In his Nobel Memorial Prize lecture, entitled ‘War and Peace’, game theorist Robert Aumann emphasizes that characterizations of war as irrational may only serve to prolong conflict. Violent conflict has to be understood as a rational, albeit painful, response to certain incentives. He also demonstrates that peace can emerge, even with selfish parties involved, through a process of long-term interaction, provided the parties have a sufficiently low discount rate—they do not inordinately prioritize present gains over future benefits. He memorably writes, “If you want peace now, you may well never get peace. But if you have time—if you can wait … then you may get peace now."
I recently had an opportunity to mull over the ideas of Aumann when participating in a small segment of an 11-day peace march being taken out in the severely Maoist-influenced areas in southern Chhattisgarh. A group of 150 Gond adivasis from Telangana, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh started from Chatti, a village at the tri-junction of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Chhattisgarh on Gandhi Jayanti. They walked to Jagdalpur, the headquarters of Bastar district. The march was meant to express the anguish of adivasis living in a contested zone and having to deal on a daily basis with the depredations of government forces and Maoists alike.
The Maoists issued a boycott call for the peace march a day before its commencement. Bravely, the padyatris decided to continue the march. For the record, the yatra largely stuck to highways abutting the villages controlled by Maoists rather than entering the villages themselves, often just a kilometre from the highway. Interestingly, the government did not express any objection to the yatra. This was even though the leaflet issued by the yatris explicitly mentioned the goals of securing the freedom of thousands unjustly held in prison and fully redeeming the promises of constitutional provisions like the Forest Rights Act.
The group of motivated adivasis showed me that the game theoretic discussion of war and peace ignores the agency of an important player—the people affected by the conflict. The conclusions of game theory emphasize the long-term interaction, credibility, and far-sightedness of the main adversaries. They imply the inescapability of a world with a massive buildup of arms, periodic punitive action, and protracted tension. As Aumann says, “In the absence of a central government…one can perhaps have peace. But the swords must continue to be there—and the nations must continue to learn war, in order not to fight!"
This view overlooks the fact that every conflict creates power centres on both sides whose interests are served by the continuance of the impasse. Such a situation has been described as ‘cooperative plunder’, a situation in which two apparently antagonistic forces align for the purpose of siphoning resources.
The fact that the Maoist conflict shows many signs of such plunder by the government-Maoist combine was not lost on the padyatris. In the words of a 20-year-old boy from Kanker district, “People of the government are present in the ranks of the Maoists. If that was not the case, how are the Maoists getting their arms and ammunitions from the state armoury and their money from government projects? Both the government and the Maoists claim to speak for the adivasis. Then why are they both killing adivasis—the government in fake encounters and the Maoists on suspicion of being government informers? Both want the adivasis to continue to remain naive so that they can continue to flourish."
Given the situation of cooperative plunder, the lasting resolution of the conflict will only come when the affected people shake off the yoke put on them by different vested interests and assert their right to live a life not blighted by the fear of the protagonists in the war. They need to expose the lies of both the government and the Maoists who claim to speak on their behalf.
Hence, all initiatives that lead to increased awareness, empowerment, and cohesiveness of adivasi communities are to be welcomed. While the call for peace positions itself at an equal distance from the government and the Maoists, the onus lies on the government to initiate a sustained process of negotiation with the insurgents. The elected government is accountable for the turmoil experienced by the affected people on a daily basis, not the Maoists. Further, in the clash of a legally constituted government with an extra-constitutional force, it is the guardians of the law who must create a space for those who are outside the pale of the law to return to the mainstream. Uncertain promises of extermination of the rebels will not do, especially as the process of extermination only accentuates the misery of the adivasis.
The peace movement, while promising, runs the risk that its message of equidistance from the government and the Maoists will be distorted by each stakeholder to serve its own particular interests. A TV journalist announced, “150 adivasis braving the terror of the Maoists have walked through Maoist territory …". There was no mention of the yatra’s plea against the terror unleashed by government forces.
Hence, for this movement to succeed, it will be necessary for all right-thinking people to join to strengthen the call for a just peace. Then, perhaps, one can ask Aumann to expand his game theoretic models so that his calculations yield lasting concord, not just an uneasy truce.
Rohit Prasad is a professor at MDI, Gurgaon, and author of Blood Red River. Game Sutra is a fortnightly column based on game theory.