Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Naxalite–Maoist insurgency

The term Naxalites comes from Naxalbari, a small village in West Bengal, where a section of the CPI-M led by Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal, and Jangal Santhal initiated an uprising in 1967 leading to the formation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist). In May 1967, a sharecropper near Naxalbari village was attacked by the landlord's men over a land dispute. On May 24, 1967, when a police team arrived to arrest the peasant leaders, it was ambushed by a group of tribals led by Jangal Santhal, and a police inspector was killed in a hail of arrows. This event encouraged many Santhal tribals and other poor people to join the movement and to start attacking local landlords. Mao Zedong provided ideological leadership for the Naxalbari movement, advocating that Indian peasants and lower class tribals overthrow the government and upper classes by force. A large number of urban elites were also attracted to the ideology, which spread through Charu Majumdar's writings. The Naxals are considered far left radical communists having no clear ideology, a mix of marxism, maoism, leninism.

Kanu Sanyal made it clear that the Naxalite movement was “an armed struggle not for land but state power”. The party programme, adopted in 1970, made no mention of the struggle for the socio-economic uplift of the poor, and focused instead on guerrilla warfare. The issues of landless labourers and poor peasants were a plank for the Naxalites to build up a support system. Ever since, the Maoists have been operating as a unified force, setting off landmines, leading jailbreaks, assassinating politicians and resorting to other extreme forms of lawlessness and violence. They adopt practices like torture, mutilation and killings after trials in kangaroo courts or the Jan Adalats. They are a regular force with squads patterned on army platoons. In 2006, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), estimated that 20,000 armed-cadre Naxalites were operating in addition to 50,000 regular cadres. Naxalites follow a strict and discipline with well organized daily routine as: Rollcall: 6:40am; Exercise: 6.50am; Breakfast: 9.00am; Training: 9.30am; Lunch: 12.30 pm; Study Class: 2.30pm; Training: 4.30 pm; Bomb Training: 5.30 pm. They get most of their weapons by raiding police bases.

These conflicts go back to the failure to implement fifth and ninth schedules of constitution that provide limited form of tribal autonomy with regard to exploiting natural resources on their lands, e.g. pharmaceutical, mining, land ceiling laws and distribution of excess land to landless farmers and labourers. The early 1970's saw the spread of Naxalism to almost every state in India, barring Western India. Then the movement was fragmented into disputing factions. By 1980, it was estimated that around 30 Naxalite groups were active, with a combined membership of 30,000. The Naxalites control territory throughout Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal states and claim to be supported by the poorest of the rural population, especially the Adivasis. The Naxalites have frequently targeted tribal, police and government workers in what they say is a fight for improved land rights and more jobs for neglected agricultural labourers and the poor. The Naxalites claim that they are following a strategy of rural rebellion similar to a protracted people's war against the government. But it is popular in the regions where it is present. A study of  The Times of India concludes that 58% people have a positive perception of the guerrilla, against 19 % for the government. The longevity of the Maoist rebellion is partly due to the local support they receive.

In July 1971, Indira Gandhi took advantage of President's rule to mobilise the Indian Army against the Naxalites and launched a colossal combined army and police counter-insurgency operation, termed "Operation Steeplechase," killing hundreds of Naxalites and imprisoning more than 20,000 suspects and cadres, including senior leaders. The paramilitary forces and a brigade of para commandos also participated in Operation Steeplechase. The operation was choreographed in October 1969, and Lt. General J.F.R. Jacob was enjoined by Govind Narain, the Home Secretary of India, that "there should be no publicity and no records" and Jacob's request to receive the orders in writing was also denied by Sam Manekshaw.

Operation Steeplechase was launched on Jul 1, 1971 by the Indian Army along with the Police to put down a Santhal tribal uprising in West Bengal. This was a culmination of the Naxalite movement that had begun in 1967 in Naxalbari. The Army had formed the outer cordon in Operation Steeplechase and the Police had gone in for the kill. Operation Steeplechase ended by Aug 15, 1971 and broke the back of the first Naxalite upsurge in West Bengal. The Santhal tribesmen armed with bows, arrows, dahs and spears were no match for the fire power of the Army or Police. The plain terrain of West Bengal with its well developed network of road communications is not ideal guerilla country. Hence the first Naxalite uprising was easily crushed. In the decades since, Jammu & Kashmir, West Bengal and Kerala were three states that went the farthest to enforce land reforms. This, to a great extent, resolved the primary cause of the initial Naxalite rebellion and it withered away by the end of the 1970s. 

The CRPF is raising 10 COBRA Battalions to combat this menace. So far, however the casualty ratio between the police and insurgents is a cause for concern. For the last three years, it has become adverse and tilted in favor of the insurgents. The world over, armies are employed to tackle insurgencies. While Terrorists target defenseless civilians, Insurgents usually target the police. Police is ideal to tackle terrorism, especially in cities, towns and densely populated areas, tribal insurgency in difficult jungle terrain needs the intervention of the regular Army. Andhra Pradesh Greyhound model of creating elite, specialized police forces has worked well in due to better roads & communication network in AP that enabled the police to gain the upper hand. 

In 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the Naxalites the "Single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country. Deprived and alienated sections of the population forms the backbone of the Maoist movement in India". In June 2011, he said, "Development is the master remedy to win over people", adding that the government was "strengthening the development work in the 60 Maoist-affected districts. In 2010, Home Secretary, GK Pillai, acknowledged that there are legitimate grievances regarding local people's access to forest land and produce and the distribution of benefits from mining and hydro power developments, but claims that the Naxalites' long-term goal is to establish an Indian Marxist state. He said the government decided to tackle the Naxalites head-on, and take back much of the lost areas.

Maosists guerrilla style killings of police and landlords haven’t solved the problem for 50 years. There is no concept of a ‘victory’ in such conflicts. The only achievement they can feel proud of is the number of deaths. Naxals do not allow the people in their affected areas to develop and prosper. They don’t seek education, infrastructure, jobs and development for the people they stand for. They instead destroy schools, railway stations, telephone exchanges, post offices, roads and all other forms of development. This ensures that the villagers/tribals remain poor, uneducated, cutoff, and dependent on them. So they can then blame Govts for their situation and project themselves as saviours. If tribals and villagers get educated and prosper, it will make the Maoists redundant. It has lost relevance now. White collar Naxal leaders ask for Freedom of expression, Human rights and Legal processes.

Governments will continue to remain inefficient & corrupt. Every government is formed with inept people keep rotating but its overall character remains same. In any country, people in government positions or outside are all of similar nature. Isolated & violent movements cannot change the nature of governments. Only non-violent mass movements can bring a change for better governance and equality. Killings only give unbearable lifelong pain & suffering to the families of victims - naxals, police, security forces and villagers. These organisations and movements make the country weak and brittle. Neighboring enemies will easily fuel them to their advantage. Hope we see an end to these deaths and failed ideologies, and stay united to build a strong country by leading people for a change towards the better.

Nowadays, Maoists recruits cadres, mostly rural poor illiterate, for salary at different levels who gets annual vacation to visit home. Most Maoist leaders visit cities in disguise for medical treatments and paid pleasures. They get involved in disputes & settlements for a fee, extortion, robbery, paid killings etc similar to that of goondas and mafia. All these activities are in opposition with principles of Mazumdar & Sanyal, the founders of the movement 50 years ago. It is said that demonetization impacted Maoists by Rs. 5,000 crores of notes not exchanged. 

Today's naxalites are a confused group and is a extortionist and terrorist group resembling mafia. They are also used by political parties to settle their personal agenda. Police & Security forces failed to protect tribals from the Maoists. Maoists use tribals for their protection as human shields. None of the villagers was armed. The unanswered question mark in India’s democratic polity, Naxalism is not merely a law-and-order problem. It has to be addressed simultaneously on the political, security, development and public-perception management fronts in a holistic manner. But as the government grapples with the challenge, Naxalites strengthen their sway.

The Modi government follows the same policy laid out by the Manmohan Singh government - "Development and police action". The centre considers that the Maoist insurgency is linked to under-development and lack of governance. Therefore it tries to improve governance as well as provision of health, education and infrastructure to the people. Simultaneously, the state police and central forces are used to fight the Maoists.

As local population develops a permanent stake in the state viz. development, infrastructure, education, healthcare, good governance etc the Maoists will find it very difficult to recruit and mobilize. But this process is extremely slow and requires massive efforts  and investments over time but results will come slowly but surely.  

Naxalites (or Maoists) are our own misguided brothers
నక్సలైట్లు  మనవాళ్లె,  కాని  దారి  తప్పిన  తమ్ముళ్లు

My View:
Today, Naxalism and Maoism has transformed into a militaristic movement, more intent on terrorizing segments of population than on supporting people’s causes. There is little in common between today’s Maoists who indulge in unbridled and often gruesome violent acts and the erstwhile purist revolutionaries of the Charu Majumdar era. It did lose support among sections of the urban intelligentsia, but still resonates with ideologically oriented elements in universities and colleges and maintains a veneer of being true supporters of the poor and the downtrodden, especially the tribal people. It is only kept in check by a large security presence. It has a well-established arms trail to obtain state-of-the-art weapons from sources outside the country.

Over the past decade, the Maoists seemed to have had the better of the exchanges with security forces/civilians in terms of casualties - averaging a ratio of three killed for every Naxalite. It suffers from a lack of tall leaders. It is still able to convey an impression that the Maoists are the ‘torch bearers’ of ‘an idea’ whose time is about to come. Human rights violations by police and security forces both on Maoists and their supporters is also a matter of concern.

Government needs to recognise that the Maoist movement cannot be approached from the law and order perspective only. The phenomenon is much more than a mere militant movement. It partakes of an idea, pernicious though the idea might appear, which cannot be destroyed merely through a military-style setback. In the past half a century of its existence, the Naxalite (now Maoist) movement has weathered many such ‘setbacks’. Greater political will is needed to address these shortcomings.

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