Maoist rebellion: peace is entirely a matter of intent
On the 50th anniversary of the Naxalbari episode, and with a leftwing rebellion which still rages 50 years later, perhaps we should try peace.
Nepal made the journey in 2006 after a 10-year Maoist rebellion; some leaders joined the government, numerous cadres were absorbed by paramilitary forces and some by the army—former foes. Even with several attendant problems, Colombia has signed a deal with FARC or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to end a 52-year-old conflict, as with Nepal’s brutal internal war with the help of several countries and overseen by United Nations. By end-May over 6,000 FARC rebels are expected to hand over weapons to a UN mission as part of a demobilization and rehabilitation exercise.
How many recall the Communist Party of India (CPI) was once an armed group, and banned? In 1996 Indrajit Gupta of CPI became India’s home minister, a post he held with integrity, not always attributed to his successors.
As with our greatest internal war, our internal peace is entirely a matter of intent.
Every re-taken Maoist-area seeded with governance, development and delivery of the criminal justice system, from parts of West Bengal to parts of Andhra Pradesh, has managed a natural bulwark against incendiary anger, against rebellion.
However, the conflict is fluid, often cross-border. Rebels pull back in one area of stress on account of operations by security forces to expand in another of relatively less stress. Cadres cross state borders at will, when security forces often cannot. Consequently a meaningful peace can only be driven by the central government in conjunction with states affected by the Maoist rebellion, and the central leadership of the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
While it’s clear what governments want from rebels—surrender, rehabilitation, assimilation—what of Maoists?
In June 2011, when former President Pratibha Patil parroted the home ministry cliché asking Maoists to “abjure violence” and join the mainstream, rebels responded with venom. Besides removal of security forces from “all the Maoist movement areas”, demands included scrapping memoranda of understanding between various governments and multinational companies, stopping projects which “grab the lands of the people”, and that the government “should accept that people have the right to decide what kind of a development they want”.
Rebels also demanded “that all … corrupt politicians should be arrested and punished, that all the black money stashed away in foreign banks must be brought back … before the government invites the Maoists to join the ‘mainstream’!”
Naturally it was a deal-breaker. Maoists were still smarting from the killing of a key leader and spokesperson, Cherukuri Rajkumar, who used the nom de guerre Azad, in July 2010. They had also meanwhile lost much territory, leadership, cadres and influence.
Azad had been in touch with the government through interlocutors like Swami Agnivesh, the rights-activist. He was also the medium for former home minister P. Chidambaram’s peace missive to the Maoists in May 2010.
In a letter to Agnivesh, Chidambaram had suggested a 72-hour ceasefire from 1 June of that year as an initial act of faith. The government’s sole condition for talks was: “CPI (Maoist) should abjure violence.”
Maoists insisted on a ceasefire of 2-3 months—the dates mutually decided. Other demands included “initiating measures” to release party leaders—not so different from what government has done with, say, United Liberation Front of Asom, or the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah). Basically, de-escalate.
Within days, Azad would be killed by government agencies. While the government highlights the insincerity of Maoists when it comes to talks, this incident served to expose the government’s own mendacity. Since then peace has remained piecemeal : localized deal-making by politicians with rebels to garner electoral support; or for the release of some government personnel kidnapped by Maoists, such as the bureaucrat Vineel Krishna in Odisha.
Even earlier, in 2004, serious peace talks between the government of Andhra Pradesh and Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War took place in Hyderabad. Before positions hardened, and People’s War expediently merged with the Maoist Communist Centre of India to form CPI (Maoist), the rebels had raised several interesting preconditions for talks.
Among these: completion of pending irrigation projects and reworking loans to prevent suicide by farmers; land titles for tribals in forested areas and prevention of encroachment on such land by non-tribal folk; demand for a separate Telangana state; and investigation of public officials for corruption.
If development and governance is the price for peace, where’s the harm to begin peace talks?
The concluding part of an ongoing series about the Maoist rebellion in India on the 50th anniversary of the Naxalbari uprising. Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. This column, which focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights, runs on Thursdays.
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