Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Need for a Comprehensive National Strategy

Lt Gen VK Ahluwalia

Global Peace Index (GPI), published by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), a Sydney-based global non-profit organisation, has ranked India low in peace index, as ‘143rd among 162 countries and fifth out of seven in South Asia for the second year in a row. The cost of containing violence in the country reportedly rose by over 90%, from $177 billion in 2013 to $341.7 billion in 2014, or 4.7% of the country's GDP.’ While the figures are based on factors like the level of safety and security in society, involvement in various conflicts and the degree of militarisation, it specifically mentions about the Maoist insurgency. It said,” The number of casualties from internal conflict also rose in India where a Maoist insurgency still runs rife.” Prima facie, the figures pertaining to the percentage increase and the actual expenditure incurred on containing violence, quoted by IEP, look alarming. Even if we accept some percentage of it to be true, there is a need to analyse and arrest the trend of increased expenditures to contain violence.

Relevance of GPI’s Observations

It is true that India faces a number of challenges to its security, both due to external and internal threats. It continues to face a serious two front strategic scenario, as it has unresolved boundary dispute with Pakistan and China. In addition, there are concerns about internal security, which, in the recent times, have acquired serious dimension due to intermittent terrorist attacks, conflicts due to religious and regional intolerance and the on-going insurgencies in the country. What is of great significance is the fact that India has continued to be affected by bloody insurgencies right since its independence. Over the last six decades, we, as a country, have resolved only one classical insurgency (Mizoram insurgency by Mizoram Peace Accord, June 30, 1986). It is also true that the militancy in Punjab was resolved, but it was not a classical insurgency. Tripura’s insurgency has been brought under control to a large extent, but not resolved. The idea of maintaining “strategic patience and thus allowing the militant organizations to wear out”, will certainly not see resolution of our insurgencies for a few more decades. Unless we take multi-pronged active measures, we will, it appears, continue to increase our expenditure on containing violence, much against country’s requirement to provide human security and to improve its socio- economic conditions. To that extent, the observations of the GPI are relevant and merit deliberations. Do we need to have a relook at our approach to resolving our internal security problems, especially the insurgencies? Are we addressing the roots of the problems on which the insurgencies rest? The Naxalite movement, an indigenous insurgency, which has sustained for about five decades and also mentioned by the GPI in its report, has been covered in some detail.

Discontent Persists

Who are the people that are affected by the left wing extremist activities? It needs to be understood that while the demography of the region principally determines the cadre base of the Naxalites, it largely remains a rural and tribal base. In other words, considering the areas affected by Naxalism, it primarily affects the tribal population, as also the dalits, the deprived lower & backward classes, the poor farmers, and the unemployed rural youth.

The lack of ‘political will’ to enforce land reforms in the post-independence period was the primary cause of the first Naxal upsurge in India in 1967. In fact, discontent among the people was more than visible even before Independence, as the country witnessed the ‘Telangana Peasants’ Armed Struggle’ (1946-51) against the feudal land lords, and the ‘Tebhaga Movement’ in Bengal (1946) that demanded ‘two third share of the produce of crops’. While allotment of land to landless remains a distant dream in most states, non-implementation of people – centric schemes and forest laws, corruption and non – accountability of officials has made the situation worse for the lower class, specially the tribal population in this region. Of late, the governments, both at the centre and in the states, have focused to deliver and implement a few schemes on the ground. Results of their initiatives will be known only after some time.

Since Independence over 60 million people have been displaced in our country on account of construction of reservoirs for dams, mining operations, setting up industrial corridors, wild life sanctuaries etc. According to a report, approximately 40 percent of them were from the Naxal - affected areas. It merits a mention that an unplanned displacement of people causes economic dislocation, food insecurity, jobs, shelter and social disruption. In addition, it may take years to overcome the emotional and psychological trauma borne out of unjust treatment. The incidence of starvation deaths, primarily due to impoverishment, is among the highest in the tribal areas. Lack of employment opportunities and food insecurity causes a great amount of dissatisfaction among the affected population. These sentiments were fully exploited by the Naxal leaders to propagate the plight of the people at the hands of an ineffective government.

Socio- economic conditions: A comparison

The area is extremely rich in terms of mineral wealth and natural resources of the country. It contains approximately 80-90 percent of India’s coal, iron ore, bauxite and manganese. It also accounts for almost 40-45 percent of the total forest cover in India. Refer Figure1. It shows the density of mineral resources and the forest cover in the country. Yet, these very areas are among the poorest people and have been ranked lowest in terms of human development indices (HDI), poverty, food security, education, employment, rural electrification, housing, connectivity, potable water and sanitation facilities. In other words, these people have not really benefitted from the growth story of India.
While the national average of population below poverty line (BPL) is 27 percent, it is much lower for the rural tribal population in the Naxal-affected states. Refer Figure 2, on BPL. It highlights the glaring disparity between the national average and within the Naxal- affected states.
Ironically, the rural areas of Naxal-affected states are among the worst affected in India with regard to availability of electricity, despite the fact that more than 80-85 percent of coal for the country and its thermal stations is extracted from these very areas. The availability of electrification in the rural areas in the Naxal-affected areas is much below 25 percent in comparison to the rest of the country.
Similarly, the literacy levels of the tribal population in these states are much below the other classes in each state. Refer Figure 3, on Literacy rate. Naxal - affected regions have very poor social infrastructure, mainly in areas of education and healthcare. Though the allocation of funds for education and health sector has increased progressively over the last decade, there is a need to further enhance the budget to achieve optimum results of the demographic dividend.
For any nation, human development indicators area function of economic growth, social policy, education, life expectancy, and poverty reduction measures at the macro level. Thus, these indicators, in true sense, manifest the levels of social and economic conditions of the society. Figure 4 shows that the HDI of the Naxal - affected states to be much lower than the national average. Thus, it is easy to assimilate the reasons for the higher levels of Naxalism in some areas of the country in comparison with others.
The unemployment rates of the tribal population are also the highest in the country, much higher than the national average for rural and for urban areas. High unemployment among the youth finally manifests in higher incidents of Naxal violence. Such statistics reinforce the need to urgently initiate steps to improve the employment opportunities – perhaps the biggest challenge to the government in power – for the affected poor people in these areas.
In addition, the lack of surface communication cripples the overall socio-economic development of these states, resulting in adverse effects on public distribution system (PDS), education, medical services, training for vocational skills, marketing facilities for agricultural produce, veterinary cover for animals, and other vital public services.

Most leading business houses - those that acquired land resulting in displacement of people - have generally not taken any noticeable actions to uplift the quality of life of the local population, resettlement of displaced people, conservation of environment and empowerment of the youth in terms of job related skills and job opportunities. In other words, majority of them have only exploited the local populace and the natural resources, with a view to maximize their profits. Most of them have failed to meaningfully utilize two percent of their profits for corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the affected areas. To ensure sustained economic growth, while certain actions are required to establish industries and develop infrastructures, but these should be carried out in a deliberate manner that takes into consideration the welfare of local population. They should be empowered, consulted and taken on board. On balance, such actions should finally result in a better quality of life, and provide adequate job opportunities for the affected people of the region.
It is more than evident that the main causes of LWE are due to vacuum in governance leading to economic – socio fault lines, in that order of priority. Survival needs of the people are the first and foremost requirement. Therefore, removing the root causes of conflict on which the insurgency rests is vital to resolve the conflict.
Security situation
Ever since the merger of the two potent and lethal militant organizations – MCCI and PWG along with their military wings – in Sep 2004, there was a marked increase in the level of violence till 2009 and 2010. These two years were the bloodiest years in the history of the Naxalite movement. With the SF becoming effective in these areas, there has been a decline in the level of incidents and the violence.

The details of Naxal violence for the period 2003 - 2014 are given at Figure 5 on the subject. However, to remain relevant, the rebels will continue to strike periodically. Therefore, the SF should not be complacent.

The Naxals are at the critical phase of their movement, because of leadership crisis, splintering of the group into a number of smaller groups, loss of control over their traditional strongholds, shrinking recruitment base, insurgency fatigue and inadequacy of weapon systems. To enhance further effectiveness, security strategy that addresses the region as a whole needs to be evolved, with the cooperation of the states. This is essential in the larger interest of the country’s internal security and making available additional funds for its growth story.

Comprehensive National strategy (CNS)

There is a need for formal document in the form of CNS and an action plan to address the root causes of the insurgency. Security strategy should logically flow out of the CNS. While the SF should aim to provide a secure environment, the development agencies and civil services should work in close harmony to implement welfare schemes, on priority. The document should spell out role of each element of national power so that they can prepare and deliver on the ground. Simultaneously, the focus should shift to good governance, implementation of people-centric schemes on the ground, accountability, and transparency in its functioning. Though rather delayed, it is learnt that a formal document is under preparation by the government that would address all areas of concern - security, governance, development, survival needs, public perception management and police reforms - so as to resolve the conflict.

(Former Central Army Commander, Lt Gen VK Ahluwalia (retd) has done an an in-depth study on the Maoist issue in Central India)

Published Date: th July 2015, Image Source: http://newsjharkhand.com
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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