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An estimated 5-minute read

Behind Maoist Lines: Perspectives on the State v. Subaltern debate

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The reemergence of the Naxalites (rechristened Maoists) after 30 years of near lull has been an issue that has generated a lot of public debate. Despite getting more than its share of media coverage, it has not been easy to construe the pith and substance of the multi-faceted issue.

 

State Supporters v. Maoist Sympathizers

The debate surrounding Maoist violence has been extremely polarized. Things didn’t help when Home Minister Chidambaram took a Bush like -with us or against us- stance on the issue.  

While a set of people completely thrash state violence, the others thrash Maoist violence. Paradoxically both groups maintain- we condemn all forms of violence. While state supporters described the Maoists as “bloodthirsty terrorists” and “cowardly killers,” the sympathetic descriptions have ranged from “misguided ideologues” to “Gandhians with guns.”

Violence begets violence. When the state justifies its action by posing it as a response to Maoist violence, the Maoists turn the table on the state and describe their actions as a natural response to State violence. The reaction of the rebels is further justified on the ground that it arisen out of dire circumstances- poverty, unemployment, lack of basic services. The state on the other hand says that it can bring about all this only if the Maoists are eliminated.

In the public sphere, the ‘big fight’ has been between the stoics and romantics, between the finish them approach and the uplift them approach, between addressing the immediate concern and addressing the root cause, between those who view it as a law and order issue and others who view it as a socio-economic issue.

 

The Tribal Question

A crucial aspect surrounding the issue, earlier ignored, is regarding the welfare of the tribals who mostly occupy the “Maoist infested” areas. Reports of how the tribals are caught in between the Maoists and the state backed Salwa Judum is now repeatedly coming and the view is that in this war, it is essentially the tribals who loose out. 

Most of the members of the Maoist cadre are from the tribal population and according to an expert committee report of the planning commission, the main support for the Maoists also comes from the adivasis and dalits. The report cites issues such as large scale displacement, forest rights denial, land alienation as the main reason for the spread of Maoism among these people. 

Even while rightly identifying the issues faced by the tribals, the state’s new “two-pronged” strategy may not work. Along with the state device of violent repression, the ancillary scheme is to bring development through large-scale investment. The strategy does not fail to have a rationale, as more investment into these underdeveloped areas can bring in more job opportunities and higher standard of living.

However, large scale investment has been flowing into these mineral rich areas for years. It is exactly this policy of massive development that has resulted in land displacement and related issues. And it is this vulnerability of the tribals that the Maoists have utilized by fighting their fight and offering an alternative to the oppressive state.  

However, despite establishing some sort of an alternative governance system in these areas, even the Maoists have not been successful in improving the wages, education or health of the tribals.  Instead the Maoists have used the tribals as foot-soldiers in their fight to capture power from the bourgeois Indian state.

Along with lack of development, the other issue that has been highlighted as a cause for Maoist support is the lack of good governance. The tribals view the government, represented by the politicians, bureaucrats and police, as merely self-serving with no genuine interest in helping the locals. The lack of easy access to justice has also increased Maoist presence and hence allowed alternative and often inhuman forms of justice through its “people’s court”

 

Meeting the challenges through law

It is important to understand that the multi-faceted issues facing these areas cannot have simplistic solutions. Hence expressing that development and good governance should eventuate will not do. More so due to the fact that our conception of development and good governance may not be in line with the tribals understanding of the same concepts.

As practitioners of law, we cannot shy away from this issue which deals with the application of law and the idea of justice. On the issue of development, it is known that these areas are mineral rich. Making use of these minerals maybe in national interest. However while exploiting the resources for national (and private) benefit, it cannot be at the cost of the original occupiers of the land.

Making the tribals also partners of the development could be helpful. The draft Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill 2010 seeks to provide 26 percent of shares in the mining company to people holding occupation or usufruct or traditional rights on the land over which the lease has been granted. Even before providing the mining lease, the bill requires the state to obtain permissions from those possessing rights over the land. 

On the question of governance, the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act already empowers the gram sabha in the Scheduled Areas (as per the 5th Schedule of the Constitution) to decide over land use. Its implementation has been a major problem. Self-governance through a powerful autonomous democratic body would mean that decisions affecting the people will be taken by the people itself hence offering a bottom-up rather than top-down approach. 

On the larger issue of social justice, first the basic issues of poverty and unemployment have to be met by effective implementation of government schemes like the MGNREGA. To avoid the “people courts”, more people centric courts which solves basic problems in a simple manners is necessary. The implementation of the Gram Nyayalaya Act would hence be significant.

Will all problems related with Maoist violence cease with this? Perhaps not. But a sincere attempt to implement these laws could be a starting point. So instead of a government policy of violent repression and massive development, a policy of participatory development, self-governance and social justice, if implemented properly, can be an alternative to the alternative that Maoists have established.

 

 

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