Maoist challenge: Patience, silent work is need of the day

The chilling massacre of 26 people by the Maoists of the proscribed Communist Party of India (Maoist)  in cold-blood at Darbha Ghati, in Bastar’s Sukma district, on May 25 in Chhattisgarh, seems to have shaken the entire country.

Bastar is the rebels’ bastion.

The CPI (Maoist) is the most lethal Maoists outfit in the country with estimated underground cadre strength of 11,500 armed men and women. It was founded on September 21, 2004 following a merger between the CPI (Marxist-Leninist (Peoples War)), CPI-ML (Peoples War), popularly known as the PWG, and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI), better known as the MCC.

The Darbha Ghati massacre was not unexpected. Only, who would fall victim was not clear. At a meeting in February/March 2013 of the Dandakaranya Special Zone Committee (DKSZC), the Maoist leadership decided to launch a Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign (TCOC), ahead of  Assembly polls in Chhattisgarh  in November 2013 and LS elections in May 2014.

By extension, the Maoists would conduct TCOC in all their strongholds across various states ahead of the elections. This has been a recurring trend. In 2008, the Maoists conducted a TCOC from March to September and resumed it in January 2009. At that time, the TCOC commenced with the murder of Sunil Mahato, Lok Sabha MP from Jharkhand, in March 2008. Several people and security force personnel were killed during the TCOC. For instance, on June 29, 2008, the rebels shot dead 37 personnel of the elite Grey Hounds of Andhra Pradesh in Chitrakonda area in Odisha. Again, the rebels surrounded the CISF camp at Panchpatmali Hill, in the Damanjodi bauxite mines of NALCO, Odisha, on April 14, 2009, and killed 11 personnel and looted their armoury containing a huge quantity of explosives.

The Darbha Ghati massacre has raised shrill noises if the government had any counter-Maoist strategy at all! The achievement of the state government in dealing with the Maoist challenge has been a mixed-bag. Andhra Pradesh has displayed the best result in almost  wiping out rebel presence, except in North Coastal Andhra.

At the Union government-level, there is adequate comprehension and appreciation of the enormity of the Maoist challenge. There are four key elements in the Centre’s approach in dealing with the Maoists. These are: security, development, public perception management and surrender and rehabilitation. The plethora of measures being adopted by the Union Government and being suggested to various affected states, thus, fall under these four broad heads. However, the same is not reflected across various Maoist-affected states. At the same time, there is also the absence of consensus between the Centre and affected state governments, on how to respond to the challenge.

Absence of consensus, consistency and unanimity of perception mark the approach of the various political leaders towards to the Maoist challenge. At one extreme Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh has repeatedly called for a national policy to address the Maoist issue, while, at the other extreme,  CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said on August 21, 2005 that ‘it is not possible to have a national policy.”  

Thus, while states such as Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu have proscribed the CPI (Maoist), West Bengal has refused to do the same. Odisha has lately proscribed the CPI (Maoist), while Karnataka issued contradictory statements and finally chose not to ban the CPI (Maoist). On its part, Andhra Pradesh allowed the ban to lapse, initiated a peace process and re-imposed proscription in August 2005, in the wake of the assassination of a serving Congress-1 MLA in August 5 2005. Except for the CPI (Maoist) no other Maoist group  has been proscribed, even though some  are committed to the idea of protracted armed struggle to capture power.

Moreover, for a state like Madhya Pradesh or Uttar Pradesh, the limited pockets on the periphery have some Maoist presence and report violence at infrequent intervals. The political leadership fails to recognise that what seems to be a peripheral problem today would eventually turn out into a major challenge, a few years down the line. Also, a few political leaders –– cutting across party lines –– have had opportunistic linkages with the Maoists for narrow political gains. 

On the whole, at any stage the state (government) should first have a thorough and correct understanding of the problem at hand. Then, there should be the political will to face the Maoist challenge. There can be no room for confusion and vacillation. Only then, it would be possible to devise correct strategies to face the challenge.

A policy would emerge from such strategies, which needs to be translated into action at the ground level in order to show tangible results. For this the policies and programmes need to be implemented by committed officers in a comprehensive and well-coordinated manner.

The Maoist challenge can certainly be defeated. Besides weakening the Maoists’ lethal capacities and reducing violence, it is also essential to ensure that governance is improved; development schemes and programmes are implemented effectively; and their implementation is monitored rigorously, so that those prone to sympathising with, or supporting, the Maoists would, in the long run, realize the needlessness and futility of doing so. Thus, it is time to evince patience and undertake silent and sustained work.
(The writer is a Research Fellow, IDSA, New Delhi)

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