The Solution to the Maoist Menace Lies in Schedule V
Half a century after the Naxalbari uprising, the dream of a classless, exploitation-free and just society that fired the imagination of the young and the restless remains just that – a dream. Half a century after the State came down with all its might on the young revolutionaries with the promise of ending for once and all the revolution called Naxalism – now called Maoism – it remains just that: a promise. Countless lives – not just of ideologically driven revolutionaries and State recruited security personnel but also innocent tribals caught in the crossfire – have been lost in the seemingly endless war between the two sides in these five decades , the latest round of casualties taking place as recently as Monday when 25 CRPF personnel and an unknown number of Maoist rebels were killed in the forests of Sukma in Chhattisgarh. But both the dream of a classless society as well as the promise of a Maoist-free country remains unfulfilled. More worryingly, an end to the bloody battle seems nowhere in sight given the inflexible and intransigent positions on both sides.
Meanwhile, public discourse on the issue has been mostly confined to mutual mudslinging between those who want a more ‘muscular’ response to the threat of Maoist insurgency and those who deride the development model sought to be imposed on the tribals and advocate going to the ‘root cause’ of the problem. Of course, both sides swear by the hapless tribals, who are crushed between State repression on the one side and Maoist depredations on the other on a daily basis. Lost in the acrimonious debate is Schedule V of the Constitution, which gives immense powers over natural resources to the people living in tribal areas. Had the provisions of Schedule V been really implemented, Maoism would perhaps have never got the foothold it has in these areas.
Shorn of the mumbo jumbo, the battle is essentially over the plentiful natural resources – the forests, the streams and the minerals – that the tribals unwittingly sit on. In pursuit of the development model that it has chosen for itself, the State has ensured that Schedule V remains just a platitude that it has no intention of fulfilling. Genuflecting before the big corporate houses with an eye on the immense natural resources, it has unleashed a reign of terror in these areas that has compelled the tribals to see it as an enemy and see the Maoists as their saviours on occasions. All this has, of course, been done in the name of the ‘development’ of the tribals without any thought on whether they agree with this development model.
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On the other side of the divide, the Maoists too have indulged in wanton violence, killing not just security personnel, but also innocent tribals on mere suspicion of being police informers. They have fiercely resisted not just the exploitation of the resources that these areas are home to, but also elementary development work. The Gurupriya bridge in the Maoist stronghold of Malkangiri is a case in point. It goes without saying that the long delayed bridge holds out the promise of a better future for the thousands of tribals living in what is known as the ‘cut off’ area comprising 151 villages, who have been condemned to forced isolation from the rest of the world virtually since independence. No argument on capitalist exploitation can justify this resistance to a project that has the potential to become a lifeline for the people. The only reason the Maoists have been opposing it is that it would make it easier for the security personnel to get to their stronghold and make life difficult for them. There are signs that the tribals are beginning to see through their game plan. Once driven by State repression into the arms of the Maoists, they are now being driven back to the arms of the State by Maoist depredations. For all its faults, the State can never allow Maoists a free run of the tribal hinterland.
There can be no arguments about the fact that this cycle of violence has to end. And a framework for ending it is already available in the form of Schedule V. If only the State could resist its temptation to cast an evil, greedy eye on the resources and allow the provisions of this forgotten chapter in our Constitution to come into effect in the true sense, the Maoists would lose their raison d’etre. The war against Maoists them would have a moral justification that it lacks at the moment.