Originally Published 2004-05-12 10:45:08 Published on May 12, 2004
The recent US decision to blackball People¿s War (PW) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) may have revived interest in the naxalite movements, nearer home in India. While there can be no two ways about the State and the society fighting militancy, insurgency or terrorism, there is need to study the social causes and implications of such a trend. That way, we can reduce such incidents and instances, if not totally eliminate them.
Social Evolution & Militancy: Past and Prospects
The recent US decision to blackball People's War (PW) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) may have revived interest in the naxalite movements, nearer home in India. While there can be no two ways about the State and the society fighting militancy, insurgency or terrorism, there is need to study the social causes and implications of such a trend. That way, we can reduce such incidents and instances, if not totally eliminate them. This becomes all the more significant in the current Indian context, as localized acts of militancy, with or without foreign funding and participation, make it both easy and difficult to tackle at the national-level. If the elimination of a 'revolutionary leader', or his imprisonment, may have robbed the movement of its glow and halo, in the absence of such a figure-head, it becomes as much difficult for the law-enforcement authorities to neutralize them as it is difficult for these organizations to whip up public sentiment. 

Today, it may have thus become difficult for people's movements like the anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu, the 'Nav Nirman movement' in Gujarat, the 'JP movement' in Bihar, or the 'foreigners issue' in Assam to take root. Rather, such movements defy even conceptualization and leadership in the present situation, as the revived 'Telangana movement' in Andhra Pradesh is proving to be. Unlike its earlier avtar, the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti has failed to enthuse the locals on to the streets, relating their deliberations and decisions exclusively to the ballot-box. This is true of other causes and movements as well in our times it has not already given way to gun-culture of the naxalite or Kashmiri kind. With no 'external agency' at work greatly as in Kashmir, it has also become that much more difficult for the police forces in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, to tackle the spread and hold of the 'naxalite movements', in the absence of a centralized leadership even at the individual State-level. 

Initially, this may have contributed to the inability, or the inherent unwillingness of the police forces and intelligence sources in these States to have predicted the possibility of 'militant communism' spreading its tentacles across new areas and States. It was too localized to the village or taluk-level for them to have bothered about. But it has since acquired serious proportions, with the result in the last Assembly elections in these States, including Bihar, the highest toll in violence was attributable to the 'naxalite groups'. And not all of them were inter-linked, or inter-connected. This time round in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls too, naxalite attacks have claimed the highest toll in these States, as compared to traditional acts of poll-related violence attributed to musclemen of political parties and candidates. 

How much, and how far have the evolving social and political systems contributed to it all? If Europe has had its quota of wars and war-mongering for every 'enlightened generation' through the twentieth century, India, under the colonial yoke, did have its quota of revolutions, starting with the various faces, paces and phases of the Independence movement. This was followed by the socio-economic agenda of a free nation, which has since acquired a new look and ideology in the form of 'economic reforms'. Between the two stages lies a potential time-bomb, waiting to explode in small bursts. At the right time and conditions, under an imaginative leadership, it could acquire a larger-than-life form. 

Remedial measures could help, but should not come too late, as in the case of the naxalite movement of Andhra Pradesh, or other militant groups in the North-East. At least the 'native Kashmiri militancy', as different from the Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism, has had a 'developmental agenda' before it was overwhelmed by the latter. For, today, it's these militant groups that are opposed to development, and it is they who sabotage new roads and police stations. At an advanced stage of militancy, where the original cause is naturally replaced by incidental and incremental events, they see these roads and police stations, not as recognition of their very cause. 

Instead, to them, these are vehicles of oppression, to put them down with a heavy hand. Militancy has acquired a new idiom, cause, relevance and justification to individuals and groups, and the original cause is no more their collective cause. Hence, the deliverance for the masses whose cause they were supposed to have fought for long is no more welcome. As such, any State or societal action to stall such a course has to act early on. True, there will still be causes and comrades, but that is no excuse not to take stock, and take note.

What is the Indian experience? True, there used to be external factors behind militancy in the North-East. But the fact remains that the North-East did not actively participate in the freedom movement as the rest of the nation, and so the emotional linkages with the 'mainland' was not there. Even today, it is not there, but nothing much has been done to remedy the situation. To most people in the North-East, it is still "India", not "our country". The frenzy of the new-generation national media to beat the race has incidentally led to a situation, whereby they freely quote Kashmiri separatists criticizing "India", and not the "Centre" for their woes, real and imaginary. It is another matter that it is no more West Asia for the Indian readers and viewers of the local media, as it used to be until a decade or so back. It is as much 'Middle East' to India as it is to the US and the rest of the West. 

It is a pity that the post-independence development in the country also skipped the North-East for most parts. With missionaries and their educational institutions going to States like Assam early on, with the oil-find over a hundred years ago, literacy and educational levels are comparatively high where available and accessible, but employment opportunities have not been keeping pace. The 'Indian neglect and indifference' of Assam and the rest of the North-East at the height of the 'Chinese aggression' continues to be a thorn, and the 'foreigner issue' of the early Eighties was seen as an extension of such indifference. The agitation also led to the regionalisation of politics and political administration in Assam, for instance.

The situation is no different elsewhere in the country. In Tamil Nadu, where 'education and enlightenment' came early after Robert Clive obtained the revenue administration of most of the State, we have witnessed 'democratised militancy' in the PMK cadres cutting down trees on the highway in the Seventies. The earlier generation had its anti-Hindi agitation. The free meal and free education schemes of the Kamaraj and MGR eras have pulled the lower strata of the society to newer heights. It is their social frustrations that have found expression in such incidents and developments.

In the last decade or so the 'social percolation effect' in the State has resulted in caste-based political outfits. Unfortunately, most of them have failed to live up to the imagination of their leaderships, and expectations of these communities. With the result, the core problems remain to be solved. A future generation that would fail to trust such leaders as they erupt could take recourse to militancy. This could be either at the village-level, taluk-level or district-level. Even the divided Dalit revival in the State has followed such a pattern, and it is unfortunate that the leaderships have not lived up to the aspirations of their communities. 

It is no different even in the case of 'Islamic terrorism' in Tamil Nadu. Starting with the enlightenment of the upper strata of the community in the early days, it passed through the 'backward classes' of Muslims through the Seventies and Eighties. Today, the 'Muslim revival movement' in the State is centred on early converts from what are now identified as SC-ST communities. In the absence of political expression and leadership worth their name, these groups have taken to terrorism, given the various appeals it has for them.

In a way, even the rise of 'Islamic terrorism' in central and western India, as different from the 'Kashmir-centric militancy' in the border State may be attributable to the absence of a credible and acceptable Muslim leadership in the country. By offering to guardian the Muslim community after Partition, the Congress wily-nily has liquidated a Muslim leadership of the community, particularly at the political-level. 

So much so, at one stage the acceptable leader of the Muslim community in Uttar Pradesh, was a Brahmin, the late Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna. Today, with political percolation of the Dravidian kind all too visible in UP, the popular political leader among the Muslim community is said to be Mulayam Singh Yadav. As for the Muslim leadership, Salman Khurshid of the Congress failed to come down to the level of the Muslim masses. Not one of the 41 members of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board is known beyond his village, at times even his family - and there are as many factions in the Board as there are members. And they are the ones representing the community on the crucial 'Ayodhya issue'.

Contrast the UP situation with that prevailing in neighbouring Bihar, and the picture may become somewhat clear. While the socio-political percolation was sudden in coming in Uttar Pradesh, it has halted in a way in Bihar. If the 'Ayodhya issue' was also an expression of the frustrations of upper caste Hindus, the 'Ayodhya demolition' later on triggered 'socio-political re-engineering' of the kind signalled by the 'Mandal row' earlier. It was thus that that the BJP, after consolidating its upper caste vote-bank through the 'Ayodhya issue and demolition', lost to the SP-BSP caste-combine in the post-demolition Assembly polls of November 1993. The subsequent split between the Samajwadi Party, representing backward class interests, and the Dalit-backed BSP was only to be expected, given the 'percolation effect' attending on such re-engineering.

In contrast, the percolation is not as yet complete in Bihar. Here, the personality and power of Laloo Yadav, for whatever reason, has stalled it mid-way, at the level of the backward classes. The Dalits need an expression when they most need it, and this has led to militancy, naxalism, or whatever in rural Bihar, spreading to Jharkhand. The situation is no different in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, and for near-similar reasons. Only the details may vary.

This is only one aspect, and pertains to the past, and at best the present. Thinking of the future, it is States like Tamil Nadu that should once again come to the mind. So should be States like Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, for near-similar reasons. Here, a decade back, rural parents were selling off their small land holdings to send off their semi-literate, semi-skilled sons to labour-class jobs in the Gulf. In more recent times, the families were selling off their lands to send their children, son or daughter - and that is a social change - to engineering colleges. There is neither recognition, nor jobs, particularly in the last two or three years for these engineers, who have taken up odd jobs at call-centres and the like. 

Combined with this, the sudden withdrawal of educational subsidies and employment opportunities at the governmental-level could be a cause for social disturbances in the future. Where as a school drop-out of a post-peon has had a secured Government job fetching him up to Rs 10,000 a month, with pension, et al, his post-graduate son (if not an engineer) is now languishing as a despatch clerk in a private courier agency for a fourth or fifth of that salary, with no hopes of bettering it in any substantial way, in the near or distant future. The dichotomy is striking when you consider individual cases. The frustrated youth may have no hopes for, or from the existing political set-up and the administrative system, which have to take the blame, not all of them unwarranted.

True, the services sector may have decentralised job-opportunities, but not to the extent required. If anything, the reverse may end up becoming the truth in the coming decades. The high cost of medical education (it costs up to Rs 1 crore for anyone wanting to become an MD or MS), for instance, may have already robbed the rural areas of private medical practitioners. Anyone with that kind of a degree, having spent that kind of money, would not like to risk his practice in a village. This applies even to the children of doctors with a substantial practice in their native places at present. They might join corporate hospitals in cities, which over time could end up taking the existing rural nursing homes on lease, posting second and third-rate doctors over there.

Likewise, chartered accountancy, which was an attractive profession for the enterprising youth in the semi-urban background in the past, may not be his cup of tea under the current system of CA exams at the entry-point. By introducing a scheme of vetting, whereby only those taking up two rounds of preliminary examinations in three years before being enrolled into the former course, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in India may have intimidated not only aspiring students but also their unsure parents from semi-urban background. This in turn would lead to CA firms in urban centers opening up shops/branches in smaller towns, thus robbing the locals of a social identity and standing that they now have, but may not have in the coming generations. Worse still, in both cases - that of the doctor and the 'auditor' -- the decades since Independence had effectively reversed the 'urban bias', thus facilitating and indicating a socio-economic resurgence. The current processes may reverse this all over again.

The situation is complex, and the evolution could be still more complex. While the 'services sector' and the lower birth-rates are seen as a complemented cure for the socio-economic ills, by the time the population rates fall adequately, the family incomes in the lower strata could have shrunk so much that they may not be able to put their children into higher education. How much time that disparity, if any, would take for leveling out, if at all, remains a question. The older generation, with the withdrawal of whatever social security that now remains in the form of subsidized power, healthcare and ration rice/wheat, may find the going tougher than their earlier ones - whose comparative well-being was politically attributable to Independence and democratic socialism. 

At the higher-end, the sudden shrinkage of jobs in the US and Western Europe in the last couple of years may have re-introduced a comparative sense of insecurity in non-resident Indians (NRIs) already, so much so they may not want to return home, unlike there counterparts a few years earlier. They are from the middle classes, whose parents belong to the graying generation, but with no social security worth the name. They need the kind of care that they expect and may also have been used to before they aged. 

In this complex background, welfare and well-being may have nothing to do with 'national parties' or Governments. In States like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, regionalisation of politics has ushered in a 'welfare State' of sorts, at one stage involving populist, non-productive Governmental schemes, but no more. Maybe, they have come a full circle, and are ready for change. Or, maybe not as yet, politically, going by the wave of 'anti-incumbency factor' attending on Assembly elections in most States in the decade after economic liberalisation.

Against this, Bihar does not seem to have benefited much from such regionalisation of politics. But then, communism, once considered a 'national alternative', has ensured political stability in West Bengal, and political balance in Kerala. In Kerala, where the Hindus, Christians and Muslims are geographically divided, it is the communist movement, with the support of the backward Ezhava community, forming 40 per cent of the population and spread across the State, which may have helped keep the State as one political entity thus far. 

Anyway, national parties of the BJP and Congress kind are confined to just seven States, Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh, accounting for just about 107 of the total 542 seats in the Lok Sabha. All States barring Madhya Pradesh are either small or medium-sized. If either or both the national parties have weathered the political and electoral storms of the past, which had swept them away from the 'Hindi heartland' one time or the other, these States may still be awaiting the advent of a regional outfit. What shape and leadership it would inherit, it may be too early to predict, but it needs to be political, if militancy is not to find its roots there. 

The importance of these seven States have suddenly increased in giving a 'national touch' to the future Governments at the Centre. If the elections of 1977 showed, and those of 1989 reaffirmed that you can rule India by winning the 'Hindi belt' intact, that is no more the case. The BJP's much-tauted 'Ayodhya agenda', possibly based on this reading of the situation, has not taken the party much ahead since the post-demolition polls of 1993 in native Uttar Pradesh. With the increasing acceptance that only the BJP or the Congress could lead a stable coalition at the Centre, the role of these seven States, as also that of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Orissa, to an extent have become that much more significant in the current context of the ongoing polls for the 14th Lok Sabha. States like Tamil Nadu and Andhra have their own roles to play, in a different way, so are West Bengal and Kerala, UP and Bihar - but not in ways perceived a decade or so earlier.

'Cultural nationalism' is one unifying factor for India, but it has acquired a wrong interpretation in the hands of wrong people. An economic component to 'cultural nationalism', the revival of traditional practices and businesses, especially those with an export/earning component, with assured markets, could be one way, but the solution could be as complex as the problem: today, rural women in Tamil Nadu expect to be treated by an MD or MS, not just an MBBS. And for every 20 limousines in our metros, there are one or two in every small town, with or without industries. The doctors, lawyers and auditors there own them, so do some 'educated' farmers. This needs to be sustained and strengthened if we have to keep the people in their villages. But the reverse may become the truth in the coming decades, if not the years.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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