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Mizo National Front workers hold their party flag as they celebrate the party’s victory in the states Assembly elections. Photo: PTI
Mizo National Front workers hold their party flag as they celebrate the party’s victory in the states Assembly elections. Photo: PTI

Opinion | What the Congress win means for the Maoist rebellion

Govt response to Maoists has transcended the party in power, in both states and the centre

Will the Congress victory in elections to Chhattisgarh’s assembly have a bearing on the Maoist rebellion in that state? And, therefore, the four-state Dandakaranya region that also includes Maharashtra, Telangana and Odisha?

Not significantly, because the government response to Maoists has transcended the party in power, in both states and the centre.

When Chhattisgarh was formed in 2000 along with Jharkhand and Uttarakhand, it inherited the growing Maoist rebellion from erstwhile Madhya Pradesh—then a Congress-ruled state that had barely managed a Maoist ingress of nearly two decades. Then, present-day Chhattisgarh, except the industrial and electricity hubs near Raipur, was considered a tribal outpost with little electoral—and so, development—value. Vast territories were ceded to rebel control in southern Chhattisgarh where it shares borders with Odisha, Telangana and Maharashtra; and in the north, where it shares borders with Jharkhand, present-day Madhya Pradesh, and a tiny slice of Uttar Pradesh.

Significantly, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government that was in the centre until May 2004 also had a muted, knee-jerk response to the growing Maoist presence, not just in Chhattisgarh, but across India. The only state government with an effective—if brutal—regime against Maoists was undivided Andhra Pradesh. Its specialized Greyhounds anti-Maoist or “anti-Naxal" force was created in 1989 when the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) was in power, and it remained both hammer and chisel during alternating Congress and TDP governments over the following decades. Indeed, Maoists decided to move into Dandakaranya as a direct result of the Greyhounds’ effectiveness.

When Raman Singh of the BJP became chief minister of Chhattisgarh in December 2003 for an uninterrupted three-term run that ended on 11 December, the Maoist rebellion had begun its stupendous march across central and eastern India. (A three-year Congress government with Ajit Jogi as chief minister between November 2000 and December 2003 had to cope with a new and severely under-equipped and under-trained police force that could do little against the motivation, networking and tactics of the Maoists.)

Let alone the government of Chhattisgarh, the government of India—now run by a Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition since May 2004—really woke up the Maoist rebellion after the formation of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in late-2004. A conglomerate that united two of India’s largest Left-wing rebel groups, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War and the Maoist Communist Centre of India, thereafter unleashed a spectacular series of jail breaks, armoury raids and operations primarily in Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand—states, like several others in the arc of the rebellion, run by both allies and opponents of the Congress. Rebels were rampant until 2007.

A Naxal Division was formed in the home ministry. Initial forays into coordination among police forces of various states began—Maoists had no borders but states and their police did—and also between the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and other paramilitaries and various state police departments. The CRPF’s CoBRA or Commando Battalion for Resolute Action was formed in 2008 and gradually deployed to nearly all states, irrespective of the party in power, that acutely experienced the rebellion. An experimental development response was helmed by the rural development ministry.

Meanwhile, the vigilante group Salwa Judum was formed in Chhattisgarh in mid-2005 to combat Maoist rebels. Its brainchild was Mahendra Karma, a senior Congress leader. The movement was fully backed by Chhattisgarh’s BJP-led administration. The Congress-led home ministry in Delhi was in the loop. There was growing unanimity with anti-Maoist operations, even if they involved vast collateral damage of civilian torture, death and displacement. When Karma and several other Congress leaders were killed by Maoists in May 2013 (besides several others incidents in which police and paramilitaries were killed) BJP-run Chhattisgarh and Congress-led centre were united in enhancing security resources in Chhattisgarh.

The current BJP-led NDA government has since May 2014 merely continued with the anti-Maoist escalation begun by an earlier central government. Even with a new Congress government in Chhattisgarh, its basic approach won’t change. It’s now part of the drill.

This column focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights and runs on Thursdays.

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