The Maoists’ ruthless attack on a convoy of Congress leaders and workers in Chhattisgarh in May 2013 has once again highlighted the nature and intensity of the problem. The convoy was an ideal target for the Indian Maoists, who have been looking for chances to attack. It was a perfect target because of the presence of many high-profile leaders in one place, and that too with less security cover, passing through a most vulnerable area. It is not enough to just assess the incident and move on; the important question should be: What should be done to counter the left-wing extremism?
Despite being dubbed as “India’s greatest internal security threat”, the threat assessment of Left-wing Extremism has not been realistic. The nature of LWE has substantially transformed. From an ideologically driven movement, it has transformed itself into a guerrilla force with its own army, sophisticated arms, weapons manufacturing capabilities, funding sources – internal and external – rigid organisational structure, fertile recruiting base, ideal terrain to hide and thousands of sympathisers across India and even among civil society. What is more worrying is their need-based linkage with both state and non-state actors within and without India. Rapid economic development and improvement of transport and communication infrastructure have added new dimensions to the threat.
However, the present anti-Maoist strategy of ‘Clear-Hold-Develop’ has not taken the real gravity and dynamics of the menace into consideration. LWE is no more a “public order” issue, and falls well within the innermost circle of what Justice Hidayatullah calls “three concentric circles” of threats. Given the inter-State and global nature of the threat, the Union Government is duty bound under Article 355 to “protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance.”
What is required, at the outset, is a political desire, if not the political will, to deal with the entire gamut of the threat. All political parties have to rise above narrow electoral consideration to fight the Naxals. As long as the political consensus on the issue is not achieved, a long-lasting solution to the problem will remain evasive. Leading national parties, along with the concerned State political parties have to take the lead in arriving at a common understanding on the causes, consequences of and counter-measures to left-wing extremism. It should also be noted that the rise of LWE can also be attributed to the failure of moderate political parties in articulating the rising expectations and grievances of the people at the right time in an adequate manner.
The parties, therefore, have to get on to their primary task of ‘interest aggregation’.
It is important to develop a strong participatory mechanism. Grassroots democracy would ultimately prove to be the ideal foil to militancy. They give enough space – for mainstream and regional political parties, civil society groups, or even dissidents – for political action. Provisions under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act that mandates tribal advisory councils to oversee tribal affairs and empowers Governors of each State to intervene in matters where they see tribal autonomy being compromised are hardly used. The PESA not only accepted the validity of “customary law, social and religious practices, and traditional management practices of community resources”, but also directed the state governments not to make any law which is inconsistent with these. Accepting a clear-cut role for the community, it gave wide-ranging powers to Gram Sabhas to approve plans, programmes for social and economic development, identify beneficiaries under poverty alleviation programmes, certify utilisation of funds by gram Panchayats, protect natural resources, including minor forest produce and be consulted prior to land acquisition. The full-fledged implementation of PESA Act would empower the marginalised tribals and, in turn, would deal a bigger blow to the Maoists.
Instead of slackness on account of the prevailing disturbed environment, the administrative apparatus should work overtime to ensure that all socio-economic development and poverty alleviation programmes are implemented with high efficiency and honesty and within an urgent timeframe. Good governance is the key. Attention is also required in making sure that the criminal justice system functions with speed, fairness, transparency and honesty, it is difficult to bring down prevailing “crisis of legitimacy”. Overhauling is required in all three stages of the criminal justice system – investigation, prosecution, and adjudication.
At the operational level, it is only a valuable intelligence that will help in finding the ‘invisible enemy’. The key to success in fighting Naxals effectively lies in obtaining accurate and reliable intelligence. In short, it is enhancing our ability to ‘expect the unexpected’ that holds the key. Although the local police forces are first responders, they are considered the weakest link in the entire response chain. What India requires is, as the Padmanabhaiah Committee advocated, a “highly motivated, professionally-skilled, infrastructurally self-sufficient and sophisticatedly trained police force.” Although the Army’s successful track record in counter-insurgency is well established, its primary role is to safeguard the country’s territorial integrity from any external aggression. The Army, therefore, can be best utilized in training CPOs and state police forces in counter-insurgency tactics, techniques and procedures.
In doing so, the human rights aspect should not be ignored. The core counter-Naxal strategy should revolve around “less fear-mongering” and “more confidence”. Adhering to human rights obligations when combating Maoists helps to ensure that advocates of violence do not win sympathy from the ranks of those harmed and alienated by the state.