Inaugurating a three-day long conference of Directors General and Inspectors General of police organized by the Intelligence Bureau, home minister of India P. Chidambaram described terrorist attacks on November 26, 2008 as a “game changer”: “The attacks in Mumbai on November 26, last year were a game changer. We can no longer afford to business as usual.” He pointed out Left Wing Extremism (Naxalism or “Maoism”) as one of the threats to the national security, and the biggest challenge to democracy. The prime minister of India also said that the Maoist movement was India’s gravest security threat. In June 2009 the government labeled Naxal group a terrorist organization.
The Home Ministry has been planning a major offensive, due to start in November 2009, against Naxals, particularly in two Indian states – Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. A plan to deploy more than 70,000 paramilitary personnel has been chalked out. In order to combat Naxals, Chidambaram “favored the Indian Air Force firing on Naxals.” India has also “sought input from American security officials on how to best root out the leftist rebels.”1 In September 2009 Chidambaram paid a four day visit to US that focused on India-US anti-terror cooperation, assistance in technology, assessment of security situation in South Asia and studying counter-terrorism institutions and structures.
Probably, US with its experience in “war on terror” after 9/11 is considered valuable, particularly its use of corporate media to create momentum for the occupation of Iraq by programming the public mind to go along with the state agenda, and highlight of the “evil of the other” not only to justify its genocidal violence, but also to conceal “real intentions” behind the occupation of Iraq.
Taking the fight against Naxals to a new level, the Home Ministry of India has sought to actively involve the mainstream media directly by issuing advertisements depicting “cold-blooded killings” of innocent citizens by Naxals. “Naxals are nothing but coldblooded murderers” the advertisement screamed across the corporate media. The visual showed a series of men, women and children brutally killed by Naxals. Upping the ante, media has been screaming all along that Naxals have been waging “a guerrilla war on the Indian state.”
The combined voice of the government and corporate media has heightened the threat posed by Naxals in order to rally public support with gripping fear about their own existence. It has drowned dissenting voices, and been trying to program the public mind to go along with the state agenda against Naxals. The corporate media is playing as the chief instrument of state propaganda. It is creating the momentum for the onslaught on Naxals. Josef Goebbels had this dictum: “If you say something often enough, the people will believe it.”2) Herman Goering, a Nazi, said, “People can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders…All you have to do is tell them they’re being attacked and denounce the pacifists for a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”3
Naxals’ portrayal as enemies of the state and democracy breaks social link between these enemies and the society. Their status as enemies of the society would not only unite people against them, but also legitimize the “good” violence that exterminates them.
However, the collective violence of “all against one” requires concealment of entire truth. Any act or even any thought of making a victim of another casts a veil over truth. The power of the “scapegoat mechanism” lies in its deception and concealment.
Who Are Naxals?
Naxals belong to varied milieu – disempowered Dalits, destitute Tribals, middle class intellectuals, and privileged rich. They do not believe in parliamentary democracy, as they see power being still concentrated in the hands of the rich, upper class. So the objective of their four decade old struggle is to liberate disempowered and destitute masses from the exploitative and oppressive political system through armed struggle. In their long struggle, Naxals have used brutal tactics to further their cause.4 In 2008 there were 1591 Naxal-related violent incidents in which 721 were killed. By August 2009, in 1405 incidents 580 persons have been killed. Recently, on October 8, 2009 they are alleged to have killed seventeen police men in Maharashtra.
Naxals’ struggle has, naturally, drawn mixed reactions from the government and elites, and the marginalized Indian masses. Because of their armed struggle and brutal tactics, they are considered to be security threat to the sovereignty of the state. On the other hand, Naxals enjoy wide support among the marginalized people, who have been ignored by the successive governments for the past sixty years. The October 2008 report of an expert committee, appointed by the Planning Commission, acknowledged that “the main support for the Naxalite movement comes from dalits and adivasi tribals.”5 The report identifies “structural violence implicit in our social and economic system” as the main reason for Naxalite violence. Dalits and Tribals comprise one fourth of India’s population.
Condition of the Tribals
In the huge region of mineral rich forest in eastern and central India spreading from West Bengal through the states of Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh live indigenous people. These Tribals are the poorest of the poor in India. The mainstream media and the political pundits have not acknowledged that the cause of these people is not served in the largest democracy. The Tribals have no schools, no hospitals, no water, none of the amenities the state is supposed to provide. Successive governments have failed to address the basic needs of people in the poverty-stricken, but mineral rich, region. These places are epitome of neglect, deprivation and government corruption.
The Tribals are ruthlessly exploited by local landlords, traders, officials, mafia and contractors. Local police allegedly supports local mafia, landlords and traders. On January 8, 2009 seventeen Tribals were killed by the police in a fake “encounter”, according to Ramesh Varlyani, Chhattisgarh state Congress general secretary. In its scathing 118 page report “Broken System: Dysfunction, Abuse and Impunity in the Indian Police”, the Human Rights Watch pointed out “a range of human rights violations committed by police, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and extrajudicial killings.” It notes, “Several police officers admitted to Human Rights Watch that they routinely committed abuses. One officer said that he had been ordered to commit an “encounter killing,” as the practice of taking into custody and extra-judicially executing an individual commonly known. “I am looking for my target,” the officer said. “I will eliminate him…I fear being put in jail, but if I don’t do it, I’ll lose my position.””
The report also documents “the particular vulnerability to police abuse of traditionally marginalized groups in India. They include the poor, women, Dalits (so-called “untouchables”) and religious and sexual minorities. Police often fail to investigate crimes against them because of discrimination, the victims’ inability to pay bribes, or their lack of social status or political connections. Members of these groups are also more vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and torture, especially meted out by police as punishment for alleged crimes.”
Thus, the state has not only ignored to address basic concerns of tribal people, but also tried to destroy the voice and language of their victims by aligning with the exploiters. E.A.S. Sarma, former Commissioner of Tribal Welfare and former secretary, Expenditure and Economic Affairs, says, “Left extremism is a secondary issue. How many Tribals even know there is a government? Their only experience of the State is the police, contractors, and real estate goons. Besides, the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution grants Tribals complete rights over their traditional land and forests and prohibits private companies from mining on their land. This constitutional schedule was upheld by the Samatha judgement of the Supreme Court (1997). If successive governments lived by the spirit of the Constitution and this judgment, tribal discontent would automatically recede.”5
By violating their human dignity, value and rights, the state has committed violence against the Tribals. The tribal dissent, as Shoma Chaudhury says, “is a dissent out of desperation for human dignity, value and rights.”5 Among these poor, disempowered, and oppressed and exploited Tribals Naxals have wide support due to latter’s struggle for their cause. Prime minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged that “Left wing extremism requires a nuanced strategy, a holistic approach – it cannot be treated simply as a law and order problem. Despite its sanguinary nature, the movement manages to retain the support of a section of the tribal communities and the poorest of the poor in many affected areas. It has influence among certain sections of civil society, the intelligentsia and the youth.”
Criminalization of Politics
What has been missing in the dominant narrative of the government and corporate media is the necessity, in the light of Mumbai terrorist attacks, to have leaders with high level of personal integrity to provide effective leadership to India. It is well known that corruption and criminalization of politics in India are the two biggest hurdles for inclusive development. Shashi Tharoor in his book India: From Midnight to the Millennium sees “bureaucratic corruption and criminalization of politics as two of the most widespread problems facing India.” Bureaucratic corruption is largely a result of “the permit-license-quota Raj”. Tharoor cites as “the most dangerous phenomenon of independent India’s political life, the criminalization of politics, for many a lawbreaker has found it useful to become a lawmaker.”6
The controversy in 2004 over granting membership in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a top mafia don D.P. Yadav highlights the extent to which India’s political parties have become criminalized. According to police records D.P. Yadav is a “hardened professional criminal”. He was named in nine murder cases, three attempted murders, two dacoitees, and several cases of kidnapping for extortion. He has been charged under a number of acts, including the Excise Act, Gangsters’ Act, and Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act. His economic and muscle power has been welcomed with open arms by political parties. He entered into politics and was elected in 1989. He even held a ministerial position in the Utter Pradesh state assembly.
In the previous Manmohan Singh government, the Union Coal minister Sibu Soren was forced to step down when he was convicted of murder (though he was later acquitted on appeal). Surprisingly, Singh, who could identify “criminals” among common people, needed a law to define “criminal” in the case of politicians. He suggested that “the country needed a law to define the meaning of “criminal”, and who should and who should not be a minister.”7
Criminals enter into politics with their money and muscle power in order to gain influence and political power. This, in turn, ensures that the criminal cases against them may either be dropped or not proceeded with. The Times of India points out, “Indeed, today, far from shrinking at the thought of harboring criminal elements, parties seek them out, judging the muscle and money combination they represent to be emotive value. Rough estimates suggest that in any state election 20 percent of candidates are drawn from criminal backgrounds. For the parties, it means overflowing coffers and unlimited funds to fight elections and for the criminals it means protection from the law and respectability in the eyes of society.” Asia Human Rights Commission also observes that the nexus between criminals and political party benefits both: “Criminals protect the illegitimate interests of politicians and in turn obtain protection from them and their parties.” It further says that this mutually beneficial relationship works against the establishment of the rule of law.
This promising nexus between criminal-political party prompted India’s parliamentarians across party lines to join hands to refrain from passing legislation that would rid politics of criminal and corrupt elements. However, under 2003 Supreme Court ruling, the Election Commission has made it mandatory for candidates to disclose at the time of filing their nominations for election details including their criminal background (if any), and assets. However, the Court order does not disqualify criminal elements.
The disclosure law seemed to have little impact. Asia Human Rights Commission deplores, “Criminalization of politics in India is a growing problem, despite legal attempts to address it.” According to the National Election Watch, in 2004, out of 535 elected members of parliament (MPs), 128 MPs were with criminal records and 55 with serious criminal records. Most experts’ opinion is that the situation is deteriorating. As Himanshu Jha of the National Social Watch Coalition says, “The general opinion is that the influence of criminals in politics is steadily increasing.” This is confirmed by 2009 elections: out of 535 elected MPs 153 MPs were with criminal records and 74 with serious criminal records. That means, there is an increase of 19.5% in MPs with criminal records, and 34.5% in MPs with serious criminal records.
The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution pointed out that criminalization has become a worrying characteristic of India’s politics and electoral system. This tears into the moral fabric of the country and has an impact on governance.
Politicians are aware of “the impunity that is built into the very edifice of Indian politics and law.” The 1984 anti-Sikh riots confirm the impunity enjoyed by law-makers-cum-law-breakers. On April 7, 2009 a Sikh reporter Jarnail Singh hurled a shoe at the home minister Chidambaram in protest against the clean chit given by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to the two Congress leaders Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, prime accused of the riots. Even before they received clean chit, the Congress party gave them tickets to contest in 2009 elections. The gesture of the reporter was sparked by the deep, traumatic pain caused not only by the three day massacre of more than 3000 Sikhs (some were burned alive) during the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, but also the impunity enjoyed by the politicians.
The massacre of Sikhs took place in the full public view. But there has been absolutely no accountability for those heinous crimes, because the system has collaborated with politicians to protect the guilty. Commenting on the involvement of the then Congress government in the riots, eminent journalist and writer Khushwant Singh said that probably the government of the day had a hand in it as it was organized violence.8 The violent mobs were provided with voters’ lists to identify the homes and business establishments of Sikhs.9
“The ’84 killings… were mercilessly planned and executed by the state, with a breathtaking disregard for governance and constitutional rights. After this bloodbath, the state and its partners-in-crime preferred to forget the bloody drama they had enacted.” Patwant Singh wonders, “Are the lives of innocent men, women and children of so little consequence to politicians and men in public office that they can be brutally murdered en masse in the country’s capital for over four days before an effort is made to stop the killings? Does it then have to take over 22 years and 10 inquiry commissions to book the guilty for the chilling inhumanity against the Sikhs.”
One may recall the speech of Rajiv Gandhi, who was immediately sworn in as the prime minister after his mother’s death, justifying the pogrom: “Some riots took place in the country following the murder of Indiraji. We know the people were very angry and for a few days it seemed that India had been shaken. But, when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little.”10 A Sikh wondered, “That’s okay. But were there only Sikhs sitting under that big tree?”
“Development” in Tribal Region
There has been a proposal for “development” in the tribal areas. Recently Chidambaram talked about “development” in this region. But he wanted Maoist-controlled areas to be liberated before any development programs could be launched there. Critics argue that it is the lack of development in the tribal inhabited region for the past sixty years that is the cause for their dissent and wide support to Naxals. So there is growing concern about the intentions of the government in taking security-centric strategy without disclosing the development plan for the mineral rich, but poverty stricken region.
In an interview, Chidambaram said that minerals were not meant to be kept buried under Mother Earth, and they have to be put to use. The land inhabited by the Tribals is the mineral heart land. There are huge deposits of iron ore, tin, bauxite, corundum and limestone, which multinational companies want to get their hands on. Government officials and private companies want the Union government to acquire the tribal lands for private investors in order to expedite the development of the states. So, development means displacement of the owners of the land, and mining. “Industrialization is a must for the state’s development since agriculture alone cannot support Jharkhand’s economy. If we stop acquiring land for private investors in Naxal-hit areas, the state will head for a major disaster,” said a state official.
Therefore, security-centric strategy serves the above purpose where major offensive against Naxals not only decimates Naxal control in the tribal region, but also displaces the Tribals from their lands. If Tribals no longer live on that land, the inconvenient Fifth Schedule of the Constitution will not apply.
Weapons and violence will lead us nowhere. Violence begets violence. Therefore, all the forces concerned should give peace a chance and begin dialogue to sort out genuine problems prevailing in Tribal areas. Instead of running democracy only on the strength of weapons and violence against its own citizens, government should aim at inclusive democracy and development.
- Siddharth Srivastava, “India Plans All-Out Attack on Maoists,” in Asia Times (September 29, 2009). [↩]
- John Pilger, “Lies and More Lies,” ZNet Commentary (September 23, 2003 [↩]
- Arundhati Roy, “Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy: Buy One, Get One Free,” www.countercurrents.org (May 18, 2003). [↩]
- Shoma Chaudhury, “Weapons of Mass Desperation,” in Tehelka Magazine 6:39, 3 October 2009. [↩]
- Chaudhury, “Weapons of Mass Desperation,” Tehelka. [↩] [↩] [↩]
- Shashi Tharoor, India: From Midnight to the Millennium (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1997), reviewed by C.J.S. Wallia, IndiaStar Review of Books. [↩]
- Seema Chishti, “India’s Love Affair with ‘Tainted’ Politicians,” in BBC News (August 2, 2004). [↩]
- Basharat Peer, “Anti-Sikh Riots a Pogrom: Khushwant.” [↩]
- “1984 Anti-Sikh Riots” in Wikipedia. [↩]
- In 1998 Sonia Gandhi, wife of Rajiv Gandhi, officially apologized for the insensitive remarks. [↩]