Identification of Stakeholders – Assessing Left-wing Extremism in India

 By Tejusvi Shukla
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Successive governments (both state(s) and Centre) have been deriving newer methods for tackling the menace of Left Wing Extremism in India for the past few decades. The current NDA government’s move of Demonetization, in 2016, in this regard, has been one of the most widely debated one in terms of its impact on the Indian Red Corridor. On November 8, 2016, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetization of all INR 500 and INR 1000 banknotes, the nation was taken by surprise. Amongst the worst hit were cash-based transactions that formed the base for channels of counterfeit currency, drug trafficking, hawala transactions and illegal arms trafficking- all of which act as key financiers of Left-wing extremism in India.

The Impact

Popularly called ‘Naxalites’ or ‘Maoists’, the Left-wing extremists inhabit the resource-rich dense forest terrains of West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, along with certain patches in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kerala- collectively termed as the ‘Red Corridor’. Precisely spread across 106 cities across 10 states, with 35 majorly affected cities in 7 states, four decades on, Left-wing Extremism continues to be one the gravest internal security threats for the Indian State. With such an elaborate machinery operating, official reports state that the fund collection of the Maoists is over INR 140 crores annually from a varied number of sources, which primarily include extortion, illegal drug cultivation and trafficking, pumping of counterfeit currency in the Indian economy, hawala transactions and funds from over-ground sympathisers. Most of these activities primarily depend on cash transactions to avoid being tracked by the authorities. It was expected that the demonetisation drive would prove to be a serious blow for the financing of left-wing extremism. Over INR 97.75 lakh was seized by the security forces between November 8, 2016 and August 2, 2017 (with a total of INR 1.6 crore by March 2018 in Chhattisgarh alone) with suspected Maoist connections from various places across the Red Belt. Simultaneously, the figures of illegal drug cultivation and trafficking showed a visible change.

Year

Annual Seizure

2017

352539 kg

(State-wise maximum seizure from Andhra Pradesh: 78767.98 kg)

2016

294347 kg

2015

94403 kg

Year-wise annual seizure of Cannabis across India (Source: Annual Report 2017, Narcotics Control Bureau)

Year

Annual Destruction

2017

7602 acres

(State-wise maximum destruction in Jharkhand:2664 acres )

2016

6512 acres

2015

3461 acres

 

year-wise annual destruction of illicit poppy cultivation across India (Source: Annual Report 2017, Narcotics Control Bureau)

Local police forces claim that a situation of crisis indeed existed among the naxal cadres as well as among their leadership in the following few months of the initial announcement of demonetisation. A sudden surrender of 584 naxalites by November 29, 2016 alone (owing to the shortages of basic necessities including food and medicines due to severe cash crunch) and a number of letters recovered by the police signalling a significant dent While 2014 recorded 1091 incidents, 1088 incidents were recorded in 2015 against 857 incidents between November 2016 and November 2017. With an immediate initial halt to all of these activities that was prominently noticed with this marked decrease of 25.78% in Maoist incidents of violence across the Red Belt (between October 2016 and October 2017).

Year-wise Incidents of Maoist Violence (Source: Ministry of Home Affairs)

Persisting loopholes

Although with initial hiccups, when the naxlites realised that exchanging large sums of invalid currency is bringing them under the direct surveillance of the alert government authorities, they simply distributed their cash in small amounts among the local population and the contractors. They were easily helped by them, at some occasions for a meagre commission, at others out of fear. Scrapped cash was also, in various cases transported out of conflict zones, and with an avoiding security agencies. A large sum of invalid currency from conflict zones got exchanged in economic hotspots like Ranchi and Bilaspur. The existing gaps of communication between SFs across various states was also used as a comfortable advantage and scrapped currency from one state was transferred to neighbouring states, namely, Maharashtra, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana with over 70% of scrapped currency successfully exchanged by the naxals by November 2017. Although the impact of demonetisation could be felt, owing to these persisting loopholes, it evidently failed to achieve the results of the expected extent.

Way Ahead

It is evidently clear that the Maoists owe their existence to primarily two stakeholders: the local disillusioned population (that forms the main Maoist support base on ground) and the financiers (that provide it with its material strength). The scrapping of high denomination bank notes (that formed the main component of Maoist funds) without identifying these two stakeholders that have been hindering efforts for the neutralisation of the ultras from the Red Corridor. This has forced us to rethink and revisit the existing lacunae of our structures.

The local population

Disillusionment due to poverty and social injustice are certainly one of the major characteristics of most conflict zones, globally. It is therefore important to work towards eradicating this disillusionment by initiating better infrastructural projects that would lead to economic development in the future. The obvious solution to this chronic problem lies in a fundamental fact that is often skipped: you cannot develop the ‘people’ without the cooperation of the ‘people’ you desire to develop. The local population across the Red Belt is mostly tribal, illiterate and underprivileged- both in terms of economic and social parameters. Most importantly, it is a linguistically unique population. In the Red Corridor, the communication frequency between the people and the government falls miserably short when compared with that between the Maoist leadership and the local people.

Although government efforts for initiating development projects have been persistent, the very absence of local governance with local representation that could represent the local population and convey its sentiments among the people causes a communication gap that is often used by the Maoists. Tribes in India are generally unique in terms of their belief systems and culture. They are extremely protective about them. Owing to their inaccessibility to modern education and understanding of the Indian State, the presence of alien people, makes them apprehensive about their tribe’s existence. The Maoist leaders, on the other hand, being one of their own, find it easy, to manipulate the locals against the government who can neither speak their language, nor resonate with their culture and beliefs. They are easily driven into believing that the government is the reason for all of their difficulties and intends to do nothing significantly good for them. If the government’s sentiments are instead conveyed through certain local people instead of being conveyed only through State agencies, the support base that the Naxalites enjoy will be hit at the base. The teachers, panchayat leaders, or other villagers who have helped the Maoists through various counter-insurgency operations as well as through demonetisation, could be helping the government to promote the various infrastructural projects that are stalled by the Maoists who otherwise claim to be the guardians of the local population. Involving the academia, including historians who have studied these tribal cultures, in policy formations and their execution could be a landmark move. Inclusion of journalists who are familiar with the terrain and habits of the population as well as social workers who recognise the appropriate means of communication with the brainwashed tribals and villagers could be make a significant difference.

Among the SFs, initiatives imitating the Bastaria Battalion (battalion that consists of local youth recruited by SFs) need to be undertaken more often.

The Financiers

The finances, certainly form another important component that needs to be tacked independently. The Maoists raise most of their funds from extortion (from contractors, businesses, corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, etc.), illegal drug cultivation and trafficking, hawala transactions and external linkages.

The SFs are deployed to protect infrastructural projects that are being undertaken across the Red Belt against Maoist attacks. But, the contractors, still apprehensive of their project’s security continue to pay levies to the local Maoist leadership. This lack of confidence requires immediate attention, and the political leadership needs to be address this situation with urgency.

The existing coordination gaps between government institutions is another issue that needs to be immediately tackled. Coordination between the SFs coupled with usage of advanced technology that could check the hawala transactions, trafficking and illegal arms trade through external linkages that contribute to a major portion of the Maoist finances.

Conclusion: Identification of the Stakeholders is necessary

Although tackling the LWE menace clearly does not hold a straightforward solution and requires situational moulding, identifying the two major stakeholders upon whose shoulders rests the existing strength of Left-wing Extremists is a dire necessity. While the current programmes must continue with the required ferocity, a simultaneous understanding of the stakeholders and inclusion of this identification in policy making to promote the existing programmes (along with checking the exorbitant corruption that only inhibits any efforts taken) and initiate newer ones would help the government to eradicate this threat from the realms of Indian Internal Security.

References

1. Annual Report 2017-18, Ministry of Home Affairs
2. “Maoist Finances: Sources, Methods of Collection and Utilization.” Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses. February 14, 2014. Accessed on December 27, 2018.
3. “Demonetisation caused little disruption to Maoist economy in Bastar, extortion major source of funding- FirstPost.”  FirstPost, July 27, 2018. Accessed on December 27, 2018.
4. Statement issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Press Bureau of India, January 3, 2018. Accessed on December 28, 2018.
5. “Currency ban: The effects of demonetisation on Terrorism funding, Left-wing extremism in 10 points- Times of India.” Times of India- November 29, 2016. Accessed December 28, 2018.
6. Annual Report 2017-18, Narcotics Control Bureau