Deconstructing the Rhetoric of India’s “Single Biggest Internal Security Challenge”: Ideological Insurgency or Democratic Insurrection?

Image result for Union Home Minister Amit Shah has said that the terrorism and Maoism are the biggest threats to the human rights.
Terming terrorism, Maoism as threat, Amit Shah stressed on redefining human rights with Indian context

by NayakaraVeeresha 16 October 2019

On October 12th, addressing the foundation day of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) the Union Home Minister Amit Shah has said that the “terrorism and Maoism are the biggest threats to the human rights”. He emphasised that the international norms are not sufficient to describe the concept of human rights in Indian social context.  This is yet another political rhetoric and is not new as far as fighting the “single biggest internal security challenge (PIB, 2006)”, also called as ‘Maoism’ or ‘Naxalism’ in India. The official name given by the Ministry of Home Affairs is Left Wing Extremism (from now on LWE) which has come into existence in 2014. The undemocratic arrests of intellectuals and human rights activists oin August 2018 in the name of fighting Maoism in urban areas added another expression to the existing rhetoric. i.e., ‘Urban Naxal’.

Set in this epistemological context, here an attempt has made to deconstruct the most popular rhetoric exhorted by none other than the former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh in 2006. In his concluding remarks at the 2nd meeting of the Standing Committee of Chief Ministers on Naxalism, he said that “It would not be an exaggeration to say that the problem of naxalism is the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country (Ibid)”. The statement may have its own merit at least from the dimensions of security aspects. However, in the process what was actually sidelined or ignored are the issues of adivasis political rights, especially land rights, right to self-govern as mandated in the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution supplemented by the legislations of the Panchayat (Extension to Schedule Areas, PESA, 1996) and the The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. It is also known as Forest Rights Act (FRA).

The politics of rhetoric have been created by the Indian State in order to abdicate its own responsibility in addressing root causes of the socio-political conflict. The Indian State has followed the reductionist approach to divert the attention of the nation from the structural issues pertaining to the insurrection. Those are alienation of land from the adivasis to non-adivasis through deeply entrenched social structures such as jaati (caste), functioning of modern institutions of governance in Scheduled Areas, SAs), the role of State in reproducing the inequalities through the exclusionary education system, employment sectors, disempowerment of youth, injustices via state development policies, rampant human rights violations and sexual exploitation of local adivasis by the security agencies. All these were kept in dark with such popularized rhetoric statements. Unfortunately, these issues do not find space in the sanitized discourse of an imported binary model of insurgency-counterinsurgency from United States of America.

In the context of Fifth Schedule, the Indian State has failed to prevent the land alienation in SAs.   This has led to the dispossession of land, erosion of livelihood, denial of traditional rights over forest and other natural resources through forest bureaucracy, displacement induced by the development. All these processes are taking place systematically through State institutions in the name of democracy and development. The ground on which State acquires legitimacy to govern is also the base for adivasis insurrection as the State does not fulfilled the objectives of the constitutional mandates. A cursory look at the social demographics, basic needs, level of poverty, economic backwardness through labour exploitation, low human development indicators in of the areas of insurrection is a clear indication of the State’s failure in enabling the conditions of providing the basic human welfare to the politically marginalised adivasis and other backward sections of the people. 

Adivasis communities in India have a rich tradition of self-governance. The community has given prominence over individual rights. The resources are governed by customary rules and regulations. The informal governance practices of the adivasis communities are unique in nature and local specific; they were able to sustain the natural resources such as forest, land, mineral and water for generations together. The systems of self-governance of adivasis are slowly become extinct with the introduction of colonial governance framework in post independent period. Even the Panchayati Raj Institutions have not been able to bring many changes in the life of adivasis. The evolution of the modern State in adivasis society has brought intrusiveness into their life and culture, extractive/exploitative nature of the State is in conflict with the ethics/values of primitive society.

The ongoing conflict in Fifth Schedule Areas may be attributed to the tensions between the traditional/informal and modern/formal governance apparatus. The future depends upon how best we marry both these practices of governance to resolve not only the local governance issues and also to reduce the inclination of adivasis and other disadvantages sections towards the radical political ideologies. The epistemological analysis of the political rhetoric reveals that there is a gap between rhetoric and reality, theory and practice. The gap has widened when the Ministry of Home Affairs dissolves research and policy division in the mid of 1980s. This has made the Ministry deficit of critical inputs on various social disturbances and conflicts.

The policy paralysis in the Ministry of Home Affairs has percolated to the State governments in Central India is one of the reasons for not coming with the proper policies to deal with the internal conflicts. The uni-dimensional (security centric) approach to deal with multi-faceted problem has failed so far, now the Union government new policy known as ‘National Policy and Action Plan to address LWE problem’ adopting four pronged strategy in the areas of security, development, ensuring rights & entitlement of local communities and management of public perception is in operation.This is a good sign from a policy perspective. Policy making process is an act of expertise. It requires adequate and necessary information to draw proper policy inputs to develop an action plan. To deal with the insurrection, India needs grounded knowledge and expertise to look into the areas such as structural deficits of state formation in adivasis areas, mode of governance by the ‘modern nation-state’, deficiencies in the imposed governance systems, and more importantly the power of discriminating legitimate resistance of the people with that of insurgents. 

In the new policy also we see security giving top most priority in the enlisted strategies. This is again gross error/flaw in policy prescription. The State needs to understand a critical factor in security is that, people feel secure in liberal, free conditions and not in a military/police rule under the shadow of guns from both side’s insurgents and the State security apparatuses. The reversal of the strategy is more preferable, i.e. management of public perception, ensuring rights and entitlements of local communities, development and security. In spite of the deficiencies with the security centric approach, negligence of security component is not advisable. At the same time it should not negate/overflows the other aspects of human security (political and economic rights). All must go hand in hand in a sequential manner according to the local conditions.

 The popular constructs such as civil war, insurgency, extremism, left-wing extremism, Maoism, naxalism and revolution all these concepts systematically alienate the other democratic voices and discourses which fall beyond the State and non-State categories.  The dominant narratives left-wing extremism, civil war, Maoism, naxalism are state centric and does not appreciate/recognise and accommodate the ideas of communist ideologues who are fighting with the State. Naxalism does not explain the changing spatial and temporal dimensions of the conflict in the wake of changes in policy economy of India. Revolution still a distant vision and remains as a utopian outcome. The term insurgency has recognized the power of ideologies in radical politics, yet it shortfalls in explaining ‘why’ component of it. Both parties, the Indian State and Communist ideologues are engaging in politics without appreciating the human rights, civil life of the local people. The local contextualisation of violence from the perspective of people in particularly adivasis is largely missing in both parties’ arguments and discourses.

The so called Maoism in the context of India requires a more detailed, delicate understanding of the specifics of Indian rural conditions which are different from that of China in particular the land issues and governance.  While characterising the happenings in Central India and trying to see them through the lenses of ‘Maoist’ ideologues, the Government of India is losing the sight of the plight of adivasis. In this puzzling situation where we caught ourselves having more problems than solutions at hand in the discourses construed by political, bureaucratic elites. The first and foremost step to come out of this kind of ambiguous situation is to refine, reinterpret the concepts and to identify appropriate terms to describe what actually happening in the remote villages of Central India.

The dominant discourse on left-wing extremism in India as pursued by policy makers, bureaucracy, academia, civil society organisations, human rights organisations, donor agencies, media seem to be still in the mode of diagnosing the reasons for conflict and far from solving the issues of economic justice and political rights in a democratic governance framework. Insurrections are rising up of the individuals on a voluntary basis who are dissatisfied with the constitutional governance. An inward looking by the Indian State may provide the appropriate kind of policies to be framed to reduce the intensity of the socio-political unrest. The question is whether the Indian State lends ears to the self-judgmental approach to come out of the imported ideas of counterinsurgency methods to suppress democratic insurrections? The functional experience of ‘modern nation-state’ in India shows that the Indian State is weak when it comes to the question of resolving its own structural constraints and institutional deficits to restore the order. The psychoanalytic understanding of radical ideologues will help the government to frame better policies to improve the socio-economic and political conditions of local communities in conflict areas be it in Central India, Northeast or Jammu and Kashmir.

Paradigm Shift of Discourse

The current discourse on so called ‘Maoism’ or ‘Left Wing Extremism’ or even ‘Naxalism’ to an extent is normalised dominant constructs. What is not coming out these narratives is the voices of those who are actually fighting the state, i.e., adivasis and other historically alienated groups. The history of adivasis in India is one of the most neglected stories of our civilisation. The adivasis of Central India experiencing day to day conflict between Indian State and insurgents. Conflicts in society arise when the interaction between informal and formal mode of governance does not take place in accordance to the old laws, customs and traditions of that particular society. There has to be a close coherence and consonance between the new legislation and traditional customs and practices. The current discourse either strengthens the Maoist party methods of resolving land issues or State’s development agenda leading to discontent among the adivasis communities. The parliamentary politics in India is reluctant to understand the adivasis issues from rights and justice perspective where as the Maoist party is rigid in using its violent methods for resolving the land and other structural issues of governance.

There is a need for human centric politics known as anthropolitics to overcome the structural limitations of parliamentary or revolutionary politics in India.  For this the politics has to change the way it is operating now in insurrectionary areas. Anthropolitics is a seminal concept/theoretical theme to understand politics from an anthropological lens with a focus on human centric politics rather than power based politics. It may be understood as an integrated mechanism to converge the cultural practices of informal governance with the formal structures of governance. Insurrection in Central and Eastern States is not exactly constitutes ‘biggest internal security threat’ as perceived by the Indian State. Contrary to the general understanding it is not the ‘development deficit’ or ‘governance deficit’ which is responsible for the political violence between the insurgents and State; rather it may be understood as governance excessiveness by the Union and State governments to control and regulate the wealth of natural resources in adivasis populated States of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha. To enable this transformation of power politics to human politics, there is a necessity to change the tools and methods of studying the world’s largest struggle of India’s adivasis insurrection within the ambit of the constitution and democracy.

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