I begin by stating in no uncertain terms that this post is not an attempt to justify violence. The ethicality of an ideology with violence integrated into its conceptual structure is suspect. Cause and means must be above blame. That’s the most dependable touchstone for the ethicality of any ideology, no matter how simplistic it might sound.
Ethics, I am aware, is an outdated concept in hardcore academic parlance, ‘cos it presupposes essentialism and absolutism. But, at a practical level, for a healthy and harmonious coexistence of human beings, for equity and justice in governance, we cannot merely indulge in scholastic niceties and sideline the issue – or adopt an ostrich attitude on the grounds of the relativity of ethics.
Having said that, I am going to set out on an expedition to find out if I can arrive at a position on the internal violence that is traumatizing heartland India.
One would like to believe that the Naxalites/Maoisits with their brutal operations have lost the sympathy of the common man. The veracity of this statement, however, depends on who fit into the definition of the ‘common man’. Without any ground support, is it possible for any organization to spread and gain control over the Red Corridor, a huge expanse cutting across five states of India?
Tackling the Naxal ‘menace’ by military operations is one option open to the government at this point, but this option has to be exercised in tandem with concrete steps to address the root cause. Otherwise, the solutions yielded can only bail out the government for the moment. Perhaps a well coordinated sustained operation might weaken this extremist group – like the Khalisthan movement in Punjab in the eighties was brought under control. But, unlike in Punjab, it is unlikely such suppression of the Maoists will be permanent. Khalisthan was a separatist movement. The issue here is different. It is a class war intersected by caste war. Traditionally and historically, the warring groups have been like the proverbial anvil and hammer. Suppression will lead to a hydra like resurfacing with greater fury.
Who are these Maoists? What do they want?
Often, the official position on these vital questions is evasive. Two years ago, the Prime Minister expressed his fear of the growing aggression of the Maoists. But other than these knee-jerk sounds made by the authorities, no concerted effort has been taken to address what Naxalism/Maoism represents in India. But their victory in Nandigram and spurts of violence from these groups in the past three years, have rudely jerked the government out of its self delusion, and the government is showing signs of shaking itself free from the grip of the ostrich syndrome.
The Maoists/Naxals call it the ‘People’s War’. They claim to be the voice of that underprivileged, deprived and marginalized citizenry of India who fell by the wayside, untouched by ‘development‘. No. Not just untouched, but marginalized BECAUSE of the model of development adopted by Independent India. This citizenry comprising the tribals from whom land and livelihood have been snatched away by deforestation and allotment of forest areas for ‘development’ undertakings; those displaced by ‘development’ projects such as dams and industry; those eternally at the mercy of privileged caste and class in the feudal society which is still strong in India; the farmers who have been rendered desolate by years of governments’ neglect of the agricultural sector; and more. Many more.
This group represents the failure of India and the Maoists/Naxals constitute the bloody manifestation of a terrible, chronic internal malady of our society. These terror merchants represent the fall out of free India’s skewed mode of development rooted in an unwritten exclusionist definition of progress. They claim to be the voice of the exploited, the downtrodden, the hungry, and the homeless and abused section of humanity in a country which is presently being spoken of as an emerging economic superpower of the 21st century. The Ambani brothers fight over their billions and the government intervenes surreptitiously, and keenly awaits the outcome of this family feud. On the other side of the coin, the downtrodden gets killed, their women get raped, their lands are snatched and they are rendered without shelter. But successive governments have kept a safe distance in order not to get their fingers burnt or on account of pressure from vested interests, or for fear of stirring up a hornet’s nest.
The Naxals/Maoists are the self styled Messiah who holds out to these distressed group hope of redemption from their miseries. That they have taken up arms instead of adopting peaceful methods is not to their advantage, ‘cos, as I mentioned earlier, violence cannot be an acceptable solution in a democracy. But with every passing financial year as the margins keep growing and encroaching into the core, these extremist groups gain greater acceptability with that deprived citizenry.
The Home Minister has now asked these militants to lay down arms and then come to the negotiating table.
Will they do it?
The answer is not within sight. These militant groups who have adopted terrorist’s methods are terrorizing not only the People’s Enemies, but the very people whose battle they claim to be fighting. The cause of the underprivileged has been hijacked by this extremist political outfit, and is being used as a pretext with the long term plan of gaining political power, modeled on a Mao style revolution. Hence, it would be a falsehood to state that they have the wholehearted support of those who exist in the margins of development.
Whatever the case, it will not be an easy task to bring them to the negotiating table. And how much can the government negotiate/compromise with an outfit which swears by violence and indulges in brutal mass murder and heinous and torturous methods of killing innocent hostages?
But what the government can and should do is to create a sustainable system to address the problems of those Indian citizens who are totally distressed and could till now partake of none of the benefits of ‘development’. If this issue is addressed aggressively and substantially with a well structured plan executed efficiently, these extremists group would lose their foothold in their base, the People.
A mammoth task for the government with the type of graft that has stricken our system like a disease, one must admit. But the government can no longer throw up its hands in helplessness. It simply can’t afford to. It should squarely face the hungry heartland of India, which bleeds with years of neglect and failure of governance.
Today, the newspapers ran a story which brings cheer. It is about a programme run by the government in rural India to tap human and land resources, and the laudable success it achieved in bringing light into the lives of the people there . For those who are not inclined to check out the link I have given, this excerpt of the news item will give a fairly good idea:
..The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), …is bringing a silent revolution to the country side in Andhra Pradesh by turning wage seekers into farmers and entrepreneurs.
The scheme which assures 100 days employment to each household every year, has not only checked the village to town migration and help address the problems of extremism in some areas but has also brought a degree of economic empowerment to the beneficiaries.
For yet another development that evidences the government’s resolve to tackle chronic underdevelopment , read the following excerpt from today’s EditPage of the New Indian Express (Wednesday, October 21, 2009) :
There was an interesting development recently in connection with the Union Home ministry’s effort to tackle the rising Naxal violence in Jharkhand. On the ministry’s urging, the state government (presently under central rule) has withdrawn something like a lakh of cases registered against tribals under the Forest Conservation Act. The charges were all slapped on people trying to keep body and soul together – entering reserved forest without permission. stealing fruit, cutting wood, grazing cattle etc. - - - it was decided …as part of the grand strategy for ‘winning confidence’ of those living in Naxal affected area, to withdraw these cases.
Both these developments are very encouraging. Half a century after the Mahatma’s death, the model of development he passionately advocated is beginning to make sense to the powers that be. Cornered, India is beginning to see the wisdom and foresight of the great man. While the first extract testifies to the government being proactive in taking care of India’s greatest asset – human resource and villages (Take care of the villages and the cities will take care of themselves – Gandhi), the second one shows that realization has dawned on the privileged India that the deprived citizenry too are citizens, and that the same uniform law cannot be applied to all. The nawab or a superstar who poach cannot be seen on the same scale as the starving Indian who hunts or helps himself to the forbidden fruit to keep his body and soul together. The latter requires compassion and understanding. Laws have to be nuanced to prevent the oppression of the oppressed.
It is very encouraging to see that the government is reordering its priorities, though it is sad that the militant’s gun has to prod them. Anyway, better later than never.
Perhaps, we can now be assured that the democracy that we are striving so hard to preserve will not, after all, be destabilized.