950, it did nothing to cure the sufferings of the rural and tribal population. Rather it ratified the existing colonial policy, making the State custodian of tribal lands, denying the tribal population their right to forest produce and turning them into squatters on their own land. The Naxalbari incident was followed by violent attacks in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh (Srikakulum).
All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) was founded in 1968, declaring its aims as: people’s war using guerilla warfare technique, establishing rural revolutionary base areas and encircling cities and abstaining from Parliamentary elections. In 1969, the AICCCR founded the Communist Party of India (Marxist – Leninist). However, some members of AICCCR were not happy with the foundation of the party and subsequently founded Dakshin Desh, an armed party with similar aims. In 1975, Dakshin Desh was renamed as Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). When emergency was declared by Indira Gandhi in 1975, all Naxal organizations were banned leading to a downward spiral of the movement. In 1977, Kondapalli Seetharamaiah, a former leader of CPI (ML) was released from prison. He formed the People’s War Group (PWG) in 1980, giving Maoism in India a new life. Both these organizations, PWG and MCC merged together and formed CPI (Maoist) which is the largest and most powerful Naxalite group.
Naxals predominantly attack State symbols like the police, railway stations, trains, power supplies. However, in contrast to terrorists, the Naxalites mainly engage in discriminate violence, usually picking their targets carefully, trying to avoid collateral damage. The expansion of the Maoists influence must be seen in light of persisiting poverty, malnutrition, constant high numbers of farmer suicides due to indebtedness, harassment and discrimination especially in Naxalite affected areas, and unequal income distribution. Such an environment provides the Maoists favorable grounds to mobilize the disadvantaged and marginalized. The Naxalites receive most support from Dalits and Adivasis. Their causes for supporting the violent movement are manifold. Among these groups persists low degree of employment and qualification, new forest policies with restriction for their livelihoods, cultural humiliation, weak access to health care, education and power, restricted and limited access to natural resources, multifaceted forms of exploitation, social atrocities, displacement and deficient rehabilitation programs and political marginalization. The era of liberalization, privatization, and globalization led to opening up of the Indian economy, which resulted in many national and foreign companies signing agreements with various state governments to exploit the resource rich lands. But the inhabitants of these lands do not get any benefit of its richness. Further, huge dam projects result in displacement of thousands of people and inadequate compensation is given. Thus, these people are not interested in the so – called development projects by the State, providing Maoists beneficial conditions for recruiting as they just have to exploit the prevailing frustration.
Maoists have often destroyed local schools as they claimed that they were used by security forces as base camps. They have also forced teachers, doctors and other governmental official to fulfill their duty in remote areas. In addition the Naxalites have contributed in decreasing exploitation of tribal workers, enforced higher wages for Tendu pickers, a job often carried out by tribals. Their financing derives from looting of banks, extortion, taxes and royalties of forest producers.
The success of Maoist movement is deeply rooted in the weakness of the State to fulfill its functions and responsibilities. Weak governance, government financial aid not reaching the bottom of the society, lack of security, failure to ensure upward social mobility, absence of roads, sanitation and electricity, underdeveloped schools, health care centers and police stations, inefficient and corrupt administration lead to frustration and loss of confidence in the State by the residents of the respective areas. Subsequently, the State loses its turf to the Maoists as it is not able to address the basic needs of the population. Maoists attack on symbols of the State challenges the sovereignty and monopoly to use force, hence, putting the State’s legitimacy in crisis. The State’s reaction to the challenge is mainly based on force. Operation Green Hunt was initiated by the State in 2009 to engage Naxalites into fights and expel them from their areas of influence. The security forces have been alleged for committing several human rights violation during their operations and exploit fake encounters. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the State should not support Salwa Judum militia operating in Chhattisgarh. The militia was a spontaneous reaction on the violence of Maoists for the reason of self defense and was accused of recruiting child soldiers as well as committing human rights violations, such as torture, killings and rape. Gradually, the government has reacted to some root causes, such as displacement, restrictive forest policy and unemployment by passing acts and laws like NREGA, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 as well as the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, 2007. Doubts can be raised whether these acts have reached the people in need and implemented successfully or not.
Naxalism is not India’s biggest threat but merely reflects India’s real threats like large scale poverty, hunger and injustice. It is a symptom of failure of the Indian State to provide human development for its citizens. The State must start to fight the conflict legally, minimize collateral damage, strengthen leadership and abstain from human rights violation. The State is at war against a part of its own people and this war cannot be won militarily. It will persist to be a part of Indian politics and society as long as the State does not acknowledge the nature of the movement and actively look for long term solutions.