Brain before brawn

In my article in The Asian Age of September 21, 2009, Naxal violence is a cry to be heard, I came in full support of the Prime Minister’s statement of 2009 on Naxal violence, calling it one of “gravest internal security problems” the country faces. Indeed, the Naxal problem is much more serious than the external threat of militants from

Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. These external threats are limited to a small fraction of the country’s population and in spite of all the attempts by Pakistan, external militancy has not spread to the rest of the country. What the Government of India needs to do is to keep the Kashmir problem isolated, defuse the situation by finding mutually-agreed solutions that benefit and appeal to the people of Kashmir. This may take some time especially since there have been recent cases of grievances against India which require a very sensitive approach. But problems at the local level are resolvable because they are perpetrated by sporadic senseless violence, like in Kashmir, making the people vastly amenable to solutions.
The Naxal problem, on the other hand, is serious. It has fed on the persistent putting off of grievances of the tribals, and it is not limited to isolated regions nor to any isolated attempt to solution. It covers many areas and many groups of people who are not just physically guided by an organised infrastructure of violence but also by a motivated programme of militant ideology.
This cannot be ignored because while the demands may lie dormant for quite sometime, the motivations run deep and can, and do, erupt whenever they find a favourable environment. If the Naxal problem is not tackled at its root, it will bring down the social fabric.
As it is dawning upon the administrative machinery that the Naxal problem is not only deep-rooted in the current developments but also in ideological motivations, the menace of the problem has started hurting an overwhelming majority of the people. They have to be reckoned with substantive analysis of the difficulties and well thought out programmes that attempt to isolate the Naxal rebels from the rest of the population. Because these types of incidents are different from communal violence and regional militancy, the problem will not get resolved until everybody who is against militant violence can be motivated to fight this menace.
There is often a misunderstanding that the Naxal problem will go away with the spread of education. To some extent this is true. Education opens the doors of perception of the people, they begin to understand the problems they face. Vested interests often drum up other issues to support a movement when there is not enough response coming from the social elite. But to the extent the elite responds to this specific Naxal problem, there is a dialogue and opportunity to resolve the conflict. The contribution of education to the resolution of several conflicts is undoubtedly important and the social elite can play an important role when conflicts are a result of false consciousness of the reality.
Resistance can be overcome for sustaining a programme of social development of the deprived and affected groups by arguments about the pros and cons of the situation. But unfortunately the reach of the arguments does not go far enough as they are not rooted in the objective conditions of social development that would attract all and not some sections of the population. For example, the Naxal problem is dominated by deprivation of land rights. As this affects a small fraction of the people, its consciousness as a social problem has to be properly formulated in terms of objective realities. Otherwise arguments against the Naxal position would remain flimsy, as they would not be able to translate into actions that would change the reality. Analytically the Naxal problem is amenable to peaceful solution without the use of force, provided the social elites are interested in solving it.
I am harping on this way of tackling the Naxal problem because it opens up possibilities of a peaceful resolution. It follows from the presumption that most social problems are positive sums, where solution to problems in one dimension does not detract from solutions in other directions. This aspect of the analytical structure of the Naxal problem is often forgotten when all attention is devoted to resolving them through the violent use of the state machinery. It may, of course, be necessary sometimes to use such violence. But it must be remembered that when a non-violent solution exists, it must be tried out before using force. If you accept that all Naxals are not criminals your approach to finding a peaceful solution has a greater chance of success.
I am frantically arguing for a non-violent solution to the openly violent Naxal issue that affects the country’s social development because even hardcore problems such as land redistribution can be converted from a zero-sum to positive-sum games. People can be persuaded to believe in such alternative approaches if we can go far in dealing with these situations. For example, unequal distribution of land does give an initial advantage to people benefiting from land redistribution. But when redistribution is supported by investment, irrigation and water management, it may generate enough benefits to prevent people from turning violent or entering into not-so-violent acrimonious conflicts.
For example, the Naxal problem has somehow got mixed up with personal, social and ethnic conflicts. These conflicts are not germane to dealing with social development. You can solve the problems of dalits in a non-violent manner when the society expresses its willingness to do so. If a non-violent approach can resolve a problem such as discrimination against dalits, the appeal of a violent approach loses its attraction. Educated dalits, for instance, should be able to solve their problems without recourse to violence, but they cannot do so because of vested interests that do not permit non-violent but effective solutions.
This is where there is scope for the leadership to go beyond the immediate conflict situation. To expect a non-violent solution in a violent social environment may often be a pipedream. But once people are allowed to play this game, the merit of their case becomes increasingly apparent. That is the beginning of having a peaceful solution to difficult and violence-provoking social problems.
In any case, given all the options, I believe the Naxal problem has not been attended to in all seriousness.

Dr Arjun Sengupta is a member of Parliament and former economic adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi

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