Guns or roses, what should the government’s strategy be against the nettlesome Maoist insurgency? A vast body of incoherent literature on armed conflict has sought to push the idea that such struggles in general, and more emphatically the Left-wing or Naxalite rebellion, is not just another law and order problem. That there are root causes and political issues, which must necessarily be addressed before a solution can be achieved, and that consequently the use of force by the state is a counterproductive strategy of response.
The first difficulty with this perspective is the dyadic construction of the problem — as if the root causes and law and order approaches are unique and mutually exclusive. Insurgent conflict is enormously complex and goes through a wide range of stages, each of which requires a granular approach based on the prevailing dynamic. Violence is a necessary component of this dynamic (otherwise, we would not be speaking of insurgency or rebellion), but does not exhaust the spectrum of actions and reactions that constitute both provocation and the policy of response. The degree to which violence prevails, moreover, is the measure in which the use of force as a counter will dominate responses. This is the inevitable consequence of the brute reality that, absent security and order, nothing else can work. We may talk of political and developmental solutions till we are blue in the face, but these can hardly be implemented where Maoist disruptive dominance is at levels that exclude any civilian presence of the state and its agencies. It is only after a degree of dominance has been secured through law and order measures that restoring civil governance and a wide range of non-violent interventions can be applied.
Secondly, it is necessary to understand that the Maoists have enormously exploited the root causes argument to paralyse policymakers and even security forces from addressing crucial issues of law and order. Indeed, the Maoists derive a great deal of popular legitimacy because they harness a number of important and valid issues to their movement. What is little understood, however, is that this is essentially a strategy of ‘grievance harvesting’ rather than any committed effort to address such grievances. The Maoist choice of violence is not entrenched in broadly recognised root causes. It is ideologically dictated: an irreducible class conflict that can end only with the destruction of one class and the imposition of the ‘dictatorship of the proletarian’. As the Communist Party of India (Maoist) Political and Organisational Review states explicitly, in the context of the United Front activities that focus on mass mobilisation, “all this activity should serve to intensify and extend our armed struggle. Any joint activity or tactical alliances which do not serve the cause of the peoples’ war will be a futile exercise.”
It is significant, moreover, that both the Centre and governments in Maoist-afflicted states have long recognised the importance of instrumentalities beyond the use of force in addressing the insurgency. Every official document and approach emphasises ‘holistic’ or ‘multi-pronged’ solutions, and there are numberless programmes for development, improved governance and relief to underprivileged sections of the population, as well as generous surrender and rehabilitation policies for those who are willing to give up the gun (though their implementation may in some cases be dubious). The state has also engaged in efforts to secure negotiated settlement with insurgent groups in various theatres, and this has included cycles of dilution or suspension of operations against, and talks with, the Maoists. Historically, these alternative approaches come into play when the use of force has pushed insurgents into a situation where their survival is under threat, or where they have come to accept violence can yield no possible advantage. As one commentator notes, violence may be 10 per cent of the problem or 90 per cent of the problem, but it is the first 10 per cent, or the first 90 per cent. Our best intentions notwithstanding, law and order will continue to precede all other approaches for this reason alone.
(Ajai Sahni is the executive director of Institute for Conflict Management)
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