April 3, 2021: 22 security personnel killed by Communist Party of India (Maoist) cadres in the Tarrem area of Bijapur-Sukma border of Chhattisgarh.
March 21, 2020: 17 security personnel, including 12 from the District Reserve Group, killed in a Maoist ambush in the Minpa area of the Sukma district of Chhattisgarh.
Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) is the official name for the insurrection in the ten States of Central and Eastern region. It is also popularly called as ‘Naxalism’ or ‘Maoism’. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the problem as the single biggest internal security challenge of the country, in 2006. Currently out of the 640 districts in India, 106 districts are experiencing insurrection in varying forms and intensity.
Historical, Contemporary Factors
LWE is an insurrection that needs to be understood from historical and contemporary perspectives. It has to be seen as the continuation of the Telangana and Tebhaga insurrection (1946-51) and Naxalbari uprisings (1967). The evolution of modern nation-state, cultural appropriation of disadvantaged sections of society, especially Adivasis, and conflict between state-led Vs self-governance are some of the historical factors that have contributed to the development of insurrection.
The model of development adopted by the Indian state, structural issues of development such as poverty, social exclusion, displacement, loss of livelihood, denial of rights over natural resources, coercive land acquisition, and impact of mining on local communities and youth-related issues (demographic dividend, unemployment) are the contemporary factors that are responsible for the emergence of political extremism in Fifth Schedule Areas.
The Indian state and the Maoist party have failed in ensuring peace and good governance in the Fifth Schedule areas. The Union Home Ministry in its annual report of 2018-19 notes that the “resolute implementation of the National Policy and Action Plan by the Government has resulted in significant improvement in the Left-Wing Extremism scenario across the country. Last five years have seen a significant decline in LWE violence as well as the geographical spread of LWE”.
Democracy and Violence
The violence between the Indian state and the Maoist party has endangered people’s liberty, rights and justice in LWE areas. Chhattisgarh, especially the Bastar region, is the epicentre of insurrection where the Maoist party is present in half of the districts. Of the 27 districts, 14 are experiencing insurrection. Bijapur, Sukma and Dantewada are the worst affected as classified by the Home Ministry.
It’s unfortunate that violence and counter-violence have become the rule of the game for both parties. Theoretically, democracy as a form of government is expected to promote peace and order in society. The fall in global peace has largely been driven by changes in measures related to safety and security (Global Peace Index, 2014).
The Fragile States Index 2018 indicated that internal and external pressures affect the world’s richest and most developed nations too. Accordingly, Qatar, Spain, the USA and the UK experienced social and political instabilities in 2017. The French historian Alexis de Tocqueville said the “prospectus for potential violent conflict is often greatest not when things are at their absolute worst, but when they are actually getting better”.
Set in this context, it is necessary to understand the rise in violence in democratic nations. The dominant narratives on insurrection have been understood from security, law and order, underdevelopment, political ideology, social movements and state-building perspectives. However, there is little in the ongoing discourse about the functioning of Indian democracy and its limitations in addressing governance and development issues in Fifth Schedule areas.
The state violence through military and police needs to be carefully looked into. Massive killings have taken place in military operation known as ‘Operation Polo’ in Telangana region as documented in Pandit Sundarlal Committee Report on the Massacres in Hyderabad (1948). Currently, Indian democracy is experiencing various uprisings in the regions of Central and Eastern India, Jammu & Kashmir and Northeastern regions. However, the nature and causative factors of these uprisings are different. Prof. N Mukherji, in his work ‘The Maoists in India: Tribals Under Siege’ (2013) argues that the “current Maoist upheaval needs to be understood as a part of the general phenomenon of democratic deficit”.
A Maoist party’s document has observed as follows — “In the past 65 years of ‘independent’ rule, it is a fact that even to this day the basic needs of the people like food, clothing, shelter, education and healthcare remained out of reach. The oppressed masses who constitute 95% of the population are confronting poverty, illiteracy. Unemployment, price rises, diseases, starvation deaths, corruption, etc on a daily basis”.
The failures of parliamentary politics and the Indian state have laid the platform for insurrections in Central India. Having said this, the Indian state needs to proactively address genuine issues raised by the CPI (Maoist) party, especially poverty, unemployment, land reforms, rights over resources and most importantly social and political equality. The government needs to focus on addressing the structural issues of governance, while the Maoist party must abandon violent means to resolve the aspects of land conflicts and development peacefully.
The socio-political conflict in the Fifth Schedule areas has to be seen and dealt with beyond the lens of law and order problem; it has more to do with the issues of land rights, economic justice and political equality. Revolution is not just armed methods, it’s a fighting spirit. The insurgents and state have to learn from the historicity of the Adivasis’ spirit of rebellion without taking to violent methods to bring the desired change in society. Unless this is done, the cycle of violence will continue to challenge the political legitimacy of the elected government/s of the day.
(The author is PhD Fellow, Centre for Political Institutions, Governance and Development of Institute for Social and Economic Change [ISEC], Bengaluru, and is working on developing governance model/s to improve administrative standards in the LWE areas. Views are personal)
Now you can get handpicked stories from Telangana Today on Telegram everyday. Click the link to subscribe.