Event ReportsPublished on Jun 08, 2017
Justice to tribals only way to counter Naxal movement

On 25 May last month, Naxal movement, India’s longest running internal insurgency which had once spread to 223 districts, turned 50 years old. What makes this violent insurgency based on an Utopian and violent ideology of Mao Zedong, attract thousands of “believers” to its fold? What has been the state responses? Why it has not been able to eradicate this insurgency even after 50 years, despite successes in some States?

Observer Research Foundation organised a roundtable on 26 May 2017, titled “Fifty Years of Naxalbari”, to discuss the various issues. The speakers and discussants included a former Naxalite, human rights activists, serving and former police officials, who have and are helping the state fight this movement, former civil servants, academia, commentators, authors and others.

Despite diverse category and classes of speakers, there was a complete unanimity that the Naxal movement, which thrives on the injustices of the tribals and poors, can be fought only by delivering justice, as well as perceived to be delivering justice, to them. Even the police officers, who successfully led the state’s fight against Naxals in Andhra Pradesh, emphasised on justice and development.

The roundtable was chaired by Mahendra Kumawat, former special secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs and a well known counterinsurgency expert. He opened the discussion by saying that Naxalism is not merely a problem but a major phenomenon. According to him, although this violent movement, which had once spread across 223 districts of India, has come down to 23 districts now, it still possesses serious threats to the state and security forces. Maoist continues to innovate and engage state with their novelty in guerilla warfare and tactics. He added that notwithstanding many valid reasons for protests or uprisings, any violent protests have no place in a democratic republic.

Dr. Niranjan Sahoo, Senior Fellow, ORF provided a quick overview of the Naxalite movement over the last 50 years. The original epicentre of the rebellion was the Naxalbari village in the Siliguri subdivision of the Darjeeling district of West Bengal. The main issues for the rebellion were extreme land inequity, exploitation and tenancy insecurity of bargadars or sharecroppers.

Dr. Dilip Simeon, a well-known historian and author on Naxal movement and trade unionism, shared his deep knowledge of the 50 years’ journey of this armed movement. He said that it is very important for us to be clear on the point whether we are against all types of violence and lawlessness in principle or are we against only one type of violence and lawlessness. Sharing his experience as to why he joined the Naxalite movement in late 1960s, he said he was in a moral crisis when he saw people dying of famine in Bihar and the emotional position was consequently the reason for him becoming a Naxalist. The pull was also because of the international event like the Vietnam conflict that propelled many like him to join the extreme left movement that believed in the overthrow of the government with the use of violence.

To Dr. Simeon, Naxalism is the outgrowth of communism but if we go deep down, it is the outgrowth of the early Indian terrorist movement, much long before communism in the country. Naxalism is a hybrid product which involves communism, Maoism and similar ideologies. Naxalbari was never a chosen place but it so happened since there was an ongoing pattern of uprisings in Bengal countryside which were iconised by Charu Mazumdar. He added that the reason why Naxalite movement has continued for so long is due to the gross injustice perceived by the people. While responding to a question on how can the Naxalite ideology be fought, Dr. Simeon said that the ideology can be fought only with the help of truth and the beginning of justice is acknowledgment of the problem on the part of the government.

Dr. Nandini Sundar, professor at the Delhi School of Economics and a prominent human rights activist, underlined that what is paramount in the country is the Constitution of India which stands on the doctrine of rule of law. She expressed her dismay over the fact that there has been no condemnation from security officials when a war was fought on human rights activists. She explained the wider problem of ‘surrender’ in which the tribal people were picked up by the police officials from their villages and made to surrender, like the case of Poodiyampanda. She said this is being done for financial and psychological advantages as well as to avoid legal framework. It is a way to keep large number of people in police camps for indefinite period of time.

Dr. Sundar also brought to light the negative perception which the tribal people have about the Indian state, especially police, revenue and forest department officials and their exploitative and oppressive tactics. The only way to address violence is to have peace talks and lay down the ground work as the Colombian government did by indulging in rural and political reforms, providing compensation to victims, taking up confidence building measures and the appointment of a Joint Monitoring Committee to study the affected areas. She also emphasised on the need for a third party mediator which is considered by both the Indian state and the Naxalites as neutral.

K Subrahamaniam, veteran police officer, shared his experience while he was preparing a report on the insurgency in Bihar and how the locals ran away as he, along with other officials reached an affected village, showing the mistrust of people. The same people started interacting with him only after a Christian priest joined him. He said that there is a dire need for introducing reforms in police training so that the police is sensitive enough to the rising social issues.

Durga Prasad Kode, former Director General of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and former head of Greyhounds in Andhra Pradesh (AP), highlighted his experience in dealing with Maoists in AP. Citing from an evaluation report, he said that AP tackled Naxalite insurgency through a combination of security operations and development with sympathetic governance. The people in tribal areas have got lands, access to education and electricity and are being provided with safe drinking water. They are no longer dependent on the mercy of landlords and have access to formal banking system. Further, the State made conscious efforts to help women gain economic empowerment and develop political consciousness. Importantly, AP made impressive headway in road connectivity even in the most interior regions which helped State to facilitate development programmes reach these regions. Further, the key reason why Naxals lost their foothold in Andhra Pradesh was because every officer was trained to fight in the jungles and action was taken on multiple grounds. In AP, it was the State that owned the problem and took command over counterinsurgency while the paramilitary were mostly used to guard the establishments.

K Vijay Kumar, Senior Security Advisor to the Ministry of Home Affairs and a former Director General of the CRPF and someone with the experience of directing counterinsurgency operation in Naxal ravaged areas in Chattisgarh countered Dr. Sundar on the issues of police excesses surrendered Maoists. Highlighting the problems faced by the CRPF in the difficult terrains of Chhattisgarh, he said that human rights activists need to understand the extraordinary situation in places like Sukma and the challenges facing paramilitary in bringing roads in such conflict ravaged villages. He sought the attention to the popularity of Jan Adalats run by Maoists to deliver instant justice through fast-track courts. He added that it is the time for the Indian judiciary to rise up to the matter to prevent subversion of our own system. Taking the example of the Sukma district in Chhatisgarh, he said Naxalism is a complex problem and the paramilitary is working with its hands tied (to avoid collateral loss) and is taking more damage on itself. The Indian Government is ready for negotiations with the Maoists -- but only after guns are laid down.

The roundtable generated a rousing debate in the open session where many participants added their rich insights and raised a number of questions concerning the longest running insurgency. There were questions about Indian state’s half hearted response to tackle the root cause of such armed insurgency, issues concerning unresolved land issues in Adivasi dominated areas, the non- implementation of the Fifth Schedule in the affected areas of Chhatisgarh, displacement of poor Adivasis by the government, non- tribal people and corporate bodies and their consequent disempowerment, the insensitiveness of the police officials, the meaning of development as perceived by the people in tribal and non-tribal areas and what have the Naxalites achieved in 50 years. Certain observations were made by the audience concerning the need for uniformity in condemnation of violence perpetrated by both the Left and the Right and the need for developing a counter ideology to defeat the Naxalite ideology -- which has to be the idea of democracy, the need for making the tribal people stakeholders in issues of land acquisition and how through justice only the swamp can be drained.

In the end, there was consensus that justice should be ensured to every stakeholder and Naxals should be welcomed to shun violence and come for negotiations so that the idea of democratic republic can be preserved.

This report was prepared by Kritika Goyal, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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