India and the Maoist Conundrum

Why the Malkangiri operation is of far greater significance than the ‘surgical strike’ on the LOC, but the gains may be short-lived

India and the Maoist Conundrum
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It has been a significant last one week in India’s “red corridor”; first a very successful “surgical strike” of sorts in the virtually invincible Maoist territory in Andhra-Odisha Border Area, an unprecedented protest by the police in Chhattisgarh against writers and activists and a crackdown on a legitimate protest by tribals in Jharkhand.

Taking the battle to their safe haven, joint police teams shot dead 24 Maoist guerillas in a single encounter. Four more were killed in the same area a day later. Key operatives like Daya and Ganesh who had 100 cases each against them of murder, loot and abduction have been killed. This has far greater significance in terms of national security and morale of security forces than the still unclear “surgical strike” on the Line of Control with Pakistan, which the government and government stooges have been celebrating about.

The ‘cut-off’ area in Malkangiri district of Odisha, which is otherwise known as the Andhra-Odisha Border has been a ‘liberated zone’ for years where Indian authority does not exist. In my last visit to this particular area, I had to seek Maoist permission for any movement. Every pillar and monument there asserts Maoist domination. Even the signpost for a bus stand signals Maoist territory. In 2008, the same Greyhound force of the Andhra Pradesh police raised exclusively to counter the Maoists, was massacred in a daring ambush in this very ares- the Chitrakonda reservoir. Thirty-eight men of the elite force were killed and the ‘cut-off’ area continued to provide refuge to the Maoist till this week that dealt a huge blow to the Maoist leadership as well as the myth of their ‘liberated zone’. In 2012, the government of India believed that 10,000 square kilometres of Indian heartland was ‘liberated’ by the Maoists. This operation should change that course. But will it?

In neighbouring Chhattisgarh, in a brazen display by the state, last week, policemen were burning effigies of writers, journalists and activists following CBI’s report to the Supreme Court that in 2011 special police officers now renamed armed auxiliary forces had attacked and burnt down adivasi villages of Tadmetla and Teemapuram. The investigation was ordered after the writers and activists filed a petition.

The effigies had named pinned on them: Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology at Delhi University; Bela Bhatia, researcher and activist;

Soni Sori, adivasi activist and member of the Aam Aadmi Party; Manish Kunjam, President of Adivasi Mahasabha and a former MLA of the Communist Party of India (Marxist); Himanshu Kumar, social activist. Later journalist Malini Subramaniam’s effigy was also added to the gallery. They were called traitors and Maoists and though there was a similar protest earlier this year, this one flaunted the audacity of the police pitching the state against itself.

Chhattisgarh government’s has been making all efforts to muffle critical voices. Journalists and writers, lawyers and activists have all come under harassment from the state.

In Jharkhand, the other Maoist zone, police fired on villagers opposing land acquisitions for power plants and the state government’s move to amend two tenancy laws, Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Pargana Act. This has been an ongoing protest that could fuel Maoist designs in Jharkhand. If the changes come into effect, tribal land could be acquired for various purposes like roads, power plants, malls and agricultural land could be used for non-agricultural purposes. Ironically, a day later the Prime Minister while inaugurating the Tribal Carnival in New Delhi asserted that nobody has the right to take away tribal land.

The repeated Maoist resurgence over the last half century would not have happened the way it did but for India’s absolute disregard for Constitutional provisions and at the same time expanding appetite for natural resources in a growing economy much of which come from mines in states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Posing as voices for the desperate tribal population, the Maoists, have often been the only stumbling block for the mining boom. The truth, however, is the guerillas themselves have profited from playing middlemen in many areas allowing the corporates to sneak in and with huge resources still sitting underground, it is a win-win situation for everyone except the indigenous people.

One hundred and six districts across 10 states — Bihar, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — are affected by low or medium intensity LWE or Left Wing Extremism as the government grades them. The budget allocated to these districts was to the tune of 30 crores a year for development schemes. That may soon dry up with the government downgrading at least 20 districts. Though 2015 had reported less violence, this year it has picked up.

While in Odisha and Andhra, the government seems to have gained over the Maoists, in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand the government’s policies and actions could be counterproductive. This contradiction and complete absence of a coherent government policy is what allows the Maoists to sustain their otherwise beleaguered movement. Unless Delhi can course correct the discriminatory practices towards its own citizens, it can never address what the government calls ‘the biggest internal security threat” of the country.

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