By Sushil Kutty
How Mamata Banerjee tamed the Naxals of Junglemahal in 2011 is still lore in West Bengal. Today, Union Home Minister Amit Shah wants to emulate Mamata. True, at that time, it was indeed “Banerjee (who) single-handedly wiped out” the Maoists from West Bengal, but she disappointed family members of some surrendered Maoists, who were jailed without the promised concessions.
Now, as Shah embarks on a similar mission, there is less likelihood he’ll be able to do a Mamata, repeat her feat. That’s because Shah represents an ideology that is anathema to the Maoists, and vice versa. It’s impossible that the Maoists will lay down arms and surrender to a BJP dispensation at the Centre.
That’s not to say that Shah’s initiative shouldn’t be welcomed. Individual states may take a cue from Mamata Banerjee’s experience and work out deals with Maoists within their jurisdictions! Of course, more honest assurances will have to be given; along with workable ideas.
Before Mamata, West Bengal’s Left Front government had failed. When Mamata came to power in 2011, the Maoist menace was at its peak. Maoist killings were frequent reminders of the inevitability of the “red corridor”. But within a year of 2011, the Maoists in WB had been more or less completely neutralized.
How did Mamata accomplish this? Her “tryst with Maoism” had two facets. One, Mamata “entered the Maoist-dominated” region of West Bengal holding “the Maoists’ hands”. Two, her counter-strategy included CBMs – confidence building measures, especially targeting the common people of Junglemahal and surroundings.
Simultaneously, Mamata constituted a dedicated team of police to handle the Maoists. Result: “Suddenly, we had informants and information. We were able to get rebels to return to the mainstream.” The Left Front government before Mamata had arrested a number of top Maoists, but Mamata also focused on the “neglect” of the region and sought to address that.
The lack of development in the Junglemahal districts was the reason for people there to sympathize with Maoists and youth to join them. Junglemahal used to survive on bare basic necessities. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee launched welfare projects like the one to make potable water available to everybody!
This was accompanied by strikes at Maoist extremists, raids on Naxalite strongholds based on credible information elicited from surrendered Maoists. Leading Maoist Kishenji was killed in November 2011. Several others were “converted”. Mamata Banerjee had a credible “surrender policy” for the Naxals.
Does Amit Shah have one? If so, what’s it doing, has it fetched results, if not where’s it, in the cold storage? These are questions Shah and his government face as he embarks to solve the festering Maoist problem. The “red corridor” hasn’t been obliterated. The Naxals haven’t gone anywhere.
They proliferate in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, they are there in Odhisa, and in Andhra Pradesh; in Maharashtra and in Madhya Pradesh; even in Kerala, and in Karnataka. Wherever there’s poverty and hunger, there’s exploitation and suppression, there are Naxals, like it or not.
The Maoists of West Bengal are a weakened lot. But like everywhere, they are only biding time. Of course, it’ll be naïve to say that poverty and exploitation alone create naxalites. There’s something called “ideology” also – like the philosophy that “power comes through the barrel of the gun”.
However, that philosophy has taken a beating worldwide, even in the land where it originated. The only panacea is all-round development, which will uplift every segment of society. Obviously, this cannot be expected from the Ambanis and Adanis – from “hum doh, haamare doh.”
It’s laughable to expect people to give up resistance when 5 percent hold 95 percent of wealth, when “industrialists” want to grab common land, when adivasis are losing their culture, the simple things in their way of life to the alien. Amit Shah and the chief ministers of states who sat down to discuss Naxalism and how to put an end to it, must have gone on to a sumptuous lunch!
The problem is people in power significantly choose to forget that hunger drives Naxalism as much as the Centre’s relentless drive to buttonhole and marginalize the so-called “Urban Naxals”, people who understand Naxalism and have solutions to offer. Does the Modi Government expect to get the Maoists to come to the talking table with activist Sudha Bhardawaj and other so-called “Urban Naxals” still behind bars?
Do they believe the Naxals have forgotten the events leading to the tragic death of the 80-year-old Stan Swamy, the extent to which he was pursued and taunted even in captivity? The treatment meted out to jailed “Urban Naxals” is an indicator of how surrendered Maoists will be treated. It’s not a pleasant thought, even for the Maoists.
Bottomline, eradicating Naxalism isn’t possible without looking at the socio-economic realities, at government policies. Also, it’s different in different states. The Chhattisgarh Chief Minister did not attend the Amit Shah meeting. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was present but he has sought increased funding to fight the menace.
Amit Shah agreed that lack of development is the “root cause” of Naxalism. But for the Modi Government to realize this so late in the day, halfway into its second term, doesn’t speak well for its motives. This is almost like an afterthought. Maybe to soothe nerves; probably to hype hope. Whatever, there’s one thing, though, a Mamata Banerjee government in Delhi 2024 could be the solution to eradicating Naxalism. (IPA Service)