Chhattisgarh: Still the Battleground!


Union Home Minister, P.Chidambaram on the 15 June 2011, revealed that the Maoist/Naxalite violence has dropped by over 40 percent and he credited this change to the success of the “two-pronged strategy”, a combination of development programme and police actions are being adopted by the Maoist affected provinces. He stressed that 80 policemen have been killed so far this year by Maoists as compared to 177 during this time last year. Civilian casualties too have come down to 190 from 296 in previous year. Enthused by the “two-pronged” strategy, the Home Ministry has approved the sending of 5000 paramilitary troops to the Chhattisgarh-Orissa border, which has witnessed some Maoist activities recently. Has the “two-pronged” strategy really helped in bringing the violence down?

But the ground reality does not match with the Home Minister’s analysis especially in case of Chhattisgarh and casualties related to the paramilitary and police personnel . Of late Chhattisgarh has witnessed a series of Maoist attacks on security forces. As the troops and resources are being pumped in to the ‘focus areas’, the degree of violence has also been increasing with a sudden surge in Maoist attacks. At least eleven Chhattisgarh police personnel were killed on 19 August in an apparent ambush by armed cadres of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) in Bijapur district. Three CRPF personnel were killed in an encounter with Naxalites near Bheji village of Dantewada district on 12 June. This was in addition to the killing of nearly 10 security personnel in the same district on 10 June. The government data indicates that Maoists attack on the security forces has increased. Minister of State for Home Jitendra Singh told Rajya Sabha on August 17, 2011, that “the number of CRPF personnel killed (during anti-Maoist operations) in 2010 and 2011 (up to August 2) are 132 and 20 respectively.” Of those 132 CRPF casualties, 76 personnel were killed in a Maoist ambush in the Dantewada district of Chhtisgarh in March 2010.

Government figures on Naxal violence reveal that for last five years, the state has consistently remained in the top position in the Naxalite related casualties. In 2008, 242 of the total 721 Naxal-related deaths in the country were reported from this very State. In 2007, 369 out of 1,565 Naxal-related deaths in the country were reported from Chhattisgarh, and in 2006, 388 out of 678 deaths. Until July 2011, Chhattisgarh witnessed a total of 261 Maoist related incidents with 61 civilians and 51 security forces casualties, which is highest amongst all the Maoist affected provinces in India.

Despite the two pronged approach, the situation in Chhattisgarh has not changed. The local tribal became victims of gross violations of human rights at the hands of the Maoists. Many who were injured in the landmine blast on 28 February, 2006 at Darbhaguda village were even stabbed and clubbed to death. All this resentment gave rise to an organised resistance movement, Salwa Judum (meaning "Peace March" in Gondi language). Sanctioned by both the State and opposition parties this slowly grew into an undeclared civil war where one was either with the Naxalites or with the Salwa Judum.

Although the Naxals have been responsible for more killings, the response of the State Government to involve the civilians into the conflict and even recruiting members of Salwa Judum as Special Police Officers (SPOs) has aggravated the conflict. Around three lakhs villagers had to flee their homes to avoid the ‘civil war’ and were lodged in camps. Currently 26 such camps are operational in the Bastar region, the condition of these camps are pathetic. In fact, the Supreme Court of India has already dubbed the arming of civilians as illegal.

The facts are that Tribals and Scheduled Castes comprise the major part of the populace of Chhattisgarh's nine Maoist infested districts of Dantewada, Bastar, Kanker, Balrampur, Surguja, Koriya, Rajnandgaon, Kawardha and Jashpur. These districts score on an average 25 to 30 percent literacy rates as compared to the state's 65.18 percent literacy rate; a clear indicator of the root of the problem. While the deployment of troops are being increased to clear out the insurgents from one sector after another under the “two-pronged strategy”, a long term solution has to be found in the very problem that has always been there, right from its very inception.

The condition of widely exploited tribal provided the breeding ground for a communist revolution. The Naxalites took over and distributed land records to the villagers, a job meant for the revenue department of the state. The “pattas” given by the Naxalites have maps of the land allotted to them with the seal of the local commander. The Naxalite leaders settled land disputes and if their “verdicts” were violated, the accused were awarded harsh punishment including executions. The Naxalites also established their schools and health care centers. When the State of Chhattisgarh came into being in 2000, many expectations were raised but nothing changed for the better significantly.

The gross discrepancy between ground realities and Indian policy makers’ statements on the conflict indicates that their conflict analysis is blurred. The so called two pronged counter Maoists insurgency strategy is heavily dominated by police actions especially in Chhattisgarh. The root of the problem of underdevelopment in this region is because of the lack of control over natural resources by the forest dwellers. Today their needs remain the same, development coupled with education and opportunities. Sending of troops to physically root out or wean the Maoists influence away, as is being done by the Home Ministry keeping in line with the ‘two-pronged strategy’, is not the solution. Treating this problem primarily from a socioeconomic angle is the only antidote. There needs to be something to fill the void, or else the influence will occur and grow again. In this regard Provisions of Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas, (PESA) Act of 1996 could provide the answer if the State and Central government so will.

Author Note
Author is a research scholar at the Institute of Foreign Policy Studies, University of Calcutta.