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Naxalism in Chhattisgarh: Down, not wiped out

Nihar R Nayak is Research Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • January 30, 2007

    Despite the Chhattisgarh government's two-pronged strategy of police operation combined with socio economic programmes against the Naxalites, there appears to be deterioration in the law and order situation in the state due to the escalation of Naxal violence. Frequent use of police forces against tribals in the name of anti-Naxal operations, forceful eviction due to mining and the establishment of industries by the state machinery have left the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh a virtual battle zone. Of late, the Naxalites' new tactics of deception against the security forces personnel engaged in anti-Naxal operations has further worsened the situation. In general, people in the State are feeling insecure in the face of frequent attacks on the security forces.

    Seven security forces personnel, including an Assistant Commandant of the Central Reserve Police Force and an Assistant Sub-Inspector of Chhattisgarh Police, were killed on January 16, 2007, when Naxalites triggered landmines on a joint operation team in Jharghati jungle near Narayanpur town in Bastar district. At least five policemen were injured in the blasts, after which the Naxalites carted away three AK-47 rifles, two SLRs, two Insas rifles and two walkie-talkies from the slain security personnel. Over 100 armed Naxalites, divided in groups, took positions on both sides of the road to ambush the 38-member police party. This ambush had been preceded on December 21, 2006 by another set of two landmine blasts at Polampalli in Dantewade district, which resulted in the death of five people two of whom were security forces personnel and injury to four others.

    The January 16 blasts were reportedly caused by at least three landmines. They were systematically co-ordinated and executed, and the Naxals followed it up by opening fire from all directions on the police party. The police believe that it was in fact a booby trap, for they had embarked upon that particular operation upon learning from informers that the some top Naxal leaders could possibly visit the area to pay tribute to four cadres who had recently been killed by the security forces in an encounter. The Naxals thus seem to have used disinformation to deceive the police and its intelligence system.

    The attack seems to have been deliberately planned to demoralize the security forces personnel and to ensure that in future they do not carry out immediate actions upon receiving intelligence inputs. If such a situation were to come to pass, it will help the Naxalites in political mobilization. Further, the attack indicated that the Naxalites' intention was to walk off with arms from the security forces personnel, given that they are running short of arms and ammunition due to frequent police raids on suspected Naxalite arms factories and dumps. On January 11, 2007, for example, the police unearthed a Naxalite arms factory in Satnami Nagar area in Bhopal and recovered a huge consignment of arms. Subsequently, the police also unearthed Naxalite arms factories in Jamshedpur and Rourkela.

    Another explanation has been given for the recent Naxal attacks given by Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh. He said that the Naxalites carried out the attack out of frustration and warned that stringent action would continue against the rebels. In fact, the State has been taking stringent actions against the Naxalites after imposing a ban on the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) and its front organisations under an ordinance issued on September 5, 2005. Despite this, the state government has failed to check violence in Bastar. A Union Home Ministry report indicated that the Naxalites could capture nearly 60 per cent of the land area of Chhattisgarh by 2010, if decisive operations are not carried out to dismantle their bases. Moreover, an Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) report suggested that in the year 2006, 48 per cent of the Naxalite-related killings were reported from Chhattisgarh. The report also said that a total of 749 people, including 285 civilians, were killed in Naxalite violence in India during the year 2006 and that about 80 per cent of these were victims of landmine attacks.

    Although various reports suggest that Naxalite violence in Chhattisgarh had gone down in 2006, in comparison to 2005, the recent attacks indicate that the movement is down but not wiped out. It is still capable enough to hit at will. The attack raises questions on the counter-insurgency strategy adopted by the state as well as about the nature of the Naxalite movement there. Instead of treating the conflict as a law and order problem, state authorities should understand the true nature of the problem. What the Naxalites are engaged in is an agrarian and livelihood based revolutionary war, in which man, not weapon, is the decisive factor. The Chhattisgarh government has consistently failed to provide basic infrastructure - schools, hospitals, roads, and gainful employment to the tribal groups. At the same time, the tribal groups' access to natural resources is being increasingly curbed due to stringent forest and mining Acts formulated by the State from time to time. These policies have consistently deprived them of their fundamental rights. As a result they have become easy recruits to the Naxalite cause. Moreover, although the State adopted a pro-business Mining policy in 2001, it is yet to formulate a Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) policy.

    Instead of addressing the root cause of Naxalism in Chhattisgarh, the State police have been blaming other state governments for the rise of the Naxal threat. According to Chhattisgarh police chief, his state is suffering mainly because of Andhra Pradesh's incoherent policies on Naxalism. Similarly, the chief of police in Jharkand, another Naxal-affected state, has accused the neighbouring Bihar and West Bengal governments of being non-committal when it comes to launching a joint offensive against Naxals.

    While bureaucrats accuse other states, the matter is more serious at the political level. Chhattisgarh is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its neighbouring states - Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Jharkhand - are governed by the Congress, Biju Janata Dal and an independent alliance backed by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), respectively. Hence, it is observed that there is lack of political will to arrive at a common agenda to address Naxalism in the region. Apart from unaddressed socio-economic issues that provide it with a sustained motive, the Naxal movement has also been able to sustain itself for more than 40 years because different political parties ruling the affected states create hurdles for joint operations. As a result, Naxalites take shelter at state tri-junctions during police action in these states.

    Considering the gravity of the situation, the affected states need to overcome their political and ideological differences. Dr. Manmohan Singh had, at a day-long meeting of six Naxalite affected states' chief ministers in New Delhi on April 13, 2006, in fact said that Naxalism has emerged as the single biggest internal security challenge to the country and advised the states to co-ordinate with each other to manage the problem. There thus needs to be simultaneous combing operations in all bordering districts. The Naxalite movements in all 14 affected states are controlled by separate state committees and five regional bureaus, and each has its own set of demands. There is strong co-ordination between these state committees and regional bureaus and that is why individual states should not try and negotiate only with those within their borders. Naxalites also have the habit of relocating their cadres to neighbouring states during peace talks. This is all the more reason why there needs to be greater co-ordination among the various states affected by Naxal violence. Moreover, to bring the alienated masses to the mainstream of governance, ecological regeneration programmes should be introduced in rural areas. In fact, considering the different approaches and recurring failure of the Naxalite affected states in managing the conflict, the Union government should take the initiative to declare a people friendly Resettlement and Rehabilitation policy at the national level and generally assume a more proactive role in co-ordinating efforts to tackle this single biggest internal security challenge facing the country.