Saturday, September 6, 2014

No surprises here: Modi's Naxalite policy

One area in which the Modi government’s first 100 days has brought absolutely no surprises is the policy on Naxalites. Everything is as predicted, from increased militarization to the vitiation of environmental protections.

What is extraordinary is not the continuity in policy between UPA and NDA, but how little the government has learnt from the past 10 years. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh may think he can finish the Maoists in ‘3 years’ by flooding Chhattisgarh with troops (one lakh by 2016), but he should recall that in March 2010, P. Chidambaram had with equal hubris declared his government would solve the problem in “2-3 years”. Home Ministry officials, who should have had a longer institutional memory than their Ministers, have revived all the elements of a plan that led to the intensification of conflict in the first place, right down to community policing (Salwa Judum and SPOs by another name, despite the Supreme Court ban?) and the use of Naga India Reserve Battalions in Chhattisgarh. Their cruelty between 2005-7 is hardly likely to ensure that villagers will now welcome them with open arms or information.

Similarly, the invocation of the single IG/DIG command -- with KPS Gill in Punjab as a model -- is like an open invitation to unchecked authority, starting with the posting of SRP Kalluri as IG Bastar range. Kalluri was posted out after a particularly egregious incident in 2011 – when 300 homes in Tadmetla and neighbouring villagers were burnt, people killed, and women raped by security forces. The fact that he has now been sent back suggests the state wants operations untrammelled by human rights, law and the Constitution. Over the past few months, villagers across Bastar have been complaining of repeated raids and arbitrary arrests, but there has been no media coverage.

Tadmetla in south Chhattisgarh is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with the country’s Naxalite policy. On August 15, the CRPF claimed to have achieved a major success by hoisting the national flag at the village, which is close to the spot where 76 CRPF men and 8 Maoists were killed in an ambush in 2010.

They conveniently forgot that in 2011, after the attack on villagers, Chief Minister Raman Singh had visited the area and promised to (re)start the primary school there. He even offered the teacher’s job to one young man. Three years later, there is still no school, only a flag. The CBI has not submitted its findings on the incident to the Supreme Court despite being asked in 2011 to give a preliminary report within 6 weeks. As for the TP Sharma Commission set up by the State Government, the malicious cross-examination of the villagers has given rise to fears that its aim is to exonerate the security forces. The villagers themselves continue to have an inexplicable faith in ‘justice’ as shown by the fact that over the past three years, they have been braving the 400 km journey back and forth from their village to Jagdalpur to depose on what happened. 2014 might have looked very different had we seen immediate redress instead of this attempt to destroy civilian morale; schools instead of carpet security cover through CRPF camps.

On Independence Day, Prime Minister Modi exhorted the Maoists to give up violence and turn to farming instead. However, it is precisely because the government will not let people farm in peace that they turn to the Maoists in the first place. The Maoists are still out there, not just on the strength of their violent methods or because people are scared of them, as the government claims, but also because they have distributed land and built ponds. The villagers may be tiring of conflict, but when all that the government offers them is a flag instead of schools, it is hardly a serious alternative. CG-net, a phone-in news service for adivasi areas, is full of people’s complaints about not being paid for NREGA work, handpumps not working, teachers not coming to school etc. The gap between what people want and what the government is offering – more soldiers to push through mines and industries – could not be more glaring. As for Maoist cadre, while surrenders may have increased, it is hard to distinguish this from government propaganda, especially when officers associated with the CRPF run their own racket in fake surrenders, as was reported from Jharkhand.

The only change from the so-called ‘security and development’ approach of the UPA regime, is the ‘securitise and communalise’ approach of the BJP and its associates, illustrated by the recent announcement that ‘non-Hindus’ would not be allowed into Bastar villages and the plan to develop sangh parivar-scripted ‘local histories’ of adivasi areas. However, what Congress style ‘secularists’ should remember is that they have also been culpable in destroying adivasi religion, by mining the hills and forests in which adivasi Gods live.

Adivasi communities are ‘peoples’ and not ‘backward Hindus’ – with distinctive languages spoken by millions and distinctive faiths. It is precisely because of this that the 5th Schedule of the Constitution mandates the Governor to defend their laws and customs, including control over land and resources. If the Governor is reduced to a mere political appointee, this is a direct attack on the separation of powers envisioned in the 5th Schedule.

The saddest aspect of the current crisis is the silence with which the militarization of adivasi areas is being received.  Ultimately, what we have is not an anti-Maoist plan but an anti-adivasi plan since it is they who will bear the brunt of the government’s onslaught.  The adivasis of this country have been abandoned by everybody, at least till the next major Maoist attack makes news for a couple of hours.