The expanding influence of the ideology of violence being perpetrated by Naxalite groups in various parts of the country is being traced to a variety of socio-economic factors. But of late an animated debate on the role of illegal mining in feeding violent activities of the Naxalite groups has been hogging the limelight. The thesis of developmental experts is that in addition to causing widespread environmental havoc, the illegal mining has been a major factor behind the alienation of tribals, who have become a major source of recruitment for the Red Army.
With the Naxalite groups finding it difficult to recruit educated and ideologically motivated youth, illiterate and poverty stricken tribals have become the mainstay of their frontline fighting force. But unlike the educated youth, these tribals have no fascination for the philosophy of Mao and Stalin. These least motivated tribals for whom the struggle for existence is acute, soon get disenchanted with the “cult of violence” perpetrated by the Red Army and surrender to the police with a promise to lead a normal life. Perhaps such disillusioned tribals could be deployed to expose the hollowness of the Naxalite movement even as developmental process in the Naxalite hit areas are sped up. Of course, the pressure on Naxalite groups to surrender should be mounted through the limited use of force. A carrot and stick policy could do the trick of bringing the Naxalite cadres to the mainstream.
Incidentally, the Naxalite activities are more pronounced in the forest rich, mining stretches dominated by various indigenous tribals groups in comparison to other parts of India. There is no denying the fact that areas dominated by Naxalites lack basic amenities and infrastructure forcing the people to lead ‘a sort of existence’. Poor development along with bureaucratic high handedness have conspired to drive the tribals into the arms of the Red Army.
Against this backdrop UPA(United Progressive Alliance) chairperson Sonia Gandhi did not find it difficult to strike a direct correlation between rampant, illegal mining in the tribal dominated stretches and Moist extremism. Rightly, Sonia Gandhi has described the illegal exploitation of India’s mineral riches as a ‘serious problem’ with profound political, economic and social implications. ”Dealing with Naxalite challenge will call for fundamental innovations in the manner in which our mineral resources are exploited and our forests are managed. What is worrying is the high degree of convergence between areas of tribal deprivation and left wing extremist violence. Protecting the rights of the tribals and ensuring their livelihood are central to bringing about an end to their exploitation and sense of alienation,” observed Gandhi.
But then the speeding up of the development in areas under the influence of Naxalites often labelled as ‘Iiberated zone’ is easier said than done. Winning the confidence of the people is vital for the government agencies to initiate developmental activities by taking into account the socio-cultural milieu of the inhabitants in the areas under the Naxalite influence.
Meanwhile, the decision of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to not give green signal to bauxite mining project of the London based Vedanta Resources in the tribal dominated Niyamgiri hills in the poorly developed Kalahandi distric of Orissa has been widely welcomed. For the triblas who consider the forest rich Niyamagiri mountain to be sacred and also a source of their livelihood, the decision has come a big relief. In fact, the committee chaired by NC Saxena, a member of the powerful National Advisory Council was clear that permitting bauxite mining here would have deprived two local indigenous groups, Dongria and Kutia Kondh of their rights over the proposed mining site in order to benefit a private company. The committee also felt that permiting mining would have alienated the tribals and shaken their faith in the fair play inherent in the law of the land. On a more practical plan, this mining project would have deprived the tribals of their livelihood.
For centuries the two tribal groups in this part of the country have been leading a contended life by harvesting forest resources in a sustainable manner. Allowing mining would have not only prevented tribals from accessing forest resources but also dealt a blow to their farming operations through the blotting water sources. Moreover, experience shows that mining activities hardly benefit the local population. An alienated tribal group could easily end up in the fold of Red army.
The 7 May ruling of the Indian apex court makes it clear that natural resources were national assets and local communities enjoy entitlements, if not full ownership, on them. By giving a practical shape to this directive, a people friendly growth strategy could be implemented in Naxalie hit areas with a focus on equitable growth and inclusive socio economic growth. Indeed, now there is a growing realization that the solution for the problem of Naxalism lies more in butter than in guns. But at about the same time a cardinal question that wouldneed to be answered is :how long can the developmental process be stymied in the name of environmental protection and people’s livelihood. Perhaps the best way out would be involving the local people in such activities that are pursued in an eco friendly manner.
A Rs500 million a year plan for the fast track development of Naxal hit, backward areas mooted by the Government of India would focus improving basic social infrastructure in 60 Naxal affected backward districts. But it is important that this plan should be people friendly and result oriented instead of being expenditure oriented. Ultimatley, it should demonstrate that the solution to Naxalism lies more in butter than in guns by transforming the targeted area into an oasis of peace and development.