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Mapping out State response to Left Wing Extremism
03 December 2012

Attempting to map out key trends emerging from the state intervention to contain the rise of left-wing extremism in India, Observer Research Foundation organised a panel discussion on "State Response to Left-Wing Extremism: A Report Card"on 27 November, 2012. The objective was to review various measures adopted by state agencies (centre and states) to contain the rise of left-wing extremism in India.

Gen Nirbhay Sharma, Distinguished Fellow, ORF opened the discussion by flagging up some of the major issues surrounding left-wing extremism (LWE) in India. He sought the attention to the root cause of the armed movement which according to him is of political in nature and need to be addressed through political method. Besides, the state needed to pay attention to the grievances of a large sections of the population that have been marginalized over a period of time and state has remained insensitive to their needs for a long time. Consequently, people were reduced to a sub-human existence. He stated that while steps necessary to maintain law and order is an essential component to curb left-wing extremism, the rise of left-wing extremism has other important factors which should be given due consideration. These include the role of legislations, civil society, media and most importantly the concerns of the people on the ground. With regards to the legislation, he noted that while following a tiered approach beginning from the Gram Sabha there has been major gaps between policy and implementation. Commenting on the role of the media, he stated that while violence was always projected by the media, the causes of the violence have been neglected. The tribal people who are the most affected by the violence must be involved in any solution and it should be ensured that the genuine concerns of the people are not subsumed by a political ideology which believes in armed violence.

Mr. K. Vijay Kumar, who recently retired as Director General, CRPF with extensive counter-insurgency experience in the recent time, shared his experience of handling LWE. He stated that the foremost thing is to recognise the genuine grievances of the people and the historical reasons behind the support amongst the tribals towards left-wing extremism. The role of the corporate sector wherein a certain percentage of the profits was legally sanctioned to be set aside for development oriented projects was also mentioned. It was noted that there was constant pressure by the corporate sector to reduce the amount of profits and perceived that the corporate sector was not genuinely interested in the development of tribals. Quoting a number of renowned counter insurgency experts, it was held that the roots of an insurgency whether genuine or not should not be looked into, rather it should be accepted as genuine and tackled efficiently. The approach to tackling left-wing extremism should be security first and development later. In an area where the Naxalites are carrying guns most of the time, without adequate security as the first priority it will be impossible to ensure development. Secondly, the fluid state borders offers the Naxalites a natural advantage in waging a war against the state as opposed to the state police forces which function within the borders and there is a lack of cohesion amongst the different police forces as a result. He also warned against an approach based on only militarisation by the state and lack of civil administration as a dangerous route to take since most of the citizens of a country (like in Vietnam) were likely to tilt towards the Naxalites.

Mr. Mahendra Kumawat, a former Special Secretary, Internal Security, Ministry of Home Affairs and former DG, BSF in his brief remark noted that the tribal people have been betrayed by the nation over the past 60 years. There has been a poor understanding of the genuine grievances of the tribal people by all sections of the society which has developed i.e. bureaucrats, politicians, journalists and intellectuals. He stressed on the need to distinguish between the political ideology of the Naxalites and the genuine grievances of the tribals. Another area wherein the government had failed was in the area of perception management i.e. the government had failed to adequately disseminate the benefits of democracy to a large number of people. The Naxalites on the other hand through websites and other means of communication had handled the task of perception management admirably. Giving the example of "Greyhounds", he also mentioned that only "special forces"as opposed to regular forces could tackle the Naxalite problem. Another area of concern is the short tenure of the police chiefs who tackled left-wing extremism which was inadequate to understand left-wing extremism in all its complexity. He contrasted this to the long tenure (10 years) given to the Sri Lankan chief who fought the LTTE forces on the ground. As a concluding point, he also stressed the need for an "inclusive growth"rather than a development approach which accentuates inequalities.

Dr. D.M. Mitra, a serving Indian Police Officer and currently the Principal Advisor to the Planning Commission of the Madhya Pradesh Government, in his excellent overview stated the need for an inclusive and appropriate development approach which ensures that the people's concerns must be at the core. He stressed on the need for reaching the inaccessible areas to ensure that the fruits of democracy reach the inaccessible areas where left-wing extremism has taken roots. Furthermore, education was also suggested as a panacea to the problems of the tribals. On the question of human rights, he stressed specifically on the needs for adherence to the same since as a liberal democracy it was extremely essential that the core values of liberal democracy are defended, otherwise it will be difficult to defeat the political ideology of the Naxalites. Since most of the areas where the Naxalites have presence are also rich in mineral resources, he stressed on the need for an approach based on planning and empowerment.

In an excellent overview of the problems in current state intervention to quell LWE, Dr. Ajay Gudavarthy, faculty from Centre for Politcal Studies, JNU emphasized on the need to evaluate the impact of a securitization approach on inclusiveness and democracy. The demands for a special force or special laws (as in the AFSPA) have had an adverse impact on democracy by giving impunity to security forces and the blatant violation of human rights. He warned that a culture of securitization and immunity has led to attacks on members of the civil society and the lukewarm response of the society is a threat to democracy. It is likely that in future even state officials could be attacked in the name of securitization. Another important observation by him was that it was necessary to recognize the popular social base of the Maoists even if some of it is based by exploiting the grievances of the tribal people. An approach that should be a cause of concern according to him was the outsourcing of violence by the state via the creation of Salwa Judum (a private militia of tribal people) which encourages violence by the tribal people on other tribals. Giving it state sanction or calling the Salwa Judum movement spontaneous perpetuates a culture of securitization and immunity which will be dangerous for a democratic culture in the future.

Mr. BV. Rao, Editor, Governance Now magazine shared the experience of Saranda campaign. To him, media and everyone else are obsessed with the conflict and lack of serious interest in the solutions. He cited the Saranda development project (after CRPF flushed out Maoists in 2011), wherein the media had shown minimal interest in an initiative which was geared towards a solutions based approach i.e. an alternative model of development based on "inclusiveness". He further stated that the Naxalites till date have not demonstrated in any area of India where they have established their writ that their model of governance is better than that of liberal democracy. This is an opportunity which is open to all those people who believe in liberal democracy to prove that their model of governance is still the only way forward. Another important observation he made was that the Saranda project was due to the efforts of one individual which lacked any support from the local authorities, the concerned state government or even the Central Government. This lack of cohesiveness, was not a right strategy to defeat left-wing extremism in the country.

During the open floor discussion, many participants some of them including Mr. Pathak, former DIB, Gen. Sabharwal, Gen. V.K. Ahluwalia, Prof. Ajay Mehra offered insightful observations on the issue. It was stated that there was a large youth population in the tribal areas (most of them in the age group of 18-25) whose needs have not been addressed by the government and civil society members. They were being trained to take up arms against the government and unless this challenge was addressed it was likely to accentuate left-wing extremism in the future. On the question of counter terrorism training schools, it was noted that only the state of Chhattisgarh has made some progress in establishing them as compared to other states. According to some commentators, what has also been lacking amongst the armed forces is a lack of ethos and solidarity which has been improving off late but needs more attention. Police reforms is another area which needs urgent attentions. No significant reforms have come forth in terms of basic facilities which would inspire the police forces to perform more efficiently. As a concluding remark, it was stated that it was necessary to go back to the districts and concentrate on building "intelligence from below"to tackle Maoism. It was only through this process that islands of peace could be built.

(This report was prepared by Samya Chatterjee, Research Assistant, at Observer Research Foundation)