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Enormous threat of Extremism

The degree to which utter confusion prevails in our internal security policies is illustrated by the strange paradox that, while we provide every assistance to Nepal to fight the Maoists who have brought chaos and anarchy to that country, the state has entered into negotiations with the Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh – applauded and encouraged by the Centre – and this is being held up as a model for ‘resolution’ of the problem for other States afflicted by Left Wing extremism and violence.

Worse, even while the state negotiates with the Naxalites in Andhra, their leaders have made it abundantly clear that they had no intention of giving up ‘armed struggle’ or their antediluvian ideology, and contemptuously rejected the Government’s entreaties, first, to surrender their arms, and then, even to refrain from bearing arms when Naxalite cadres visited villages and other habitations. The Andhra Government’s interlocutors – including the State’s Home Minister – meekly withdrew its ‘conditions’ for the talks, and the Naxalties are now free to strut about fully armed across the State, even as the Security Forces are prohibited from taking any action against them.

Such an effort on the Government’s part to negotiate on its knees can only embolden those who have chosen the path of violence in the pursuit of proclaimed political ends. This is an abdication of the fundamental duties of governance, of a basic commitment to a civilized society, to the Constitution and to the rule of law. History is witness to the fact that states and communities groups that seek to appease violent and lawless groups eventually succumb to greater disorders, or are eventually themselves forced to engage in vastly escalated violence to restore the authority of the state.

Policy makers in India do not appear to have come to terms with the enormity of the threat of extreme Left Wing violence in the country, and eminent political leaders are still inclined to talk of these entities as ‘our children’. This rhetoric is nothing new, and it echoes similar and completely misguided sentiments that were voiced during the years of terror in Punjab, even when thousands of civilians and security forces were being brutally murdered each year. This is, moreover, the rhetoric that has returned periodically to haunt Andhra Pradesh as well, with a succession of political leaders seeking to flatter, cajole or bribe the Naxalites to abandon their bloody and unending enterprise.

The gravest danger at present is that the Left Wing extremist movement appears rapidly to be approaching a critical mass over the past year. Two of the most powerful groups – the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Peoples’ War (generally known as the Peoples’ War Group or PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) – who were long engaged in internecine and fratricidal turf wars – merged this September, creating a single and monolithic force under the banner of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). It is anticipated that a majority of the remaining forty-odd lesser splinter groups of Naxalites will eventually join this inclusive entity, or will be marginalised even further. The rate of geographical extension of the movement over the past year, moreover, has been nothing less than spectacular. From some 55 districts in eight States in November 2003, the areas afflicted by various degrees of Naxalite activity have grown to currently comprehend as many as 157 districts across 13 States – thus accounting for more than a quarter of the total of 612 districts in the country.

In Andhra Pradesh itself, even as the State boasted of its great economic miracle and the ‘IT Revolution’ in Hyderabad, the Naxalites extended their areas of operation from eight districts in the Telengana region of North Andhra to as many as 24 of the State’s 26 districts by the end of Chandrababu Naidu’s tenure. It is clear that the current ruling party had used these groups to win the elections, and the current ‘peace process’ is essentially the consequence of a covert pre-poll understanding.

It is inevitable that the present ‘peace process’ in Andhra Pradesh, which has implicitly conferred the right to bear arms on the Naxalite cadres, even as it has paralysed the security forces, will have an adverse impact on the economy of the State. Escalating Naxalite activities in other States – as a result of the confusion that is being sown by the political leadership among the Security Forces, and the implicit encouragement received by the extremists – will extend this impact to contiguous States, and beyond, to all areas where the Maoists are currently active, or which they are targeting. It would be abundantly clear to anyone with common sense that a peace process, which gives licence to armed gangs to wander about extorting money from all and sundry, to recruit and train cadres, and to politically mobilize mass support for their subversive agenda, can only put the entire project of economic recovery and globalisation into jeopardy.

What message are we currently sending out to the world? We are desperate to attract foreign direct investment and technology transfers, and to encourage multinational companies to invest and operate here. At the same time, we allow free rein to lawlessness by armed groups who engage in disruptive activities at will. Basic law and order is part of the infrastructure needed for investment and economic growth. What is the use of roads if people and vehicles cannot move across them freely? How are business and industry going to grow when areas in the country where you cannot travel because of fear of being attacked widen continuously?

It must be clearly understood that the rhetoric of ‘resolution through negotiations’ is utterly misleading. Never has a State returned to peace through negotiations with violent groups, except after such groups have been utterly defeated and disempowered. Only when lawlessness and violence are put down firmly is there any chance for peace, and the prime examples of this reality are Punjab and, before that, Mizoram. Negotiated ‘solutions’ with powerful anti-state groups have, in fact, inevitably created the grounds for escalated violence. Assam, an otherwise peaceful State, was plunged into insurgency after the AASU pact which was supposed to ‘solve’ the ‘Assam problem’, but, instead, gave rise to a chain of violence that is still to end, though those who were responsible for setting this sequence of events in motion still remain in power.

We are constantly boasting to the rest of the world about India being the world’s largest democracy. The Naxalites totally reject India’s Constitutional democracy and its electoral processes. This leaves no ideological basis for a negotiated solution. Moreover, if we are to be taken seriously on our claims to being a ‘democracy’, it is imperative that we rule according to the nation’s Constitution and the laws of the land. The ‘exceptionalism’ that dominates much of our politics, and the entirety of the current ‘peace processes’ with violent anti-state groups, and which exempts all such entities from the operation of India’s criminal codes and Constitutional constraints, is altogether inconsistent with our claims to democratic governance. Such exceptionalism, moreover, demoralizes and confuses the security forces and empowers elements both within the state and among the wider political forces who operate as apologists or overground surrogates of these subversive groups. As the situation in Nepal demonstrates clearly, there are grave dangers in going too far along these pathways, and a time will inevitably come when we may find the way back to order and civilized governance barred and bolted.

(Published in The Pioneer, October 30, 2004)





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