Meeting the Naxal Challenge
Chair: Dhirendra Singh, Former Home Secretary to the Government of India & President, IPCS
Speakers: E N Rammohan, Former Chief, Border Security Force
Professor Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics
Chair’s Introductory Remarks
The gross failure to implement government policies despite the presence of the required machinery has fueled the Naxal problem. The government lacks the institutional arrangement to understand the situation as a whole and there is therefore, a need to undertake a detailed study of the Naxal issue at the lowest level. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is not in a position to look into the various aspects of the ideology of the Naxals and the economic situation on the ground. The Naxals operate at the local level on the basis of local issues to meet the needs of the people. Is it that the people distrust the government when it comes to handing over land to the government for developmental activities or is it that mining activities have adversely affected their lives?
E N Rammohan
The Huk insurgency in the Philippines was a result of conflicts regarding land ownership. In this case, the landlords owned large stretches of land and denied tenant farmers who worked on these farms their due rights. The cases in both, the Philippines and Andhra Pradesh are similar wherein a small section of the population owned most of land and the rest were dependent on the landlords. Further, the landlords and state machinery, in the form of the local police and other agencies including the political parties share a close nexus which adds to the misery of the people as there is no room for them to express their grievances. Additionally, in Andhra Pradesh, the rigid social structure has done much to exacerbate the misery of the people apart from the issues of government inefficiency and corruption.
Traditionally, the tribals had been shortchanged by traders who would procure the forest produce from them, and subsequently, deny the Adivasis their due economic share. However, in the present day, the discovery of minerals in the forest regions has compounded the problem of the Adivasi people many fold. The Adivasis have now been denied their traditional home lands, occupation and also stand to lose the riches of the forests to big mining corporations who are in a close nexus with the power center in the government. The tribals not only do not benefit from the wealth that the mining activities aim to exploit, but are also being displaced from their traditional lands. They are also disadvantaged by the fact that most of them are illiterate and are subjected to all forms of exploitation.
It is in this context that the history of the Communist Party of India (CPI) becomes significant. The CPI was the first from the mainstream to have had a close interaction with the people of the hinterlands, the adivasis and landless farmers. They were the ones who during independence assisted these people. The areas of Srikkakulam and Telangana in Andhra Pradesh were originally called Agency areas, which meant that outsiders were not allowed to buy land in these areas, thus, protecting the tribals and local population from outside exploitation. The change in the status of these areas was one of the reasons for the rise of Naxalism as the local population lost the land to outsiders who were also exploiting the people. On the other hand, there was no militant leftwing movement in Kerala despite the fact that there was adequate ground for the development of such a movement because of the efforts of the EMS Namboodiripad-led Communist Party of India government which had successfully implemented land ceiling laws and also brought domestic helpers into the fold of labor laws.
The use of air force in the current Naxal conflict as has been suggested by many is not the way to go as one cannot use air power against one’s own people. The role of the Special Police Officers (SPOs) also needs to be understood to understand the present conflict. They are not a special police force, but SPO is simply a designation given to those individuals who act as police informers in the Naxal-affected areas. SPOs are not supposed to travel by public transportation, but are to use government/police vehicles; something that was flouted in the recent Naxal attack in which a public bus was blown up by the Naxals using IEDs. It was the SPOs traveling in the bus who were the real targets. The security forces are also meant to carry out road-clearing operations along with regular patrolling, so as to clear the roads of any landmines, IEDs and other traps laid by the Naxals.
The way to resolve the crisis and address the Naxal issue is by implementing land ceiling laws and redistributing land along with amending the Forest Act. The adivasis must be given their due share and rights. This is to say that the revenue generated through mining is to be plowed back into the area for developmental activities which would improve the living standards of the local people. The government must address the core issues of the problem which relate to the usage of both, land and forest. The people must be given their due rights and there is need for good governance and proper implementation of all government policies/schemes
The MHA is very reluctant to hear alternative views from the civil society. This reluctance is further compounded by the notion that civil society groups are sympathetic towards the Naxals. The MHA is also of the view that where the police cannot enter no one else can enter either, including other agencies of the government and hence, the resistance to allow anyone into the Naxal-affected Dantewada district. The fact is that there are no government services worth any mention in the Naxal-affected areas. There are also serious restrictions on the flow of information and a lack of any proper understanding of ground level realities in these regions, for instance, the serious level of malnutrition which calls for immediate humanitarian assistance. The MHA has been more concerned about the security situation instead of focusing on issues of development; it has not been able to meet the challenges of development and security.
The government of Chattisgarh is very suspicious of civil society actors and seems disinclined to understand the problems that the people are faced with. Civil society actors had drawn up a rehabilitation program to which the government’s response is sufficient to highlight its apathy. The plan categorizes the population into three groups. The first category is of those people who are forest dwellers or partial forest dwellers. The second comprises those who migrated to Andhra Pradesh, fearing for their lives due to Naxal violence. The third category comprises those who had sought shelter and were housed in state camps. The first two categories were dismissed by the government as ineligible for the government’s rehabilitation package. Such discrimination goes to show the disinterest that the government has in alleviating the people’s problems. The first two categories constitute the bulk of the population whereas those in the camps constitute a miniscule of the total population.
Both, the Naxals and state security forces, have violated human rights. Neither of them makes a distinction between combatants and non-combats. Additionally, the atrocities that the Salwa Judum has inflicted on the populace by acting as a law unto itself have also done much to exacerbate the problem. This apart, there is the serous issue of the failure of the judiciary and absence of judicial processes. The people are therefore, faced with a situation wherein the state machinery has failed to provide any meaningful services or grievance redressal mechanisms to them, thereby forcing them to look up to the Naxals to meet their basic needs and resolve their problems.
There is a need to have a high-level monitoring committee on the lines of a truth and reconciliation commission. Further, there is a need to have a uniform basis for the determination of compensation for the kin of those killed in the conflict – whether civilians or security forces personnel. There is also a need for a fact-finding team apart from addressing the issues of land and forest rights. The government also needs to apologize for the atrocities committed by the Salwa Judum and rectify it past misdeeds.
• Guerrilla warfare is aimed at removing the symbols of the state rather than taking on the state machinery head on. This is to say that the guerrillas do not confront the security forces directly, but lay ambushes on smaller formations of the security forces.
• In Andhra Pradesh, the government has succeeded in its policing operation, not in the areas of development and governance. The Greyhounds have only been successful in limiting the scale of operations of the Naxals, but the government is yet to tackle the basic issues that the people face.
• While titles like ‘Greyhounds’ and ‘COBRA’ sound impressive, they often have an adverse psychological impact upon the people. While such names would work in a conventional military operation, they seem inappropriate in the case of internal security threats for the people would instinctively tend to fear the security forces because of such names.
• The state must be involved on both holding operations and also developmental activities. Holding operations mean ensuring that the Naxals do not sprout again once the security forces clear out an area. Such operations would also help destroy the organizational structure of the Naxals. Development activities on the other hand, would be geared towards resolving the basic socio-economic problems of the people.
• How is one to understand the term ‘development’? Should it be understood in the way that multinational corporations choose to define it? Or is development to be understood from the view point of the people wherein their standard of living and life opportunities can improve? This is also accompanied by the issue of the difference between development and protection of the tribal regions since the adivasis are not keen on development being defined in terms of GDP growth rate. Apart from this, the absence of any progress is also a factor that has resulted in the rise of the Naxalites.
• While there are many regions in the country which are characterized by dismal living conditions, similar to the environment in the Naxal-affected areas, these places have not been influenced or affected by Naxals. This can be attributed to the composition of the social structure in these areas. This apart, the mindset of the people is also important.
• The crux of the Naxal problem can be traced to the question of representation of the adivasi regions in the Constituent Assembly when the Constitution of India was being framed. The Northeast region was represented in good numbers due to which the interests of the people were protected through the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The case of Srikkakulam and Telangana which were protected agency regions are examples of this.
• Issues of democracy and development are critical to resolve the situation. This is to say that the issues of governance, justice and rights of the people must be protected.
Research Intern, IPCS