|#1377||3149||May 01, 2015||By Shashank Ranjan|
Abstract: In order to achieve a breakthrough towards conflict resolution in LWE scenario in east-central India, attempts have to be made that go beyond the current policy approach of the Government. Two crucial factors that could play decisive roles are, firstly, encouraging cadre based grassroots political activities by the mainstream political parties; secondly, empowering and enabling the adivasi population by providing them with means to communicate and air their grievances. The overall aim of these measures should be to provide viable alternative options to the adivasis, in the absence of which Maoists are stepping in. These measures hold potential to wean the adivasis away from supporting the Maoists.
Maoists in India rank at number five amongst ten most deadly terrorist organisations of the world. The challenge posed by Left Wing Extremism in the east-central part of our country has become a formidable one. The government, largely because of the experience it has gained in combating LWE, has continuously evolved its policies to move towards conflict resolution. The government’s approach is to deal with LWE in a holistic manner, in the areas of security, development, ensuring rights and entitlements of local communities, improvement in governance and public perception management. Notwithstanding the governmental policies, it is felt that there have been missing pieces in the state’s strategy that emanate from the huge divide that has surfaced between the tribal population, who bear the brunt of the conflict, and the government.
The divide has occurred mainly due to absence of an alternative for the tribal population to air their multifarious grievances. Given the scenario, it is the LWE elements that step in to provide ways and means to the tribal population to express themselves, primarily through anti-state machinations. Issues forming part of domain that are beyond the prevalent approach need to be explored. The two most crucial aspects that could fulfill the requirement are, firstly, filling up the political vacuum that presently exists in the infested areas and, secondly, to provide the tribal population with a means to communicate with the state and society. These measures, it is felt, will go a long way towards mainstreaming this marginalised section of population by making them feel part of the national discourse, having excluded them so far.
World over, political engagement closely followed by policing has been the most successful strategy in combating terrorist groups in the long run. The eventual resolution of the Maoist conflict has to be political, as were the cases of Punjab, Tripura and Mizoram. Irrespective of its manifestations in terms of armed violence, Maoism is a political problem warranting political response, which has to be in tandem with the current initiatives. The mainstream political parties are conspicuous by their absence at the grassroots in these areas. Fundamentally, where political parties are strong, the Maoist challenge is weak and vice-versa. Political parties need to have a strong local structure to accommodate aspirations of tribal youth. Political parties present on the ground viewing electoral gains inevitably take the side of the powerful while the underclass remains potential fodder for the rebels. The unemployed are looking for avenues and see the movement as a quick tool of upward mobility. The local political leaders prefer to keep silent rather than risk Maoist wrath.
Since, the Maoist movement is fundamentally a political movement, the answer lies in politics and political parties. As long as parties continue to be inert in areas and do not fulfill their core responsibilities – accommodating aspirations, putting pressure on the local administration, providing institutional protection to those who believe in the present system, standing up for the marginalised, speaking out if there are atrocities against Dalits and tribals – there will be space for alternative outfits. Although this becomes difficult in areas where the Maoists do not allow activities of other political parties, there is no easy way out but to fill the political vacuum in a just manner.
It is true that development and creating opportunities can mainstream tribals, and reduce their incentives to join the Naxalites. Yet, the issue here is as much of rights as of development. A person does not become a Maoist because there is no school or health centre in his village; he becomes a Maoist due to a different set of circumstances, spanning from lack of justice, brutality of state officials, perceiving participation as a tool of mobility, coercion from other Maoists, and other factors. So while development is a part of the solution, to treat it as a one-size-fits-all alternative without reaching out to the people, may not be politically productive.
Politically speaking, the Maoist fault-line of being politically feeble can also be exploited by the State. Over years, the Maoist movement has gone weak on the ideological front with a notable absence of ideologically trained activists. It is increasingly becoming an exclusively armed movement, with little focus on political mobilisation. Amongst the tribal youth, what is common is a utilitarian streak and incentive based calculation behind the decision to join the Maoists. And this has created a vacuum of the politically committed at the middle level, leaders who can keep a check on ‘mistakes’ of the cadre. In the absence of politicisation, corruption has made way in the movement, which the state needs to exploit by exhorting political outfits to step up political activism. Media ought to play a significant role to shape up the societal perceptions in terms of expectations from political parties.
The communication pattern of a society is an important source of conflict and can become an effective conflict resolution strategy. Keeping channels of communication open helps in clearing misunderstandings between different groups. The second crucial means for constructing conflict resolution is imparting voice to adivasis, enabling them reach out to the society and the state. Since the medium of dissemination, as in present times, is owned by few, it has ceased to be democratic. Many of the estimated 80 million members of India's tribal communities lack access to any mainstream media outlets. This often poses serious barriers to their socio-economic development, as their grievances about government neglect and economic exploitation remain unvoiced. In addition, the LWE elements exploit their frustration and isolation to violent ends.
To address this, an initiative known as CG-Net Swara (a voice portal that enables ordinary citizens to report and discuss issues of local interest) has been voicing the impoverished tribal population. CG-Net Swara has given a chance to the adivasis to tell their stories their own way; not bound by the needs of a print or electronic media which follows a particular editorial line, not necessarily inclined to general interests of the tribals. The initiative started by a former journalist, Shubhranshu Choudhary, has consistently achieved progress.
For Choudhary, there were two wars going on in Chhattisgarh, one involved a small fraction of the rebels who were fanatically committed to communism. The other involved the vast majority of their followers, mainly poor, lower-caste tribal people, who had picked up rifles and joined the Maoists because they had run out of patience. It wasn't communism they wanted, but to have a voice, to be heard and taken seriously.
In the four years since it went live, in February 2010, it has transformed the way news is shared among the rural poor in central India. More than 300,000 reports have been called in by the new citizen journalists of Chhattisgarh, and 4,700 fact-checked stories aired and shared, many of them translated into Hindi and English and posted on CG- Net Swara's website, where they have been picked up by mainstream media in India and abroad, bringing the voices and views of the villagers in rural Chhattisgarh to the outside world for the first time and providing a peaceful vehicle for change.
The state needs to support such initiatives to make them grow in an optimal manner. In interaction with the outside world, the adivasis feel more empowered and chances of weaning them away from Maoists get even more bright; thus drying the water in which the guerilla swim. In tandem with the governmental efforts, non-traditional endeavours have to be progressed for a reasonable shot towards conflict resolution.
The author is Senior Fellow at CLAWS. Views expressed are personal.
 Global Terrorism Index Report, 2014, pp 49.
 Global Terrorism Index Report, 2014, pp 56.