Jun 06 2014
With the fall of the organised Communist parties, could another variant of the Reds emerge from the heart of India?
All of them without exception trace their lineage back to the founder of the Naxalite movement, Charu Mazumdar, who was killed in police custody in 1972. Since then, for close to four decades, this rural insurgency has grown, despite police repression and political indifference.
Security experts and analysts who have christened this as the Red Corridor, see in it the germs of future trouble if not addressed in time. The corridor that begins in Nepal, enters Bihar and runs through Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, ends up kissing parts of Kerala. The ensemble, from North to South India, is complete.
According to latest ministry of home affairs figures, close to 60 out of 543 districts in India are under the grip of Maoists. Odisha has nine affected districts, Jharkhand 14, Bihar seven, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh 10 each, Madhya Pradesh eight, Maharashtra two and West Bengal one.
Most Maoists in India gladly admit that they have fraternal links with their counterparts in Nepal, who from a ragtag bunch of rural guerrillas, have transformed themselves into that country’s mainline political force.
By all accounts, the movement in India is currently epicentred in Chhattisgarh, whose thick forest cover provides excellent hiding and training grounds for cadres, most of whom are heavily armed. It is easily accessible; getting into Odisha, Andhra Pradesh or Maharashtra is the easiest thing in the world, particularly when most states lack an inter-state agreement on how best to tackle Maoist violence.
Just what is an affected district? In Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district for example — the country’s worst affected Maoist district — the writ of the state stops running at its district headquarters. Beyond that, in the lush verdant greens, doctors do not attend primary health clinics, which have been taken over by radicals, revenue officials never show up in their offices in outlying hamlets, the lower levels of the district administration are non-existent and the police prefer the safety of their headquarters. Stray industries face a shutdown. No one, it seems, wants to take a chance in the wild.
The ministry of home affairs in a statement to the Lok Sabha last year said that more than 15,000 civilians and security forces had been killed in Maoist or Naxalite-related violence in India in the last six years. In June last year in Chhattisgarh, the entire top leadership of the Congress, including former Union minister VC Shukla, was wiped out in an audacious Maoist attack on a party convoy, which was returning in the evening after addressing a public rally.
The spiral of violence never stops. Despite the pro-poor stand of Maoists, the men and women who have been caught up in the crossfire, are indeed lowly government officials, village doctors, minor constables and poor tribals who have nowhere to go.
But there is also an increasing realisation both in New Delhi and affected state capitals that treating the Maoist problem as a law and order issue, will not do. It is no surprise that Maoism or radical Left brand of politics has come up in some of the most impoverished areas of the country, notably its tribal belt, which has seen steady erosion of tribal values and customs, debasement of land and the deprivation of the fruits of development that have made the rest of the country richer.
There is another paradox here. In 2010, former prime minister Manmohan Singh told Parliament that growing Maoist activity threatened India’s industrial future. Most of India’s minerals are located within sights of this Red Corridor. Coal, iron ore and other linkages have to be obtained for setting up plants but that will not happen if Maoists do not allow companies to come in and set up shop.
The problem here is that we are no nearer to finding a solution because of government intransigence and there appears no meeting point between the two sides. The first round of negotiations between the government and the ultras in Andhra Pradesh in 2005 — the only serious dialogue between the two sides so far — degenerated into a farce.
In May 2012, the Sukma district collector in Chhattisgarh, Alex Paul Menon, was abducted by Maoists. The release was brokered by human right activists and others on the ground that some innocents, who they said had been picked up wrongly, would be released by the state. But that never happened. Now there is more bad blood than ever before.
BD Sharma, a former civil servant and a Maoist interlocutor who is well respected on all sides, told Financial Chronicle: “You can never have peace until the government treats these people as outlaws.’’ Sadly, there seems no way out of this logjam, at least for the moment.
(The author is currently writing a book on Maoists)