Violence As a Way Of Life

State-Maoist Conflict in Jharkhand-Bihar

Biswajit Roy

Is peace possible with neoliberal development? According to Amit Prakash from JNU, the conflicts in Jharkhand and Bihar did not begun at certain point of time. There is a history of several factors including deprivation, social injustice, caste wars and war over resources as well as political control over the state institutions. Also, there is no institutional method of listening to the locals by the state processes. However, the Indian state's responses to Naxalite violence have changed gradually. Earlier government tried to wipe out Naxalites militarily only. Now ministry of home affairs admits development deficits, institutional gaps and problems of deliverance.

So huge fund has been pumped in for rural development and pro-poor welfare schemes through Panchayati Raj Institutions (three-tier rural self-governance system) and affirmative actions through progressive legislations. These moves have been done in sync with expansion of the military infrastructure and local support for the government and its security forces. Recruitment of youth from conflict zones in the police forces is aimed at providing jobs to unemployed youth who are the potential recruits for the Naxalites or most lethal of them, the CPI (Maoist).

Evaluating the state responses, Prakash said: "State is the vigorous and happy party to the conflict as it structures the conflict. Development has been undertaken to augment the security operation. TPC (Tritiya Prastuti Committee) and other Maoist splinter groups have been used by the security forces against [the main party of the] Maoists". He, however, was silent on the civil war like situation and cycle of competitive violence following the state patronage to the anti-Maoist vigilante groups in Jharkhand-Bihar and the mayhem created by the tribal 'special police officers' in neighboring Chhatisgarh in the name of Salwa Judum campaign, now condemned and disbanded by the Supreme Court.

Explaining 'the political economy of the conflict and the vested interests which want to sustain it' since 'absence of conflict will diminish the flow of money'. "So Police and bureaucracy have vested interest in keeping the Naxalism alive. Police and Maoist interests have converged in continuing the conflict... both sides have kept the conflict at manageable equilibrium. Also, collaborative nexus among bureaucrats-local politicians and Naxalites is evident."

Rooting for the conflict resolution through public participation in development planning and execution through elected panchayats, he blamed 'bureaucratic gate-keeping' and conseqent state government apathy to transfer of funds to the Panchayati Raj Institutions [PRIs]. Since there is lot of fund flow for development, Naxalites are also interested in controlling panchayats, he said. While the basic character of Bihar and Jharkhand administration is the same, Prakash said neither the state apparatus nor the Naxalites have capacities or abilities to bring positive changes for people's welfare.

"All sides are extracting [their pound of flesh] through the act of veto. Panchayat has become better mechanism of control rather than participatory democracy. There is huge amount of distrust among people regarding the PRIs," he said. The 'panchayats are also asking for levy'.

Tracing the trajectory of Naxalism in the two states, he repeatedly stressed that today's Maoists bore no continuity of the Naxalism of the 1960s. "Naxalism is a misnomer. The present breed does not believe in social transformation. Maoists today have no normative objectives. The believers in Marxism and class struggle are divided now along caste lines and have degenerated into armed gangs of extortionists. Criminals and mafias have joined them. They collect huge levy from all governmental development activities while controlling a mechanism of violence of demonstrable value," he said.

Roger Mac Ginty from Manchester University and Ranabir Samaddar from Calcutta Research Group, however, contested him. "You said that the Naxalism of the 60s was different. Are you not romanticizing the past?" Ginty asked. Prakash argued that Naxalites of the earlier era were embedded among people and could mobilize their supporters publicly despite police crackdown. He admitted that the Maoists had spread their wings over 16 provinces in central and eastern India including Bengal but did not bother to explain what led to the widening of their support base despite the unprecedented police-paramilitary crackdown. "Do you think that the issues of the sixties have been resolved so that a new set of issues have emerged and led to a new phase of insurgency? Earlier, Naxalites could mobilize people openly but now the space for that protest politics has shrunk," Samaddar pointed out.

It's true that Naxalism in Bihar-Jharkhand has been heavily influenced by caste factors for long, more evidently since the advent of Mandal-Kamandal politics at the end of the decade. But the JNU academic did not bother to examine it in the context of the class-caste conundrum; the complexities of the fusion and fission of the two identities in social-political as well as economic conflicts in India, particularly in Hindi heartland. Neither the guardians of Indian parliamentary democracy and its governance mechanism nor its critics and challengers have been able to wriggle out of this 'mess' of Indian society and politics. A dispassionate study on the caste and tribal dynamics of Naxalism-Maoism in India would not only enrich sociology and anthropology of contemporary rebellions but also the understanding of the mainstream politics of cooption, assimilation and exclusion in governance.

It is also true that today's Maoists are engaged in levy war with other Naxalites and criminal gangs. The distinction between the two sides often gets blurred, once one MCC (one of main constituents of CPI(Maoist) today) squad leader in Jharkhand argued that Kranti ke liye Paisajaruri hai (money is needed for making revolution).' He further justified the killing of members of another Naxalite faction on the ground that the latter 'no more believes in armed revolution', hence, not privileged enough to collect levy in the name of people. Almost same argument was put forward by a Maoist PLGA (People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army) leader recently who defended the 'people's tax' on contractors-babudom during an interaction.

But Prakash was selective in his condemnation. He made fleeting mention of the governmental patronage, logistical and weaponry support to the anti-Maoist gangs who often work as the auxiliary force and death squads of the government's security forces against the common enemy.

The fact remains that the levy war among state and non-state actors is neither Maoist-specific nor unique in Indian subcontinent. Latin America and other theatres of left and right wing insurgencies have plenty of such examples. Its increasing role in the political economy of conflicts is a key to understand the seamy sides of revolutionaries' vis-a-vis the defenders of democracy and freedom across the globe. Nevertheless, it does not presuppose the absence of 'normative objectives' and practices by the rebel groups and parties. Rather, such a presumption is a universal tool for the propaganda by governments aimed at denying political-ideological legitimacy and content of the insurgencies.

For that matter, there is no dearth of normative literatures and other forms of guidelines on dos and don'ts for Maoist rank and file. Indian Maoist leadership, like all communist party top brass, explains the 'deviations and shortcomings' either in terms of individual falls to petit bourgeoisie or feudal vices, inadequate indoctrination, backward consciousness and judgmental errors. They justify forcible levy collection as one of the compulsions of an imposed war on people by the Indian government. Apart from spending on weaponry, food, medical and logistical expenses as well as payment of party wages to cadres, a part of the levy or cuts from the contractors etc. is also invested in 'alternative development projects' in red areas. However, their detractors call it as the proof for the entire party's degeneration, justifying the consequent dismissal of its claims to the agency for social change while branding its ideology as the precursor to a totalitarian dispensation.

The increasing disjuncture between theory and practice, both of the Indian state and its internal armed challengers warrants a closer scrutiny of factors that have created the gulf. Such exercise is most expected from the social scientists those who are studying 'stakeholders' to a conflict in order to make plausible policy recommendations for sustainable peace. But Prakash's presentation of Maoists as a bunch of bloodthirsty thugs and extortionists bared his prejudices that would be music to the hawks in the security and policy establishments.

What is more astonishing that he did not mention any relation between the so-called development model that the Indian state is pursuing ruthlessly, particularly in mineral-rich tribal states like Jharkhand and Chattisgarh and the ongoing violence conflicts there. The Supreme Court, even some members of the ruling elite and policy mandarins in Delhi have criticized the 'predatory form of capitalism' and resultant state-corporate joint violence in the name of development time and again. Neither he mentioned the non-Maoist people's movement activists and other critics of the state policies who have been facing every mockery of rule of law, wanton violation of human rights and constitutional safeguards despite still clinging to what Samaddar called the 'prescribed forms of claims-making'. Many of them even have disproved the 'forbidden forms' like Maoist armed struggle.

No doubt, despite its short-comings the Panchayati Raj remains an important institution to achieve rural self-governance. Laws like Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas Act and The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, popularly known as Forest Rights Act, focus on the Gram Sabha/Sansad (Village assembly / parliament) promoting participatory democracy at the grassroots. The assembly, supposed to be the free forum for all villagers for collective village development planning and popular monitoring of elected panchayat members, can also play crucial role in conflict negotiation, as well as stabilization and transformation. But the potential had been frustrated by the governments, which imposed their top-down developmental model in disregard to the local specificities and interests of the affected communities.

Rajesh Tandon, the president of PRIA said that though Indian constitution stressed on local self-governance, the panchayats/nagarpalikas have been bureaucratized up to the hilt. "Constitution has no mention of planning commission etc but district planning boards which could have negotiated the multiple conflicts. But the centralization of planning decimated the constitutional spirit. Jharkhand and Chattisgarh did not even made the rules for the PESA. The concept of Gramsabha was made to ensure downward accountability. But it has not been implemented. Posco deal [South Korean giant's mammoth steel plant project in Odissa on forcible acquired private and community land] was decided in Delhi and Bhubaneswar [provincial capital]. So conflict is natural at the ground level" he said.

Veteran journalist BG Verghese referred to 5th and 6th schedule of Indian constitution which made provisions for tribal autonomy. But he too lamented the straightjacket approach of the country's policy mandarins. "What is good for Delhi is not good for Chattisgarh, that's the beginning of the problem. PRI and PESA focus on the legitimacy of state institution through the participation of the people. But again, there is no proper delivery system." Commenting on the reluctance to transfer power and fund to PRI in Kashmir and Jharkhand, he said MLAs are inimical to panchayats across the length and breadth of the country. Corruption is also a common thing.

A 2010 report of the Council for Social Development concluded: .. "All of the key features of this legislation have been undermined by a combination of apathy and sabotage during the process of implementation. In the current situation the rights of the majority of tribals and other traditional forest dwellers are being denied and the purpose of the legislation is being defeated. Unless immediate remedial measures are taken, instead of undoing the historical injustice to tribal and other traditional forest dwellers, the Act will have the opposite outcome of making them even more vulnerable to eviction and denial of their customary access to forests. The testimonies made it clear that this is not merely a result of bureaucratic failure; both the Central and the State governments have actively pursued policies that are in direct violation of the spirit and letter of the Act."

The recent stalling of UK-based Vedanta Group's mining project in Niyamgiri hills following the opposition of all the Gram Sabhas in the affected areas and international public campaign against the violations of tribal rights, not to mention the Supreme Court intervention, is heartening. But the overall ground reality as described by the CSD has hardly changed. The Centre and major political parties did not bother to take initiative for making the Gram Sansad/Sabhas permission a must for all mega development and industrialization projects both in forest and non-forest/tribal areas.

The parliamentary Left's position is no different from the Congress and BJP. Here the reaction of former Bengal panchayat minister Surjakanta Mishra who now wears hats of the CPM politburo member and Opposition leader in state Assembly is self-revealing. "How can a Village Panchayat, Bloc Panchayat Samiti can decide about a state or national project? For that matter, the Tata small car project has a global importace". He was actually explainging the panchayat’s approval in the land takeover for Tata Motors' Nano project in Singur. He ignored the fact that the mega/macro projects, which mostly serve the cities/corporates and urban middle class, came up on micro/marginal community land or private farmland. Despite ruining millions of lives, there is little or no legal/institutional mechanism to listen to the affected on the social costs and benefits of the projects or the larger developmental discourses and corresponding policies.

But Prakash and his likes who advocate conflict resolution through PRI neither discussed the ongoing land takeover conflicts in Jharkhand-Chattisgarh and elsewhere nor examined the existing legal / institutional flaws that deliberately allow global / national / regional power elite to impose its developmental violence on the locals.

Vol. 47, No. 4, Aug 3 - 9, 2014