“A Maoist who surrenders shall get a three year fixed deposit of Rs 300,000 and in addition to this, Rs 2,500 will be paid every month to the Maoist”, says a Union Home Ministry spokesman. This is based on the assessment that Naxalites are mostly indulging in criminal activities and that the right financial incentive will wean them away.
Such a policy will result in a miserable failure. While a minority of the Maoists are indeed conducting their operations for criminal gains, most of their activities are concerted, ideology-based operations. There is no doubt that these have the colour of crimes against the state. It is surprising that the central government is unaware of this fact. At a time when the home ministry is evaluating policy options, it is opportune to consider the ground realities of the Naxalite movement. Here are some observations based on discussions with experts, one of who was part of the aborted Naxalite dialogue with both the Telugu Desam and Congress governments.
Violence as a ‘hook’
Social inequalities, the widening gulf between the rich and the poor, exploitation by the higher castes in Andhra Pradesh and more importantly the loss of self-respect by the downtrodden helped in establishing Kondappally Seetharamiah’s Peoples’ War Group (PWG) in the 1960s. The PWG used violence as a tactic to motivate and encourage the lower cadres. The first such brutal murder of an exploitative landlord was in 1978 when one Pitambar Rao was killed publicly. Such killings came to have social acceptance among the lower classes of society. Further, Seetharamiah sent young students to the forests to indoctrinate the tribals and agriculturists. They used to look after the needs like education and conduct medical camps during epidemics while governments hardly did anything. Gradually people in these areas started accepting the PWG’s parallel government which was free from corruption.
The three phases
Naxalite philosophy runs into three stages: First, the “organisational” phase when overt activities will be pursued to gain influence. They work with villagers and spread influence. At this stage the violence is less but the need for an organisation is more. This is the stage when they appropriate popular causes, as now seen in several states like West Bengal (Nandigram and other SEZs), Kerala and Delhi through front organisations. In this stage the “state” is more powerful than the Naxalites. During this stage they also develop grass-roots contacts to migrate into the second stage. Kondappally Seetharamiah had sent nine volunteers thirty years ago to Dandakaranya to spread Naxalite philosophy. The result is now seen in this area which straddles Chhattisgarh, parts of Madhya Pradesh & Maharashtra, where a parallel Naxalite government functions.
The second stage involves identifying “guerilla zones” where they undertake punitive strikes. At this stage the state and Naxalites are equal in power. The third & final stage is a “peoples’ mobile war” where they try to overrun weak states, as we see in several pockets now. They also undertake killings of political leaders to create a vacuum into which they step in and take over the reins of power.
Many years’ work
All the present top leaders of the Naxalite movement were student leaders and volunteers in 1977-80 who lived with villagers and tribals, mak-ing lists of atrocities. They followed a system of 1+2 (One leader and two followers) while interacting with the affected villagers. What we see today as parallel government in these areas is the result of these efforts twenty years ago. The government neglected all this until it became a gigantic problem. In fact, the seeds of the movement date back to the Telangana armed resistance (1946-1951) where bonded labour and hill tribes revolted against the landlords under the Nizam rule. Village squads numbering 10,000 members were formed while the guerrilla forces numbered nearly 2,000. It was said that nearly 3,000 villages were “freed” from Nizam’s rule. All that the present leadership had to do was to reignite the fire—the exploitation had not changed much since Independence. It is difficult to eradicate the Naxal movement as long as the reasons exist.
Naxalites have re-invented themselves and are now taking up new causes which automatically follow from what they call “LPG”: Liberalized, Privatized & Globalised Society. They are now taking up popular issues like displacement, caste equations and retail businesses. They are also considering having a “Pan-Asia Maoist Group” for better coordination among the likeminded across the region.
So, why do people join the movement despite the hardship of life of living in the jungle and facing a constant threats from the police? According to the experts in Hyderabad, the life of the common man in many Indian villages is so miserable that they have no hope of any solution to their problems, whether it’s because of exploitation by landlords or atrocities by the upper classes. There has always been a “disconnect” between the administration and the masses. They have no faith in the bureaucracy. They find the Naxalite parallel government to be more effective and honest. One of the welcome developments in rural India is the respect for the downtrodden by upper classes after the Naxalite phenomenon.
A different objective
It is commonly asked why Naxalites—the Indian Maoists—cannot abjure violence like their Nepali counterparts and join the parliamentary system. Such a question ignores the differences between the two movements. The Nepali stream wanted abolition of Monarchy and establishment of a multi-party democracy, which they have nearly achieved. Nepalese Maoists are more like the Indian Communist parties. On the other hand the aim of Indian Maoists is to overthrow the present “semi-colonial & semi-feudal” government which increasingly resorts to violence to maintain its hold over society. An interview with the spokesman of the Indian Maoists, the October 2007 issue of People’s March, the mouthpiece of Indian Maoists clearly reveals the differences between the Indian Maoists and their Nepali counterparts over the constitutional approach being undertaken by the latter. Indian Maoists are more like the “Anarchist” ideologues of Europe.
Though the European anarchists could not practice what they preached, the Indian Maoists have succeeded in putting in practice a smooth revenue collection agency, an administrative framework and significant offensive military capability. The Naxalite leadership believe that the masses support them and that it is only a question of time before they capture power. They have no plans on what to do after they “take over power”. They are clear in their objective, and seem to be possessed by conviction. The top leadership is dedicated to their goal, and are unaware of the incidence of extortion for personal gains among lower cadres. For a villager, it is the local militant who matters. It is not true that the movement receives foreign funds. There is no need for it since big factories located in the tribal belt or gas pipelines pay huge amounts to Naxalites.
Governance initiatives can solve the problem
A case study of a tribal village named Gangapur in Adilabad district—once a hotbed of Naxalite activities—indicates how Naxalism can be countered by genuine development. This village used to depend upon the market in Kadam, 40 kms away. The main road was located 16 kms from the village. The tribals used to trek all the way around a hill to sell their paddy or forest produce. Very often, money lenders or traders used to make them trek again to collect the payment for their produce. The village school was unmanned since no teacher was ready to work in that remote place. This was the sort of situation that is the breeding ground for Naxalites until a police officer named Mahesh Bhagwat decided to study the situation by meeting the villagers. He was told that a road connecting their village with the main road which will help in marketing their produce will solve their problems. Mr Bhagwat used all his influence to get a road constructed in 2004. The local two-term Member of Parliament had not thought of this at all. In fact, he was ridiculed by the public when he came to attend the opening ceremony of the road.
Now the villagers are able to bypass Kadam and sell their produce to other markets. Since Gangapur is located on the Maharashtra state border, they are even able to sell cotton at a higher price. Wholesale traders from Maharashtra now send their trucks to Gangapur to collect the produce. Teachers have started coming to their school. The net effect is that Naxalites have “vanished”.
There are thousands of such villages which need attention. One innovative police officer was able to remove Naxalite hold without firing a single shot. This is in glaring contrast to what is being done by successive governments who are undertaking development only to serve the rich. A glaring case is that of Chandrababu Naidu, the former Chief Minister, in building a Formula One race track ignoring other concerns. Meanwhile police officers are generally not interested in doing this type of work since they earn rewards for killing Naxalites: One from the Government and second from traders who pay them informally.
Almost all states make the same mistakes in tackling the Naxalite situation: First, they underestimate the impact. Second, when faced with Naxalite violence, they over-react by treating it to be a law and order issue, bringing in the police who use force. Since the Naxalites usually employ “Hit & Run” tactics, this counter-violence by police usually targets innocent villagers who then turn against the state. Further, governments dominated by city bred officers do not realise that a tribal is wedded to life in the forest and rooted in the land. The tribal is not a “Wage-earner” but a “Hunter-gatherer”. The efforts of all the Indian states, especially the Tribal Development Corporations, is to convert the tribal into a Wage Earner, which is unlikely to succeed.