"Political power grows out of the barrel of the gun."
Stemming from a perpetuating class struggle, Naxalism has evolved to sabotage the interests of the very people it seeks to represent. What is even more horrendous is the fact that it has filled the loopholes of a 'vacuum in governance' in the affected areas. According to a report by the Ministry of Home Affairs, it has deeply affected 41 districts across 10 states as of 2021. This has made it one of the gravest security threats in India, if not "the gravest".
Aimed at ending democracy and establishing the communist rule, today it still survives and thrives on its ideology that the State is exploitative, as it is written by feudalist forces. The Naxalites blatantly disregard the enhanced engagement with the State desired by the marginalised tribals - the people who they wield their power from. The underlying disgruntlement against the State for its dire lack of development has materialised into a vicious cycle of violence between the Naxalites and the government forces, which ultimately leads to the "genocide of innocent tribals".
Naxalism draws its support from the massive trust deficit between the local population and the government. No active response by the government on the exploitation of peasants at the hands of zamindars, encroachment of land and deplorable poverty stirred people in dissatisfaction against the government. This was further heightened by the exploitation of the local population at the hands of the State police. Thus, the Naxals are able to win their trust better than the Indian government.
The dominant reason why Naxalism has spread its fangs in isolated tribal areas is the feeling of alienation that has gradually developed due to backwardness in the region, which has averted its integration into the mainstream. The absence of basic opportunities such as employment has made the local population even more susceptible to the Naxal propaganda which lures them to fulfil their interests and join their 'fight for dignity'.
It is often remarked that the primary issue of Naxalism is concentrated in 'land'. More than 40% victims of development-induced displacement activities are tribals. Further, forced evictions from moneylenders along with improper rehabilitation has resulted in systematic discrimination against tribals. Also, forest protection laws such as the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and the Indian Forest Act, 1927 were seen as usurpation of the rights of the forest dwellers by the government. Getting hold of powers to evict forest dwellers, the government has made stringent laws for the control of ‘minor forest produce’ as well. This wreaked havoc on the tribal population who were deprived of livelihood in their own homeland. This created another boil of disgruntlement against the State, perceiving it as an exploiter. It led to an aggressive expansion of Naxalism wherein it made many inroads into the Indian territory.
Despite numerous progressive land reform movements of the government, Naxalism continues to consolidate its deep penetration into society. It has resulted in full-fledged law and order problems across different parts of the country but it can't be solely attributed to development issues. What plays a pivotal role here are the interests of organised criminals such as the illegal mining mafia in the mineral-rich areas, who immensely thrive from lawlessness.
On the other hand, the government deals with Naxalism as primarily a law and order problem, such as by creating anti-naxal forces, without addressing the root causes of developmental issues. An approach of violence by the government can yield merely short-term results which give delusional success while in the long term, it causes repulsion from the local population, as was evident in the case of internal militancy in Kashmir.
Extremely corrupt stakeholders clubbed with red-tapism have led to implementation bottlenecks in the government's developmental policies in seeping out to the tribals. Legal measures such as the Untouchability (Offences) Act, Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act have not been implemented in true letter and spirit, hinting at considerable misgovernance. The Forest Rights Act (2006), which was a corrective measure to the Forest Conservation Act (1980), has also faced compliance challenges. Moreover, aimed at providing autonomy to the tribals, the Tribal Advisory Councils recommended by the 5th Schedule of the Constitution have also not been set up.
The Indian states’ treatment of Naxalism as a problem of the Centre has led to the deployment of more Central ('outsider') forces in the affected regions. Paradoxically, state forces are more aware of the language, culture and geography of the area along with being more sensitive to the problem of locals, thus having remarkably fewer chances of aggravating the problem. A considerable lack of coordination between the police and civil administration has also led to a snail's pace of development. This vicious cycle of underdevelopment makes it a daunting task for the government to rehabilitate people who fall back into the lap of the Naxalites again.
There has been a significant reduction in areas under Naxalism over the past decade as the Naxalites have run out of issues and are unable to attract more people. But, an expansion in newer states and districts has also been witnessed. For example, footprints of Naxalism in Wayanad and Palakkad in Kerala have made them high-risk districts. Further, the stronghold of Naxals over the highly affected areas hasn't loosened over time. Evolution of Naxalism into newer forms such as 'Urban Naxalism', which is gradually spreading since the 1960s is also worrisome. The 2010 Chintanal Massacre and the 2018 Sukuma Attack are evidence that there is a long road ahead.
Of the multipronged approach that has been adopted by the government to combat Naxalism, the most instrumental is the focus on filling the trust deficit by providing basic goods and services, which will disenchant the locals with the Naxal ideology, which solely relies on the notion that the government is anti-people. To extend effective development, strategic coordination is indispensable. For instance, coordination of road-building forces with road-guarding forces and the transfer of funds directly to the road-building authority to prevent the siphoning out of funds can be the way out for building road infrastructure. Extension of ethical government and providing constructive avenues for the engagement of youth such as employment should go hand-in-hand. Solving the main issue rooted in the land, large-scale digitisation of land records can be brought about.
The government's applaudable 'dialogue approach' yielded success in controlling insurgencies in Mizoram as well as Assam. A humane approach such as the much-touted policy of 'Winning Hearts and Minds' shall be adopted instead of resorting to violence. Civil society and effective media strategy for communication supplemented with the gradual repealing of laws such as AFSPA can help the government win over the hearts and minds of the people. Only the gradual integration of the Naxalites into the mainstream can put an end to this unreconciled struggle.