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India's 'Forgotten' War : The Maoist Movement

khushboo upreti Jun 13, 20171 Response

Under the command of the Nawab who ruled with an iron fist, the princely state of Hyderabad inevitably provided conditions germane for an armed uprising of sorts. Thus, by 1946, the landless peasants rose in revolt against the Nawab under the aegis of the communist rebels in the Telangana region of Hyderabad. By mid 1948, about 1/6th of the Telangana region was under their control. However, the movement soon petered out when the Nawab's forces were routed by the Indian army and the Guerillas retreated into the forests of Nalgonda, Godavari River and Karimnagar amidst confusion over the identity of the enemy in these changed circumstances.


Nearly two decades after the Telangana revolt, we had the Naxalbari uprising occurring in early 1967 which gave the movement its moniker. Inhabited mainly by the Tribals belonging to the Santhal, Oraon, Munda and Rajbansi communities, most of them in the Naxalbari area of West Bengal were landless peasants who worked on a contractual basis on lands owned by the zamindars. The relationship proved to be onerous primarily because even after slogging for interminably long hours, the landowners would ultimately be claiming lion's share of the produce. Influenced by communist leader Charu Mazumdar's beliefs, young rebels took it upon themselves to mobilize these hapless peasants and prepare for a revolution. During this period land was seized from the zamindars to be redistributed amongst the landless peasants and the records were burnt. One thing led to another and a 72 day war transpired in this region. Despite being ultimately routed by the security forces, this movement served to inspire a generation of youth and initiated full fledged radical politics in India.


As is clearly being exhibited from the aforementioned instances, Maoist movement thrives and finds support in regions where conditions of subjugation exist. Needless to say, the strongest base of the Maoist movement today is the predominantly tribal region of Dantewada in Chattisgarh. The tribals, which constitute 8% of India’s population have suffered in the form of loss of land owing to deceitful activities of moneylenders and landowners, displacement on account of ‘developmental’ projects like setting up of industries, construction of a dam, restriction with respect to their access to forests, absence of basic facilities which every Indian citizen is constitutionally entitled to et al. This is clearly manifested in demographer Arup Maharatna's work who has placed tribals to be worse off than Dalits with respect to literacy rate (30.1% for Dalits, 23.8% for Adivasis), proportion of their population below poverty line (41.5% for Dalits, 49.5% for Tribals) among other indicators.


Instituted to look into the functioning of the development schemes in tribal regions a decade after independence, the Verrier Elwin Committee remarked how the officials in charge lacked intimate knowledge of the people of that region and had a propensity to regard themselves as "superior, heaven born missionaries of higher culture." More often than not, the tribals would be subjected to bullying and abuse.


Thus, it is these regions, which seem to have been erased from the consciousness of the government, from which the Maoists draw support. Besides explaining to them their ideology and concerns, the Maoists often fill the void of government by undertaking developmental tasks. The Maoists are therefore known to provide healthcare and educational services in these areas besides mobilizing the tribals for undertaking basic infrastructural projects like building dams.


Drawing heavily from Mao Tse-Tung who had remarked that, "a revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another", the Maoists have evidently not shied away from launching an onslaught on whatever according to them is symbolic of state power. This includes educational and health facilities along with government officials and security forces even though these forces may not necessarily be launching an offensive against the Maoists.


The Maoists are not just concerned with the rural areas. Acknowledging that the armed struggle can’t be successful till the time the enemy's bastions i.e. the urban areas, have been taken over, the Maoists have made concerted attempts to mobilize the populace in these areas. Orissa, Bihar, East UP have been identified as the epitome of urban backwardness with their old industrial bases and high unemployment rates. Their objective remains to mobilize the masses including the intellectuals, students and working classes besides dealing with the issues faced by groups like Dalits, religious minorities, and women and subsequently mobilizing them. This is to be done through propaganda, pamphlets, press statements, demonstrations et al. Efforts to set up legitimate democratic organizations dealing with these sections of the society are underway. The Intelligence Bureau believes that the Maoists have more than 50 bodies working for them as frontal organizations. Further, mobilizations in industries like transportation, communication, power and defense production are considered to be crucial since disruption in these industries can have serious repercussions on the adversary’s ability to engage in a war. This urban cadre thus mobilized is expected to fulfill the needs of rural movement and of people’s war. However, this mobilization has hitherto proved to be tough.


Needless to say, the activities of the Maoists in India’s rural belt have proved to be a matter of grave concern for the Indian state. The Indian state has therefore adopted a two pronged approach to deal with the Maoists by combining development with security. Thus, Naxal Management Division (presently known as Left Wing Extremism Division) was established in 2006 to oversee the implementation of schemes in the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas. The Integrated Action Plan (IAP) and the Road Requirement Plan (RRP) are the two major developmental schemes. Initiated in November 2010 by the Planning Commission of India to provide public infrastructure and services in 82 Selected Tribal and Backward Districts with an enhanced allocation of 30 crore per district from the financial year 2011-2012, the IAP was discontinued from central assistance from the financial year 2015-2016. The RRP is designed to improve road connectivity in 34 LWE affected districts in eight States. Besides regular schemes like MNREGA, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan et al, the Civic Action Programme has been under implementation since 2010-11 to bridge the gap between the local population and security forces.


Since ‘Police’ and ‘Public Order’ fall under the category of State subjects, the Central Government supplements the efforts of the State Governments only through various security related measures. Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme and Special Infrastructure Scheme (SIS) are the two main schemes of the Central Government. The SRE scheme is meant for reimbursing the expenditure incurred by the concerned States on anti-Maoist operations with the reimbursement rate having been increased to 100% in 2005. At present, 106 LWE affected districts have been included under the SRE scheme. Under the SIS, financial assistance is provided by the Central Government to the concerned State Governments for building critical infrastructure needed to facilitate operations by the security forces. The Scheme has been discontinued from Central assistance from the financial year 2015-16 as per recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission.


The government has also put in place the Surrender-cum-Rehabilitation (S&R) Policy which endeavors “to wean away the misguided youth and hardcore Naxalites,” and “to ensure that the Naxalites who surrender do not find it attractive to join the Naxal movement again.”


Despite all these initiatives, shortcomings persist. Concerns have been raised over the possibility of states falsely demanding more reimbursement under the SRE scheme by over exaggerating the problem of LWE in their respective states. Furthermore, India’s approach continues to remain underpinned on the usage of hard power. Exacerbating this predicament would be the state’s branding of innocent tribals as Maoists and the sordid fate they subsequently have to meet in the form of incarceration or death. Sadly, this is often done just to show results. Furthermore, women from these communities are often subjected to sexual assault. In 2017 the National Human Rights Commission noted that at least 16 tribal women were allegedly raped and physically assaulted by policemen in Bastar region of Chattisgarh in November 2015.


Another contentious area would be the state’s dealing of human rights activists who seek to raise the concerns of the tribals and implement welfare schemes. Accusing them of being Maoists, often sans any kind of evidence to back up those claims, these activists have often faced arbitrary arrest, torture, or ill-treatment at the hands of the state. One of the most famous arrests was that of

Dr. Binayak Sen, General Secretary of the Chhattisgarh unit of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) on 14 May 2007, who was arrested and detained under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2006 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967) as amended in 2004 on the charges of having links with the Maoists.

In 2010 he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by Raipur Sessions Court, Chhattisgarh for sedition and helping Maoists to set up a network to fight the State. Having been granted bail in 2011 by SC, he has currently filed an appeal before Chaittisgarh High Court.


The SC’s remark of 2011 wherein it expressed anguish over Chhattisgarh government’s tendency to make the arbitrary assumption that all those who speak for human rights are Maoist sympathizers perfectly sums up the situation on ground.


In light of all this, the security forces conducting counter-insurgency operations need to be sensitized about the idea of human rights, with a special emphasis on scrupulous, legal methods of counter-insurgency warfare. Any dereliction of duty ought to be met with greatest form of punishment possible. As far as the issue of welfare is concerned, collaboration with the human rights activists would only augur well for the state’s objective of bringing about development in these backward areas thereby reducing the Maoist influence. Furthermore, the State should conscientiously work towards the implementation of Schedules V and VI of the constitution which provide for a significant amount of self governance in tribal regions, protection of tribal rights to land and forests, curbing the activities of moneylenders among other provisions.


Moving on to the Maoist movement, despite all its noble intentions, its acts too have made it worthy of reprehension. Human rights activist K. Balagopal has perhaps launched the most efficacious critique against the Maoist movement. He asserts people's right to interrogate whether those who take people's lives in the name of progress indeed have the wisdom to define it. It further needs to be assessed whether the price paid is commensurate to what has been achieved through this systemic violence. Indeed, its imperative to reflect whether the general support which the tribals may be extending to the Maoist movement also endorses militancy and the suffering it has wrought upon them. Further, the dangers of violence moulding the ends and the agents in less than noble means always remains there. Indeed, as is oft remarked, weapons are ugly because their systematic use has a tendency to make us ugly.


Furthermore, many innocent tribals have been killed in the most barbaric way possible merely on the suspicion that they are police informers. Thus, according to home ministry documents, “Between 2010 and 2015 more than 2,000 civilians and 800 security personnel had been killed by Maoists in various parts of India.” In light of all this, can we truly vouch for the Maoist claims that they have any humanistic relation with the tribals? 


Meanwhile, Dalits have often raised the issue of how they majorly comprise the rank and file of the Maoist movement along with the tribals, with the upper caste holding its reins. Questions are further raised over the suitability of Maoist movement in a highly casteist environment that rural India is, if the Maoists choose to not engage with the issue of caste altogether. The Maoists can be called hypocrites of the highest order if they claim that their aim is to ensure the well being of the oppressed even as they go about ruthlessly shelling schools and threatening activists who are there to implement government welfare schemes. Such duality smacks of nothing but political opportunism and speaks volumes of how the oppressed are a mere stepping stone in their ultimate goal of acquiring state power. Moreover, Maoists are often accused of extorting money from the corporates and consequently letting them function even though they are ideally supposed to oppose them. Some have even alleged that they have links with Pakistan’s ISI. Even though direct links can’t be established, the possibility of their being an indirect link through proscribed organisations like ULFA, NSC-IM can’t be ruled out. Additionally, a new culture seems to have permeated the contemporary Maoist movement wherein the allure is not towards the ideology but towards the weapon and the power accompanying it. This has inevitably led to deterioration in the quality of the cadre.


Another pressing issue is that of child soldiers. Many instances have arisen wherein the Maoists have abducted or coercively taken away kids from tribal homes to be trained as future rebels. In fact, the Maoists pursue the policy of forcibly recruiting at least one child from every family. Furthermore, the curriculum in schools has often been designed in a way so as to indoctrinate the minds of these children in their reformative years.


According to Asian Centre for Human Rights, there are 3000 child soldiers (including State forces and armed opposition groups) in India (as of March 2013), with 2500 of them in the left wing extremism affected areas. These figures form only the tip of the iceberg. The government’s approach has been to deny the existence of child soldiers altogether as reflected by its 2011 report on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Lack of volunteers for the cause is perhaps driving the Maoist leadership to recruit child soldiers. Senior party leader Muppalla Laxmana Rao aka Ganapathi in a 7000 words letter to party members had admitted to having crisis within the party due to lack of leaders not only at the top but also in party ranks. Children are mainly used for covert operations, which involve planting and ferrying lethal weapons and explosives. It's highly unfortunate that even the police forces are guilty of recruiting children as Special Police Officers. India’s denial of the existence of child soldiers in its armed conflict deprives many families of the opportunity to receive justice for the children that they have lost.


Since overthrowing the Indian state backed by its formidable army seems like a far fetched dream, it would perhaps augur well for the Maoists to look at its fellow comrades up north in Nepal. Not only did they become part of mainstream politics, one of its party members, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, is the Prime Minister of Nepal today.


Violence can never be the panacea to any adversity whatsoever.If anything, it only serves to foment the miseries of those whose interests the two sides claim to protect, in this case the tribals and the rural poor.

  • Varun
    Varun Chawla

    Very informative and well researched story. The ending is really apt.