Brutal Force or Development – Way ahead against the Naxalite Insurgency


By Vasudha Kaul

The Naxalite insurgency movement, today is present in nine states, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. In 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the Naxalites the “single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country”In June 2011, he said, “Development is the master remedy to win over the insurgents”.

This article determines if, as Manmohan Singh argued, development will be an effective instrument in preventing the Maoist insurgency in India or brute force will suppress them enough to kill the movement.

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India after independence had two divergent development paths to choose from. One was the Gandhian ideology of sustenance of villages by providing them with political decentralization. The other was the rapid industrialization and growth proposed by Nehru. India, as we know, followed the Nehruvian ideology.

The size of the Indian economy has tripled today but it has been majorly a jobless growth with half the country being under the poverty line. This inequality has led to severe grievances among the victims of the exclusive economic development process.

These grievances coupled with the entrenched historic caste-based discrimination in India, have led to an on-going caste-based struggle and hence the Naxalite insurgency.

This situation is exacerbated by the government’s failure to ameliorate the issue through the development process. The Naxalites organize the Dalits against the upper caste around the issues of land, wages, caste discrimination and sexual abuse of Dalit women.

Although the origin of the Naxalite insurgency can be found in grievance, its sustenance, on the other hand, can be attributed to Indian government’s approach towards the insurgents.

The government, instead of looking out for the root cause, has taken up a form of an oppressor.

The civil and police administration engage in aggressive operations, arrests and fake encounters of tribal civilians not involved with the insurgency. This creates an anti-establishment environment and sympathy towards the insurgents that leads to a renewed form of grievance. This grievance leads to further dissemination of the Naxal ideology.

Development a tool?

The “only development” solution fails because one, even in the best scenario of low level conflict, the welfare policy implementation is highly inhibited and two, because it assumes lack of economic development as the only criterion for the continuation of the insurgency. This is not to say that development is not good tool to deal with insurgency but it is a necessary condition and not a sufficient one.

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There have been certain occasions where Naxalites have been appropriating funds meant for development purposes and cases where armed threat is used against public officers for extraction of bribes, but these factors alone would not be able to keep the momentum alive and garner support from the disenfranchised masses. Police brutality is one of the leading reasons of this issue.

An only military solution is not feasible as well. Currently there are 71 battalions of para-military forces, i.e. 71,000 personnel, have been deployed in the Naxal affected areas. Although the forces play a vital role in aiding the state led developmental activities, they cannot be the driving force for curbing the insurgency. This is proved by the fact that increased police brutality results in increased recruitment for Naxals. On the one hand, in Orissa, the focus is on the pro-development model rather than the police brutality, which has devalued the insurgency in the eyes of the masses. On the other hand, in Jharkhand the continued police brutality continues and so does the insurgency and the continued support from the masses.

Hence developmentalist strategy alone or a strategy based on the police action will not yield long-term results. The two factors must go hand-in-hand for long-term benefits.

The validity of the two-pronged approach is demonstrated in Madhya Pradesh. With the increase of security in the state and introduction of rural livelihood program – NREGA, there was considerable decrease in the insurgent activities.

It is important for the government to recognize the two types of obstacles in any implementation. One is the Maoist insurgent leaders who want to replace the rule of the state with an alternate system of governance via violence and the other are the masses, mostly Tribal and Dalit population, who desire economic development. Both these aspects have to be dealt simultaneously.

The government while dealing with the Naxalite insurgency has to keep in mind that it is not the Naxals who have created a fertile environment for insurgency. Rather, it is the existing failure of governments to protect the rights of the poor.

The disenfranchised hence look at insurgency-based organizations for their social welfare and justice. The government also has to keep in mind that there are two sets of social structures that it has to address. One that of insurgents and the other of the low class-caste masses that vies for development. To deal with both these levels of structure, the state must launch a multi-directional security and developmentalist efforts. It is the only way in which people’s faith in the administration and governance can be restored.

Vasudha Kaul is a graduate student at The University of Oxford reading in Modern India Studies.