By Mathew Simon
The Maoist cause has lost the ideological fervor and rigor that characterized it at inception. While acknowledging the challenges posed by these left-wing extremists, India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh said they are losing ground and shrinking and “fighting a lost battle.”
The question one needs to pose then is how to find effective ways to stem their resilience and ability to regroup. And, additionally, explore the prospects of peace talks. Governmental responses in terms of development initiatives through welfare schemes and good governance need to penetrate the core areas of Maoist influence. This is possible only through the help of the villagers and tribal people in facilitating socio-economic growth. Identifying and addressing their grievances on community forest rights and compensation matters related to land acquisition should remain a priority.
It is not that the government at the central and state levels is not addressing such core issues of governance, but it is the pace and extent of grassroots development initiatives that matters and are left partially addressed.
Upping the development ante with effective ground-level security measures to arrest the trend of Maoist violence is the need of the hour. Statistics show the reduction of Maoist violence through the tenures of different governments. These can be adjudged as achievements or faulty, when seen through the myopic lens of security. However, statistics do not provide the macro-perspective to address the problems of Maoist violence. Statistics of violence and development cannot match the ground level realities and aspiration of villagers and tribal people rightfully seeking their entitlements. This perceived gap can be addressed best through effective tools of participatory governance.
The leadership’s political will to deliver governance and strengthen the determination of security forces is commendable in terms of neutralizing the violence but fails in one crucial aspect; of finding innovative ways using the civil society-tribal-Governmental strategic mix to mainstream the Maoists and reinstate their belief in the democratic and constitutional values of India.
Government policy to deal with Maoists is that they abjure violence before any meaningful dialogue can happen. It then becomes pertinent to create a favourable environment for negotiations. This can be done by strategically communicating the futility of their cause given their ageing leadership and internal leadership conflicts that cannot further sustain the Maoist movement. Bringing them to talks requires a firm resolve by the government to dismantle their propaganda machinery to provide an effective counter narrative to their justifications for their abhorrent acts of violence.
Another effective way is to remove the fear of villagers in confronting the Maoists. This can happen only if the district administration gains the trust of the villagers by effectively addressing their socio-economic grievances in a time-bound fashion. Human rights violations of villagers and tribal people by security forces must be dealt with sternly, under due process of law, for them to repose faith and trust in the government.
Maoist regrouping and striking at will, especially during the summer months, can be tackled perceptively and strategically by announcing a ceasefire for the development of Left Wing Extremism [LWE] affected districts. In announcing the ceasefire for talks, Government could have a strategic upper hand and not be seen as succumbing to the pressure of Maoist attacks. Government would be on a stronger footing to decide the terms and pace of negotiations.
This is the way to reduce casualties on both sides. Perceptive approaches to Maoist violence require out of the box solutions at strategic points of time. Previous attempts at talks may have had positives takeaways and failures in terms of tactics and approaches. Such tactics and approaches can be revisited and fresh perspectives can also be learned from the Colombian peace process.
If the ceasefire fails, the Government has the prerogative to roll back and resume operations. In doing so, the Government can communicate that the Maoists were unwilling to sit down and have thus missed another opportunity towards peace.
The complex insurgent Maoist problem can be dealt with by the right proportion of security, ceasefire and hard developmental approaches. The involvement of civil society, academic researchers in understanding and approaching the problem is important.
What is needed now is for a joint government-academic effort in searching for innovative, workable solutions to answer developmental grievances in LWE-affected areas. The government has identified 35 LWE districts out of 115 Aspirational Districts through a Niti Ayog initiative to bring change in those districts by improving their key human development indicators.
Civil society activists and academics have, through their substantial work in LWE Districts, suggested ways to address the developmental gaps, which the government should act upon with due diligence. The reduction of Maoist violence through inclusive talks and development is the way forward. This is possible if Maoists abjure violence and understand the futility of taking up arms against the State.
Maoists have repeatedly stepped up efforts to thwart governmental efforts towards inclusive development. It is time the government aggressively pushes its plank of development to its rightful owners by devising effective, socially accountable administrative measures towards good governance in LWE districts.
(The author is a Researcher at Internal Security Centre, IDSA. He can be contacted at email@example.com)