Red Affairs

Naxal Violence: Old Challenges for the New Government

21 Apr, 2014    ·   4395

Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray says that left-wing extremism will continue to be a developmental and governance challenge in the foreseeable future

Bibhu Prasad Routray
Bibhu Prasad Routray
Visiting Fellow

That the Communist Party of India-Maoist (Maoist) does not believe in democratic principles and electoral processes is too well known. The 2014 Lok Sabha elections provided the extremist outfit with yet another opportunity to reassert its vision for the country. In words and as well as with accompanied violence, it proved once more that the probability of a negotiated settlement to the long-standing conflict is rather low.

The CPI-Maoist released three sets of somewhat contradictory statements in March 2014, two signed by the spokesperson of the outfit's Central Committee (CC) and one on behalf of the outfit's Eastern Regional Bureau. Dated 24 March, the CC released its customary boycott of elections calling the affair "another huge financial burden on the people", which can not transform the "present exploitative system." Critiquing all the political parties for their dishonest policies towards the tribals, the statement termed the government's peace proposals "deceptive."

Interestingly, another 19-page document was released by the CC on the same day, which contained answers to 11 questions posed by the media persons to the outfit. Responding to a question on the outlook of the outfit on peace talks with the government, the spokesperson stated that while the outfit is "not against Peace Talks with the government", since talks are "an integral part of the political struggle." However, five demands were outlined which the government must fulfil before a peace process could begin. These included declaring the CPI-Maoist a political movement; de-proscribing the outfit and its front organisations; initiating judicial inquiries into the killings of its senior leaders; stopping of security force operations; and releasing arrested leaders/cadres of the outfit.

The statement surprisingly was hailed as the outfit's declaration for peace by the media, ignoring the fact that the conditions outlined have remained an integral part of the outfit's statements in the past. While the outfit expects the government to fulfil some of its most impious demands, the outfit itself has rebuffed the minimum condition laid down by the home ministry to "stop violence for 72 hours" as the lone condition for starting of a peace process.

Few days prior to the release of the twin CC statements, the CPI-Maoist's Eastern Regional Bureau had issued a four-page 'short-term vision document' appealing the masses to chose between "real democracy" or a "pseudo-democratic system." This document, which effectively constituted a manifesto of the outfit, reiterated the need for a "new constitution" including provisions for "equal socio-economic rights to women" and "death penalty compulsory for molestation and rape." It further called for "freedom of speech and expression, right to congregate and protest, form an organisation, primary health care, access to primary education, primary and minimum employment and compulsory participation in daily governance system." The outfit additionally promised not to suppress the separatist movements with the power of the gun, but to "honour nationalist movements and self-decision to allow them dignified and peaceful co-existence (sic)."

Neither the proclamation of intent for peace nor the declaration of its own manifesto, however, stopped the outfit from carrying out a series of attacks on security force personnel, poll officials as well as civilians in the affected states that went to polls. Compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, during which 19 people were killed by the outfit, till the writing of the article, at least 20 civilians and security forces had been killed in Maoist attacks. 

These contrasting signals emanating from the outfit signify two possibilities. One, peace negotiation as an instrument of conflict resolution does not figure in the imagination of the extremist outfit and its utterances on a peace process are merely rhetorical. Two, the outfit intends to use violence as a bargaining tool in case a peace process with the government comes to fruition.

Faced with this deceptive extremist strategy, the action plans of the political class to deal with the challenge, remains highly fractured. Going by the manifestos of the political parties, the probability that the new government in New Delhi would be able to address the anomalies of the past and chart a new course looks blurry.

While the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promise to deal with the problem with a "firm hand" and a policy of "zero tolerance" respectively, the Aam Admi Party (AAP) prefers a "multi-lateral dialogue." The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) opines in favour of "specific measures to tackle the socio-economic problems" faced "particularly by the tribal people." The BJP insists that "talks with the insurgent groups will be conditional and within the framework of the constitution." The Congress, on the other hand, is silent on the process of dialogue and prefers to pursue "a development agenda to empower people" in the affected areas. While the CPI-M insists that left-wing extremism is "not just a security issue," the AAP reiterates that "socio-economic development and effective political de-centralisation" hold the key.

A project that attempts to reconcile these stark differences is not only difficult, but is likely to produce a compromised and ineffective policy. Thus, in all probability, left-wing extremism will continue to be a challenge, inhibiting growth, development and governance, in the foreseeable future.