Review of Chief Ministers' Conference on Naxalism

Devyani Srivastava
Research Officer, IPCS

The recently concluded conference of chief ministers on internal security, the second this year, followed by a meeting among the seven Naxal-affected states (Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal), constitutes an essential part of the home minister's resolve to refurbish internal security and improve the level of preparedness in dealing with internal security threats. Driven by the objective of promoting knowledge and information-sharing between the states, the chief ministers' conference sought to overcome one of the biggest hurdles in the government's security apparatus - a lack of inter-state and center-state coordination. Through a process of consultation, the meetings have successfully built a cnsensus on counter-Naxal policy and strategies. Accordingly, the center is drawing up a plan for a military offensive, slated for launch by the end of October. These outcomes apart, conferences of this nature convey a strong message of unity among the political leadership in meeting internal security challenges.

At the same time, given the unsatisfactory attempts made so far by the states in meeting the stated objectives, skepticism regarding the government's resolve to counter Naxalism lingers on. These concerns are well-founded, what with the formidable challenges surrounding the oft-repeated two-pronged policy on counter-Naxalism: to subdue the insurgency by force and simultaneously provide aid to accelerate development.

Given the emphasis on police action in fighting the Naxals, the challenges confronting the police force are two-fold - the foremost inherent in police action itself while the other stems from the social and political conditions within which the police operate. Aside from targeting the 'enemy' in situations of ambush or direct assault, the ability of the police in identifying the 'enemy' from the people at large remains highly underdeveloped in a situation of asymmetrical warfare. This is leading to a high rate of human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions at a time when regaining public confidence has become extremely critical for the police to gain success in the fight against Naxals. The often indiscriminate use of force by the police is precipitated partly by the political interference that influences its recruitment and transfer policies, providing them impunity from law. To ensure autonomy of the police force, the Supreme Court had directed the states, as early as 2006, to establish a Police Establishment Board to look into recruitment and transfer issues. The fact that very few states responded to this directive, reflects the unwillingness of states to take up this issue. Until the culture of impunity enjoyed by the police force is effectively broken, through aggressive prosecution of crimes, cultivation of responsible leadership, and constant efforts at regaining public confidence, measures such as increase in the strength of the police force, setting up more military training colleges and their technological up-gradation are unlikely to reap long-term dividends.

The other aspect of the policy- to foster development as the solution to insurgency, is equally problematic, both on philosophical and practical grounds. The thrust on development must be preceded by debates on the nature of development suitable for a particular region. Importing a capitalist-industrialist model of development into tribal lands ahead of other processes of modernization such as spreading literacy and awareness, is likely to meet with resistance, Naxals or no Naxals. In addition to the construction of roads that is often viewed with skepticism by the locals, building irrigation canals, promoting agriculture and tribal skills are other ways of bringing about develop also need to be emphasized. Apart from this, the practical problems of pursuing a policy of fast-paced development range from insufficiency of funds and administrative weaknesses to corruption and politicization of development aid. A step to resolve this problem is the issuance of funds by the Centre being made conditional upon performance of the states in dealing with corruption, particularly with regard to transfer policies. The fear that corrupt practices will be exposed if states are refused funds by the Centre can act as an incentive for the state to fulfill its responsibilities.

It thus becomes clear that both the security and development aspects of the government's policy can be effective only in a political system free of lawlessness, corruption and coercion. As argued elsewhere, for instance, in Sanjib Baruah's latest book Beyond Counterinsurgency: Breaking the Impasse in Northeast India, strengthening the system of governance must be among the highest priorities for the government in its counterinsurgency strategy. This corresponds with the consensus in literature on counterinsurgency, of the salience of a political solution over a military one. Additionally, Chidambaram's acceptance of the option of negotiating with the rebels provided they renounce violence, and the successful and relatively peaceful conduct of general elections by the Election Commission even in violence-affected areas, are positive steps. Ultimately, the Centre must ensure that it does not reach a situation of stalemate as in the Northeast where despite stressing on counterinsurgency operations and development aid, violence, disillusionment and impoverishment persist.