Who are the Maoists?

Rakesh Mani on India’s Maoist underbelly – despite differences, struck me how much the Naxals share with Pk-based militants (Taliban, Lashkars etc). Change a few words here & tweak a few facts there and this could be about Pakistan’s northern areas and southern Punjab…(Beena Sarwar)

On Red Alert: India’s Maoist underbelly

By  Rakesh Mani
05 May 2010

Over the last few months, and especially after the massacre of Indian security forces in Dantewada last week, many Indians have been pondering over the rise of the Maoist movement in the country.

Who are the Maoists? On the one hand, India’s Prime Minister calls them India’s biggest internal security threat and the Home Ministry tells us that they are merciless killers who want to overthrow the state. Meanwhile, left-wing intellectuals and sympathizers glamorize them and garland them as idealistic revolutionaries who are fighting to build a more just and inclusive society.

And what do they want? The Maoists are not looking for redress or justice for villagers or tribals; they want to re-order society, and shake it up from its roots. Their ambition is to overthrow the Indian state by force and capture absolute power just as Mao Zedong captured power in Beijing in the 1940s.

What began as a small agrarian rebellion against local landlords 43 years ago in a West Bengal village called “Naxalbari” – from where the Naxalite movement gets its local name – has now ballooned into an armed revolutionary movement which controls over 220 districts across 20 states, around one-third of India’s territory.

In reality, the Maoists’ dreams are pure fantasy. The Indian state, which still has not involved the Army in its operations, is far more powerful than the Naxalites or even the Chinese state in the 1940s. Most Indians also prefer our current democratic system, despite its faults and failures, to the alternative of an absolute Maoist state.

The political situation in Nepal is an indication of how things could turn out if the Maoists have their way. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), who won decisively in the general elections 2 years ago, took over the government after a 10-year civil war that cost over 13,000 lives. But as the senior Nepali journalist, Kanak Mani Dixit, has written, “the people of Nepal have been confronted by a Maoist leadership deficient in important ways: lacking in statecraft; issuing threats to all and sundry; creating a lawless land ruled by impunity; undermining each and every institution of the state.”

Despite being the largest part in Nepal’s assembly, the Maoists were unable to lead the peace process and promulgate an inclusive, democratic constitution. Hopes for peace were stalled by the Maoists intransigent demands that their militias be absorbed into the Nepali Army.

The Maoist path in Nepal, India’s backyard, has served to direct Indian debate and consensus away from sympathy with the aims of Naxalites in India.

However, the government’s anti-Maoist offensive, Operation Green Hunt, has been condemned as a brutal assault on poor and disenfranchised villagers by a government bent on regaining control of large swathes of central and eastern India and participating in the corporate plunder of mineral-rich land.

Even those supportive of New Delhi’s position argue that the government has devoted little attention to redevelopment, education and the battle for hearts and minds. A military victory over the Naxalites will prove short-lived unless the circumstances that give Maoist ideology traction in India’s tribal areas are tackled and education is made a strategic priority.

In the public lexicon, the narrative of the Naxalites being a grassroots reaction to decades of economic neglect has become an unchallenged truism. It is true that in the tribal areas of states like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, poverty is so desperate that joining the Naxalite factions is often the only way out. There are no other alternatives to make a livelihood.

Many argue that the answer lies in investment and infrastructural development on a massive scale, which will create jobs, bring economic advancement and draw the tribal areas closer to the union.

As Aaradhana Jhunjhunwala, the Kolkata-based writer, has pointed out earlier, it is not simply underdevelopment and economic backwardness that lies at the heart of people’s distress. It lies in the deficiency of efficient and democratic governance.  Why have Naxalites had the most success in tribal districts over the last decade? It is not accidental. There are clear correlations between areas of tribal habitation and sub-standard levels of socio-economic conditions. The helplessness of tribals in their own matters makes them perfect breeding grounds for revolutionary ideology.

In West Bengal for example, where last year’s violence in Lalgarh shocked the people and embarrassed the government, the Left Front government has been a brutally totalitarian regime that allows no room for debate and dissent. As Aditya Nigam writing in Tehelka magazine points out, “the party’s cadres have been accused of high-handedness, bearing illegal arms, siphoning off state funds and preventing citizens from speaking out against the party. Their activities are unchecked by West Bengal’s police force, which remains hijacked by the Left Front’s leaders.”

As part of their strategic and tactical approach, the Naxalites have consistently presented themselves as a better alternative by taking up battles on tribal issues and drawing up pro-tribal governance policies.

As the historian Ramachandra Guha has argued, “what the Naxalites have going for them is their lifestyle – they can live with, and more crucially, live like the poor peasant and tribal, eating the same food, wearing the same clothes, eschewing the comforts and seductions of the city. In this readiness to identify with the oppressed, they are in stark contrast to the bureaucrat, the politician and the police officer.”

Not much has changed in the Naxalite heartland since the days of the Raj. Tribal issues continue to be dismissed and, despite much lip-service, the state does little to empower the tribals as citizens of a modern and democratic state.

The legacies of colonial legislation, especially the Indian Forests Act and the now abolished Criminal Tribes Act, have ensured that tribal governance neither facilitates entry into modern India nor preserves pre-modern ways of life.

A counter-insurgency strategy that is based solely on economic development is bound to flop. Billions of dollars in investment have already been flowing into the tribal areas for decades through large industrial and mining conglomerates that are keen to strip the land of its resources. The government always has been a willing partner in crime.

More investment into tribal areas has also led to bitter struggles against unilateral land acquisitions and massive displacement. Estimates suggest that while tribals comprise over three-quarters of those displaced by industrial development, their share of new jobs created is only one-fourth. The reason is plain: state-sponsored education has failed the tribal population.

The Indian government, while preventing tribals from exploiting the forests, has done little to provide education and social infrastructure that would equip tribals to find jobs, make a living and succeed in a modern economic framework. In spite of a host of development schemes – from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme – which is yet to be implemented in many districts – to the Integrated Child Development Scheme and the Backward Tribes Initiative – the reality of the tribals situation is unchanged.

Without education, especially primary education, being made a priority, without drastic changes in the governance structures of the region and without adequate representation, development will only further dislocate and alienate tribals.

New Delhi’s long-term focus has to be on deepening democratic institutions in the tribal belt, improving social infrastructure and putting its best face forward. The face of the government ought to be the doctor and the school teacher, not the soldier or the forest official.

The fatal flaw of Operation Green Hunt and of the government’s general approach to the Naxalite issue is that they are rooted in the culture of brutal repression and top-down development. What makes the Naxalites attractive is that they can conjure up an alternate vision of the future. Their future fights the entire superstructure that has historically bred poverty, alienation and displacement in the tribal belt.

As Jhunjhunwala explains, “simply flushing out the Maoist guerillas is no long term solution. The law of the land seems to have fled from the district some years ago, and no one has a roadmap for bringing it back.”

For New Delhi to destroy the false promises of the Naxalite future, it has to focus on giving tribals access to education – and a real stake in their own governance.

Rakesh Mani is a 2009 Teach For India fellow, working with low-income schools in Bombay.

Source : Opinionasia.com



Latest Comments
  1. car gps system