The Maoist movement’s political role in elections has remained practically in a grey area between electoral politics and revolutionary politics.
Despite the boycott call given by the Maoists, the voter turnout in the Jharkhand assembly elections has been significantly high: 62.87 per cent in the first phase of the polls held on November 30, and 64.39 per cent in the second phase on December 7.
Even though three more phases are to follow, the region where the Maoist movement is most active has been already covered with the deployment of over 42,000 security personnel. Does it mean that the Maoist ability to enforce their call is limited, thus indicating a sharp decline of their influence? Or was the call a routine ideological statement rejecting the electoral process as sham mode of people’s representation? Or did it show a strategic ambiguity of a movement that has debated this question for five decades as to whether the institutions of parliamentary democracy should be used as a part of the wider political movement as CPI (ML- Liberation) and some other streams of the movement believe?
The boycott call given on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections in March and reiterated before the assembly polls recently focused on two issues besides critiquing the electoral system where huge amount of money and muscle power and even the media is used to mobilise voters.
The first was the issue of the threat of displacement that the land acquisition policy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government posed to the adivasis, and the second was the communal onslaught of Hindutva that caused widespread insecurity for the minorities, especially Muslims as the cases of lynching illustrated. Even though the attempted amendment to the 2013 Land Acquisition Law by the Narendra Modi government was suspended because of nation-wide protests, the policies of several BJP-led governments in the states virtually followed those policies. This was seen as a direct affront on the adivasi rights over their habitat and natural resources.
Other major issues, such as the Jharkhand government’s decision to close down nearly 12,000 schools in the name of low enrolment, and commercialise healthcare were also highlighted. All these were a part of the larger question of the tribal identity of Jharkhand where the 26.3 per cent adivasis continue to struggle for their legitimate status in the face of longstanding domination by non-tribals, especially corporate houses extracting the region’s resources.
Interestingly, these were also the issues raised by the opposition parties, especially the Mahagathbandhan of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). On the land rights issue, several powerful campaigns had been waged by organisations affiliated to the NAPM (National Alliance of People’s Movements). Some of the campaigns were branded by the state as pro-Maoist and the raids on Father Stan Swamy linking him with the Bhima Koregaon case, demonstrated that.
That the Maoist movement now mainly mobilised the adivasis in defense of their rights over jal, zamin and jungle, and in the process took up the issue of civil liberties of local people cannot be missed. Therefore, their political role in the elections, despite the bombing incident blowing up a bridge in Gumla, remained practically a grey area between electoral politics and revolutionary politics.
This reality is hardly understood by the regime which is determined to liquidate the Maoist movement guided by the Manmohan Singh formulation that the naxalites posed the “biggest internal security threat”. The fact that the cycle of violence and counter-violence persisted for over 30 years in many districts of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and some other states despite massive operations by the security forces should warrant some re-examination of the prevailing approach of the government.
During the election campaign Modi highlighted what he called ‘Mission Samadhan’ to solve the Maoist problem once and for all, and urged voters to re-elect the Raghuvir Das regime and provide a ‘double engine government’ to firmly implement policies. Five years ago too, in course of the 2014 campaign, he had accused the Congress government of being lenient to the Naxalites. The fact, however, is that there was no serious difference of approach between the BJP and the Congress on the issue of handling the Naxalite question.
The Planning Commission Group’s view in 2007 that it was essentially a ‘political issue’ to be pursued through participatory development and sharing of power at the local level was not accepted even by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime.
The central government strategy with a coordination centre in the home ministry advised by various security agencies design and operate the ‘counter-insurgency strategy’. Every state has an anti-naxalite division of the armed police with special squads for jungle warfare and quick actions. Assistance of Israel in training and supply of material is also not new. The PM now wishes to increase the intensity of these operations, so that the region is made safe for mining and related industrial activities in the new phase of India’s growth.
The Maoists may have taken up important local issues of people, but some of their violent actions, such as killing individuals alleging them to be police informers, blowing up police vehicles, invite even more state action. In many areas they have lost popular support .Thus the cycle of violence persists. All sides need a fresh perspective to break this cycle and create conditions of peace and human rights of the common people. Unless adivasi right to shape their development is guaranteed, any ‘samadhan’ is unlikely.
Manoranjan Mohanty is former Professor of Political Science, Delhi University, and is author of 'Red and Green: Five Decades of the Maoist Movement in India'. Views are personal.Jharkhand Assembly election 2019: For the latest news, views and updates, click hereGet access to India's fastest growing financial subscriptions service Moneycontrol Pro for as little as Rs 599 for first year. Use the code "GETPRO". Moneycontrol Pro offers you all the information you need for wealth creation including actionable investment ideas, independent research and insights & analysis For more information, check out the Moneycontrol website or mobile app.