The recent increase in the spate of naxal violence(Lalgarh West Bengal, Bastar region, Chattisgarh) must have startled every average Indian citizen like me. One question that must have come to everyone's mind was, are our security forces well-equipped to fight this menace? In this blog post, I wish to put forth my views on why we are not approaching this problem in a correct manner and what will it take to solve this decades old evil.
Naxal violence constitutes an asymmetric war that needs unconventional responses. The traditional response based on unleashing the armed forces is not enough. I call this war asymmetric because of the disparity of resources between the opposing sides. One one side we have the government with all its material resources and well-equipped armed forces, while on the other side we have the ill-equipped but ideologically driven naxals. Despite this difference in potential, the armed forces have only been partially successful in making inroads. To understand why this is the case, it is imperative to understand the roots of naxalism.
Ever since independence, chronic poverty and gross inequalities between the rich and the poor have plagued vast sections of our society. The State, for various reasons, has not been able to provide basic necessities like water, sanitation, nutrition, health, education, housing and employment guarantees to the majority of our population. In addition, corruption, red-tapism in our bureaucracy, political insensitivity and common instances of high handedness and harassment meted out to the poor and the disadvantaged have only disenchanted the people with the democratic process. Added to this, we have a section of people who feel that they have been socially excluded and marginalised. Certain elements of these sections decided to leave the mainstream and take up arms to fight the state and its insensitivities. They hope to achieve an egalitarian society through violent means.
Their actions include destroying government properties, killing the security forces, threatening the rich for money and so on. They are prepared to do socially horrifying things in order to pursue their goals. They are well aware of their insufficient material, human resources and hence resort to unconventional warfare like guerrilla tactics. They generally pick soft-targets and seek to destroy every symbol of government authority. When the round-the-clock media brings this violence to our homes, it provokes indignation among us. We seek an immediate response from our political masters and security forces. The immediate reaction of the State is to ban these outfits, pass tough legislations and unleash the armed forces. In the course, basic human rights are violated and sometimes the common man becomes a victim leading to further alienation of the people. Thus we enter a vicious cycle where violence feeds further violence.
This should bring us to the realization that conventional strategies based on military doctrines are simply not enough to fight this menace. Such doctrines are more suited to situations where we have countries fighting conventional wars. In this case, the enemy is invisible and comes from the common population. Once his job is done, he melts away into the population and it becomes difficult to track him. For the security forces, it is like searching for a needle in the haystack.
The first step then towards fighting naxalism is to endear to the local population. Instances like taking over land from the local farmers for development purposes without properly rehabilitating them, constructing projects leading to displacement of tribals only serve to further alienate the people. The State has the obligation to consult the effected parties before embarking on any development projects. If the development project is in the national interest and the farmers are not ready to part with their land, the government needs to come up with effective rehabilitation measures under the terms set by the effected parties.
Next, the politicians need to realize that armed strategies can only be quick fixes putting the real issues on the back-burner. The real issues relate to distributive social justice and provision of basic necessities. They need to come up with structural reforms that ensure eradication of poverty and minimisation of inequalities. Only then can we win the hearts and minds of the people. Once we have the people on our side, the local support for the insurgents would automatically decrease.
To conclude, enlightened and visionary approaches based on just and political solutions should replace chaotic and myopic approaches based on military doctrines. We need the civil society, media and politicians to come together and debate more on the real causes of naxalism and offer practical solutions. If India were to emerge as an economic super power in this century, it is imperative that it solves one of its major societal menace, naxalism as soon as possible.