It is welcome that the Maoists have released the lone CoBRA force commando they had taken captive after an ambush in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region that left 22 members of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force dead. But that does not mean that there is room for any compromise with the Maoists’ rejection of democratic politics and resort to force. What it does show is that there could be non-lethal solutions to left-wing extremism, in the form of surrender by the armed insurgents and adoption of democratic forms of politics.
A villager, it is speculated, tipped off the Maoists about the presence of the security forces, enabling them to strike and kill trained security personnel. At the same time, relations between villagers and security personnel are often fraught. These reflect deficiencies in governance and scope for reform. While romantic notions of the Maoists as liberators of oppressed villagers have little basis, villagers themselves being often at the receiving end of Maoist violence, oppression of villagers is part of India’s sordid reality. This is one reason why Maoists are able to mobilise some support among tribal villagers. It is imperative to address the governance deficit that serves as grist to the Maoist propaganda mill. Similarly, policing should ideally be perceived as an extension of normal governance. In states such as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana that have successfully combated Maoists, their police force, rather than the paramilitary, took on the task. State police forces speak the language of the local people, know their culture and customs, and are better placed to win their trust and elicit their cooperation.
When mines are opened, roads and pipelines laid or power plants set up in forests, traditional forest dwellers can either be given a stake in the new prosperity coming up on their erstwhile land or they can be cast aside as collateral damage. This is where the democratic imagination had failed in the past and created victims of development. This calls for a paradigm shift, one that also combats left-wing extremism.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.
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