Ahead of the five-phase assembly elections in Jharkhand, let's study the 'biggest' threat to internal security, which ravages the state and is the likely cause of the prolonged election schedule
Jharkhand, a small state carved out of Bihar in 2000, is headed for elections in five phases starting November 30 and ending December 20. The counting is scheduled to take place on December 23.
The Model Code of Conduct has been in place since November, when the Election Commission announced the dates.
Jharkhand has 81 Assembly seats and an estimated population of 33 million – about 30 percent of the number of seats and population of Maharashtra. Yet, elections in Jharkhand are being conducted in five phases spanning nearly a month, as opposed to Maharashtra, where polls were held in one phase.
When asked about the prolonged duration, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, citing the 2014 state assembly elections, said, “Earlier also, polls in Jharkhand have been conducted in five phases.”
To further his argument, Arora said four out of every five assembly constituencies in Jharkhand were affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE). “19 out of the 24 districts of Jharkhand, with 67 Assembly seats, are affected by LWE. Of the 19 districts, the situation in 13 is worse. So special security arrangements have to be made by deploying adequate forces in the LWE-affected areas.” he said.
However, the Election Commission’s assertion is in sharp contrast with the statements of incumbent Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das, who during a media interaction in 2017, had said Naxalism is on the verge of extinction in the state.
“From the beginning of 2018, Jharkhand will be free from Naxalism as we have taken several steps to end Naxalite terror,” Das had said.
Who are Naxals, what is their ideology, what are their demands and how do they attempt to influence (read: boycott) elections, let's find out:
Who are Naxals?
Staunch proponents of the philosophy of the late Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong, Maoists advocate a class war waged by peasants against what they claim is a bourgeoisie state.
The nomenclature ‘Naxals’ for Indian Maoists was born from an incident that took place in Naxalbari village of West Bengal.On May 25, 1967, peasants, landless labourers and Adivasis with their lathis, arrows and bows raided granaries of a local landlord, who had attacked a tribal farmer, and forcefully wrested control of the land.
The name of the obscure village has come to be identified with the movement ever since.
How did the Naxalite movement gain momentum?
The rebellion in Naxalbari was quelled by the police after 72 days. However, the rebels quickly found support not only in the nearby villages, but also in China. The Communist Party of China’s mouthpiece People’s Daily referred to the Naxalbari rebellion as the “Spring Thunder” and devoted an entire editorial page to the incident.
Inspired by this, intellectuals, including students fresh out of universities, who were disillusioned by the system that had failed to meet their ideals starting preaching revolution to the poor.
The movement was led by Charu Majumdar, and his close associates Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal, who tried following Mao Zedong’s tactics to capture political power.
However, the Naxalite movement has eventually become radically different from what Maoism stood for.
Where do Naxals operate?
The Naxalite movement germinated and thrived in the poorest and the most backward rural areas, where Adivasis in the forests suffer at the hands of thetrader-contractor-moneylender nexus or the Dalit and OBC agricultural labourers and very poor peasants are cruelly oppressed and exploited by bigger landowners and rich farmers.
In uniting the peasants against landlordism, Naxals have kept the agrarian demands of the rural poor alive in Indian politics.
Maoist insistence on armed resistance to counter oppression has appealed to a large section of the impoverished population.
Which are the main groups?
There were several small outfits, operating in different parts of India. For instance, the People’s War Group (PWG) was established in 1976 and was active in Andhra Pradesh, while the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) held meetings in Bihar.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist-Janashakti was formed in 1992 and enjoyed a clout in Andhra, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra.
The contemporary Naxalite movement took shape in 2004, when PWG merged with the MCC to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist) or CPI (Maoist). The group is banned in India.
The Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC) is a splinter group of the CPI (Maoist), which is based in Jharkhand.
It is important to note here that the mainstream communist parties do not support the Naxal rebellion. In fact, since these parties contest elections at various levels, the Naxals consider them a part of the state, they are fighting against.
What do they want?
Struggles in Jharkhand forests seek to combine class demands with that of self-identity, dignity and autonomy for the marginalised minority nationalities.
A statement by the CPI (Maoist) said, "The immediate aim of the party is to accomplish the New Democratic Revolution in India by overthrowing imperialism, feudalism and comprador bureaucratic capitalism only through the Protracted People’s War ... The ultimate aim of the party is to bring about communism."
More often than not, their struggles transform take the shape of militancy, which is loosely based on the military strategy of Mao Zedong. People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) is the armed wing of the CPI (Maoist).
MoS Home Kiren Rijiju had told the Parliament in 2017, "As per available reports, the estimated armed cadre strength of the left-wing extremist groups is around 8,500. However, their support base is in larger numbers.”
How many states?
As per an article published in The Hindu on April 15, 2006, the Centre was worried that “the Naxal menace now extends to a dozen states” and “has spread to nearly 40 percent of the country’s geographical area, with the affected population going up to 35 percent.”
However, the areas where Naxals exert control, a belt euphemistically called the ‘Red Corridor’, are spread across the states of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. Maharashtra and West Bengal are moderately affected by the Naxal conflict.
What led to the growth of the Naxalite movement?
On April 14, 2006 the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had told a standing committee of six chief ministers of states affected by Naxalism that factors such as exploitation, artificially depressed wages, iniquitous socio-political circumstances, inadequate employment opportunities, lack of access to resources, under-developed agriculture, geographical isolation and lack of land reforms have contributed to the growth of Naxalite movement.
The central and eastern regions of India are very rich in mineral resources and are home to a dominant tribal population, which is primarily dependent on land for their livelihood. They are mostly subsistence farmers and live in abject poverty. Hence, they perceive mining activities as posing a direct threat to their land and livelihood. And therefore, mining belts and conflict zones exist symbiotically making villagers prone to Naxalism.
How many lost their lives in the Naxal conflict?
In 2009, former Prime Minister had called the Naxal rebellion the biggest “internal security threat” and had launched a counter-insurgency operation, which is often dubbed as ‘Operation Green Hunt’.
The operation elicited a louder response from the Naxals, who attacked any representative of the State – politicians, police and forest contractors. At a more local level, they target village political functionaries and landlords, often extracting protection money from them.
Naxals have also been accused of perpetuating a vicious cycle by blocking development in order to continue to retain control over the very lives of the tribals and villagers they claim to represent.
According to data collected by SATP, the casualties have been the highest in 2009, with over 300 security personnel and 400 civilians losing their lives. Around 290 naxals were also eliminated in the counter-insurgency operation. However, the figures have gradually reduced since.
Have there been any incidents of late?
Ahead of the first phase of the Jharkhand Assembly elections on November 30, three back-to back incidents have been reported from Latehar, Palamau and Lohardaga districts on November 22 and 23.
In Latehar, rebels of CPI(Maoist) in Latehar ambushed a patrol van to kill an ASI-ranked official and three Home Guard jawans. The next day, rebels shot dead a BJP supporter and a fruit-seller in Palamau and torched earthmovers in Lohardaga.
Experts suggest that rebels attack at strategic moments (ahead of polls) for maximum impact. In line with their agenda of waging a class war against the state, they call for boycotting elections. It has been observed that violence before the polls affects voter morale and hence the turnout.
Rebel violence statistically is on the wane. In 2019, till September-end, Jharkhand police recorded 238 cases of Naxalite violence across the state. In 2018, the number was 358.
This could be attributed to Jharkhand’s surrender policy, which encourages rebels to lay down arms and join mainstream politics. The programme promises cash, land and livelihood to those who surrender.
Over 100 rebels, including top ranking ones such as Kundan Pahan, Nakul Yadav have reportedly surrendered under the policy, weakening the base of rebels.
While electioneering in Jharkhand in April this year, the then Home Minister Rajnath Singh had said that Naxals will be rooted out of the country by 2023. “Naxals have been almost eliminated in Jharkhand and their remaining pockets in the state will end soon,” he had said.
But police say there are still 196 top and mid-ranking rebels who have not yet surrendered. Names such as Prashant Bose, Misir Besra and Asim Mandal, active in Jharkhand, carry a reward of Rs 1 crore on their heads.
Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections too, a BJP MLA and four security personnel were killed in an IED explosion in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh.
A similar incident was reported from Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli, where 15 security personnel were killed in an IED blast. The Naxals also torched 27 machines and vehicles.
Human Rights Violations?
The Adivasis are often caught in the crossfire between the Naxals and the security personnel. The security forces have been accused of committing mass sexual and rights abuses as well as extrajudicial killings. Villagers, who are often recruited by the Naxals for their operation, become vulnerable to arrest and torture by government forces.
Naxals too have been accused of killing and torturing villagers after accusing them of being police informers.
Besides, there is a murky side to surrenders too. In 2016, JMM leader Hemant Soren claimed that the surrender of the nine PLFI (People’s Liberation Front of India – a splinter group of CPI (Maoist)) members was to shore up numbers and window-dress the state government’s policy as all nine of them were actually villagers without a criminal past. Soren even demanded a CBI inquiry into the surrender.
What has the government done to contain the Naxal conflict?
Various initiatives have been taken by the government to curb the Naxalite movement. These include special development programmes supported by local administrations to reduce the Naxals’ hold over the rural poor.
Besides, since law and order is a state subject, each state has resorted to their own strategy to curtail violence in conflict areas. Plus, the Centre has set up a special 10,000-strong Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA) to fight them.
However, the debate that the long-drawn-out insurgency is nearing its end is still fresh. While the Naxals keep making their strength felt by daring attacks on state functionaries, it would be untenable to say that they continue to be the formidable threat to India's internal security, as they were in the late 2000's.
Many experts are of the view that left-wing extremism in India is in terminal decline. Not only has the ideology of revolution lost its old appeal, an improved performance from the state on the development and governance fronts has posed a challenge to their growth.Yet others believe that the Naxalite movement still continues to grow in the form of splinter groups, which launch sporadic but violent attacks and disrupt governance in their areas of dominance.