When the Naxalite movement first emerged in the late 1960s, the Research and Policy (R&P) Division of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) produced a report on the Causes and Nature of Current Agrarian Tensions, which famously said that the green revolution would turn into a red revolution in the absence of far-reaching agrarian reforms.
The MHA has to play a crucial role in the interpretation and assessment of major social and political conflicts in the country and issue guidelines to state governments. The Intelligence Bureau (IB), an 'attached office' and a large and secretive organisation with tentacles spread all over the country, provides basic inputs and analysis to the Ministry. Unhappy with 'over-classification', the then Union Home Secretary L P Singh set up the R&P Division in the 1960s, giving it freedom to prepare independent studies on conflicts situations across the country. The Division did well and built up an impressive and computerised database on communal violence.
And so its cautionary note on strengthening agrarian reforms should have been heeded by the government. In the event, the said reforms never took place, with entirely foreseen consequences. Now it is officially reported that Naxalism affects 480 police stations spread over 12 states and covers roughly 125 districts. Moreover, the State has preferred to deal with the phenomenon only as a law-and-order issue, and not in terms of development issues. For instance, the Prime Minister, addressing a conference of Chief Ministers on Naxalite Violence in April 2006, used a law-and-order terminology that would have pleased any Director General of Police!
Addressing the same meet the Union Home Minister offered to place 26 battalions of Central paramilitary forces at the disposal of state governments to deal with the Naxalites. In its annual report, the Union Home Ministry spelt out an elaborate police strategy, along with funds, to deal with Naxalite violence in different states, including the encouragement of 'local resistance groups' such as Salwa Judum in the Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh.
With the development deficit in these communities totally overlooked, there is little reason to wonder at the continuing growth of the Naxal problem.
Further, neither the Prime Minister nor the Union Home Minister in their addresses, mentioned the special Constitutional responsibility of Governors to provide the central government with detailed reports on the welfare and development of adivasis. Nor did they bring out the special Constitutional responsibility of the government of India to ensure the protection and welfare of these two deprived and marginalised communities. With the development deficit in these communities totally overlooked, there is little reason to wonder at the continuing growth of the Naxal problem.
The R&P Division of the MHA, which did much useful work, has now been wound up and a new Policy Planning Division has taken its place. The annual report of the ministry states cryptically that the Division deals with 'counter-terrorism'. No details are given. Further, the Divisions in the ministry dealing with the development of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have been transferred to new and largely toothless ministries. The Civil Rights Cell set up to prevent 'atrocities' against SCs and STs no longer exists. The ministry has lost the developmental edge it once had, and has become an increasingly paramilitary agency.
Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas
But this have proven to be of limited value, and so, every once in a while we are forced to look anew at the old, unaddressed development problems. The most recent example of this is a report of the Planning Commission's Expert Group on Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas (April 2008). Eschewing the dominant thinking, it delineates a comprehensive developmental response to counter the impact of the Naxalite violence in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Rejecting the security-centric approach, it provides a refreshingly ameliorative approach.
While its terms of reference are quite general, the Expert Group deals essentially with the causes of discontent among the people, that has led to the spread of Naxalite violence in an increasingly virulent fashion. The introductory chapter goes into the socio-economic and political context; the condition of dalits, adivasis and women; access to basic resources including forests and land; special economic zones and common property resources; labour, employment and wages; displacement and rehabilitation; the process of adjudication; environmental degradation; political marginalisation of the dalits and adivasis; statistical pointers; and governance.
Further, the report notes, the development paradigm pursued since independence has aggravated the prevailing discontent among marginalised sections of society. This paradigm has been conceived and imposed from above, insensitive to the needs and concerns of the poor causing displacement, destroying social organisation, cultural identity, resource base and has generated multiple conflicts undermining their communal solidarity making them increasingly vulnerable to exploitation. There are different kinds of movements and to call them all 'law and order problems' is to find a rationale for suppression. The tensions must be contextualised in terms of social, economic and political background. The people's right to livelihood and a dignified and honourable existence must be brought back on the agenda.
And this can only happen, says the report, if the State itself feels committed to the democratic system, and human rights and humane objectives inscribed in the Preamble, Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Rights of the Constitution. The State has to adhere strictly to the Rule of Law, for it has no other authority to rule. The right to protest, even peacefully, must be recognised by the authorities, who are instead inclined to meet even non-violent agitations with severe repression. What is surprising, given this, is not the fact of unrest itself, but the State's failure to draw the right conclusions from it.
The rest of the report deals with extension of Panchayati Raj to Scheduled Areas (PESA); investigating people's discontent and support for extremists; the State's response; and finally, recommendations.
Copies of the report have been sent to all the concerned central and state government establishments, including the MHA. It is not clear what the ministry's response would be, in view of its largely repressive approach to popular resistance. The report must be circulated to all police agencies concerned with Naxalite violence, including the IB, which makes a major contribution to the study of the violence in the ministry. Considering the nature and variety of conflicts in different parts of the country and the absence meaningful information on them in the ministry, it would be necessary not only to revive the R&P Division but set up several interdisciplinary study-and-action groups, consisting of scholars, civil servants and social activists, to go into conflict situations and produce reports for policy action.
The entire 'Indian police system' needs to read the Expert Group report and imbibe the essence of its contents to begin to provide a meaningful response to Naxalite violence. There is a need to change the mindset in the ministry, which accord low priority to reports on rural violence emerging from agencies such as the Planning Commission and the Ministry of Rural Development as compared to intelligence reports, which are classified and enjoy a mystique and prestige of their own! Ironically, the various recommendations from the state-security apparatus have not made much of a dent on the Naxal problem, but despite this failure, police action appears to be favoured response of the state to all disturbances. That has to change.
Indeed, more than merely revising the state-security approach to Naxalism, it would also be hugely helpful if long-overdue police reforms are taken up. The Indian police system is a huge, complex and essentially paramilitary one founded in colonial objectives, and while the British may have been justifiably proud of it, Republican India has failed to either change this organisational model with the concomitant repressive legal structure. Dependence on the Intelligence Bureau, which is a police organisation with a highly state security-centric and not a peoples-security-centric approach, is no longer viable, if it ever was.