Posted by: John Elliott | March 2, 2012

Jairam Ramesh calls for political parties to get active in Naxalite areas

India’s Maoist rebels need mainstream party politics

Naxalite rebels need to be tackled with mainstream political activity, not just development projects and repression by security forces. This new approach for handling India’s most serious internal security problem is being pushed by Jairam Ramesh, the minister for rural development. It is also being tacitly accepted by the state government of Orissa where Naxalite candidates won elections in 30 panchayats (village-level councils) last month.

Ramesh (below) is the first central government minister to pick on party political activity as an essential means of providing a peaceful alternative to the violent occupation of tribal and other remote areas by Naxalite Maoist rebels, who are active in nearly a third of India’s 600 administrative districts and whose leaders ultimately want to overthrow democracy. He first did so in a letter to Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, at the end of December, but that was shuffled off to the Planning Commission which has been loosely in charge of the government’s non-security Naxalite policies for several years.

The Ministry of Home Affairs is in charge of security operations, along with individual states, and that has been stepped up since Palaniappan Chidambaram became Home Minister at the end of 2008. There was a decrease in violence last year, though the number of those killed by Naxalites was still high – nearly 450 civilians and over 140 members of security forces according the ministry statistics.

There are reports of Naxalite attacks almost daily. Last weekend about 150 rebels raided a stone-mine in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh in eastern India looking for explosives and, failing to find any, set fire to eight stone crushing machines. Others torched seven construction vehicles nearby, and a defaulter was reported to have been buried alive for not repaying a loan provided by a Naxalite organisation.


The Planning Commission was given charge of development policies a few years ago. In 2008, it produced a massive 90-page report, “Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas”, which helped to influence government policy on the need for development, supported by funding .

But the Planning Commission does not have the political or administrative muscle needed to implement change. Ramesh, whose high profile initiatives transformed the Environment Ministry (at least temporarily) when he was in charge there for two years till last July, is now using his current job to fill the vacuum.

The government has not taken up his call for political activity since his letter to the prime minister, but he proposed it again at the launching of a book on Naxalites – “More Than Maoism” – in Delhi last week and he then chatted to me about his ideas. “Lack of political mobilisation is the biggest weakness in these areas – you need mainstream political party activity,” he says. Last October he presented a comprehensive paper on “The Maoist issue” in Delhi (which was re-printed in Outlook magazine).

He proposed a “two track approach – one that deals with the leadership of the Naxals, who wish to overthrow the Indian state, and the other which focuses on the concerns of the people they pretend/claim to serve”. He did not mention political activity because, he says, he had not then realised how important it is for party cadres to attract young people who would otherwise turn to Naxalites leaders. He has now visited 24 of the 78 administrative districts that are most seriously affected by Naxalite occupations and violence, and says he was struck by the lack of mainstream politics in areas that had become “security fortresses” without any presence of government machinery or authority.

Politics, people, police

A “three pronged approach through politics, people and police” was now needed. “Democracy by itself won’t solve the problem,” he says. “People need to have confidence in political parties and instruments of state such as the judiciary”. That may seem an odd remark at a time when public opinion about politicians and the judiciary is desperately low because of widespread corruption and the government’s failure to govern effectively.

But Ramesh points to success in West Bengal where the Trinamool Congress chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, has been taking party politics and development into Naxalite areas. He picks out for special mention a popular young Trinamool MP, Subhendu Adhikary, who was elected last year for a constituency that includes Lalgarh, a town occupied by Naxalites in 2009. Adhikary has been holding well-attended public rallies, despite the risk of bomb attacks.

There was concern in the state of Orissa (now officially renamed Odisha) when Naxalites won the panchayat elections, several without any opposition because rivals had been warned not to stand. The Home Ministry is believed to have favoured cancelling the elections, and there was also concern that development funds allocated to the panchayats would be diverted to buy arms and explosives, or into organisations run by the Naxalites’ alternative form of government (such as the one involved in the loan defaulter’s death) .

However, Ramesh sees the panchayat elections as “a good first step” into the system. ”This is an opportunity for political dialogue,” he says. He acknowledges the risk of funds being diverted to the Naxalites and says that special safeguards will be needed – he avoids saying that panchayat funds probably leak to them already, or to other illicit recipients.

Sceptics will say that Ramesh is playing to the gallery and that talks have been tried before with little success, but governments usually come round eventually to talking to rebel groups and Ramesh’s proposal is broader based than just talks.

No-one is suggesting that political rallies and panchayat elections will end a rebellion that has raged to varying degrees for 60 years in different parts of central and eastern India. These ideas could however give politicians and official organisations a chance to offer an alternative to people who have only come under Naxalite influence because of neglect and maltreatment by mainstream society.


  1. The following comments are from The Independent (UK) newspaper Foreign Desk blogs where this post also appears

    “and ultimately want to overthrow democracy.”
    Surprisingly and disappointingly biased or ignorant reporting from the Indie.
    Not at all clear that the majority of Naxalite members want to overthrow democracy, but more likely that they want more real democracy!
    Tribal (Adivasi) areas have been treated appallingly by the central government for decades, if not millenia, but particularly badly since the increase of corporate globalisation in India and exploitation of ancestral land rights.
    They are ‘occupations’ in the sense that the ordinary residents are occupying their own lands where they have always lived and resisting the central government because their experience of the central government has been overwhelmingly negative.
    The Indian army has effectively a carte blanche to ‘encounter’ (assassinate) political opposition, local tribal leaders and organisers, anyone who resists paying extortionate bribes to them, or human rights advocates. They have burnt villages, raped women and tortured and killed people indiscriminately as collective punishment or effectively genocide against the indigenous population.
    At the very least, the editor should consider Arundhati Roy’s books and the evidence she’s gathered and referenced.
    1 day ago

    This is a more advanced approach than the militarisation of tribal lands to bring them under Western style corporate governance.
    1 day ago

    Ground realities are complex and very different from what the minister concerned his blogger friend and some posters on this thread are saying, although all of them have very valid points. So I am adding my little bit to very complex issue.

    Major problem in India is that although after great sacrifices by our leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Bose and likes of Martyr Bhagat Singh and many others, the nation secured its freedom (A struggle that was also helped with virtual economic collapse of Britain –mainly manipulated and dominated by England) the slave mentality in India has not only survived but has flourished. Rather than solving enormous social and economic problems through means available under very progressive constitution (at least on paper) many still allowed themselves to become the agents of foreign powers. In the case of Nexals by India’s very clever and cunning neighbour China, which itself has brought the good name of socialism/Marxism into disrepute.

    Loyalty to the nation amongst many Indians is artificial, for his sacrifices for the nation Mahatma Gandhi was awarded bullets in his body, and till today we are not told what exactly happened to great socialist son of India the true patriot Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. So hardly surprising that rather than accepting and practicing their values and visions, nation was allowed to drift into the hands of pen pushers. White Sahibs got replaces by even more self serving and many times more corrupt Brown Babus.

    With these pen pushers gaining unprecedented and uncontrolled powers, the sharks of business community and pretentious western class found ways to cultivate them through unacceptable unethical and immoral corruption, which in turn has brought the proper working of state machinery, which on paper should be safeguarding the interests of the nation and its people, to a virtual halt.

    Over a period of time top layers of Indian political class also got occupied by puppets of the rich and foreign multi national corporations. Nehruvian Socialism got side lined and even Nehru’s own party got taken over by people contaminated by IMF and World Bank etc. Alternative to them is even worse, which are either fascists from various God Brigades, or complete crooks and criminals who have taken over regional political parties.

    So put together and many other reasons like pace at which judicial system works has frustrated many people. This has exhilarated the attraction to follow those who pretend to provide simple and quick answers to problems of ordinary people, comparing to what they will face if they try to resolve those issues through on paper excellent but in practice frustratingly slow machinery of state.

    Natural resources in many areas where Maoist are active and big corporation wanting to lay their greedy hands on those, which is threatening the simple life styles of inhabitants, and main political parties siding with big business while ignoring its victims is leaving people with no choice but to follow whoever pretends to help them. In desperation people are not looking deeply into the real motives of groups who under the façade of help are in fact exploiting the situation for their own agenda and long term nasty goals of India’s many nasty neighbours like China and Pakistan etc.

    Only way to stop this time bomb ticking under India’s future is to turn the clock back to square one and start all over once again. Stop fascination with failing capitalism and re-start building environmentally friendly self sustaining and locally accountable participatory real democracy, in which local people in small units may map out what is good for them, which will also be good for whole of the nation.

    But who is going to do that? Considering only man who was really interested in furthering the ideas of Panchyats (local councils) which was the goal of Rajiv Gandhi, has now been kicked into the upper house of Indian Parliament. Why the prime minister has failed to reappoint Mani Shankar Aiyar as minister responsible for looking after and developments of Panchayat’s? And why the blogger who has rightly provided space to his minister friend’s good ideas has failed to argue fro that?
    Because it is all about vested interests.
    1 day ago

    The intention of these rebels is not overthrowing democracy, but attacking neo-liberal capitalism and the misery this kind of inhuman capitalism has brought to the people who have been forced to leave their farms and land.
    This capitalist policiy is simply pursuing the interests of corporations while destroying the livelihoods of the masses.
    Shame on the Indian governement for their inhuman policies.
    1 day ago

    One thing I have NEVER understood is that why oh why the Maoists do not use the political process? It has worked elsewhere in India. India is a democratic country. Indeed the communists ruled Kolkata with the marxist ideology etc.
    I have had a similar view of other separatists where they have recourse to genuine democratic due process through which to address their issues.
    Okay, Assad regime is an evil R-ass. Now that he has been forced into accepting the opposition and democratic process why continue with the insurgency. Hold the insurgency in reserve and the leaders and put forward the Free Syrian Council representatives to take part in the electoral process. As Dr Martin Luther King said “Power is never willingly given. It has to be taken”
    Look what happened in South Africa.
    Look at Iran: “Iran’s supreme leader has urged Iranians to vote in large numbers as the country holds parliamentary elections today, saying a high turnout would send a strong message to the enemies of the nation.”
    “The higher turnout, the better for the future, prestige and security of our country,” he added. “The vote always carries a message for our friends and our enemies.”
    The Assad regime would do well to take note of Iran’s supreme leader. In the short term it may lose power and be in opposition but opportunities will arise subsequently for the Baath Party to return to power democratically.If it fails to obtain a mandate from the Syrian people it will go the way of Ghaddafi regime and Mubarak etc.
    2 days ago

    The Reverend Peter M. HawkinsEffective political dialogue is certainly what is needed, but there is another matter that could transform the situation if addressed.
    In India all land belongs ultimately to the State, and ownership is shown by the receipts received for the Land Tax paid! This process has always denied the “Original peoples” their inheritence because they have never paid the Land Tax, and has made them anti – Indian/State Governments that disposess them. These people live in the remote and forested areas of India, and they are ethnically and lingustically different to the rest of North India, and this is a mainly a North Indian matter.
    It is open to the Union and State Governments to make legitimate land grants not just to corrupt politicians etc;, but also to these people, to give them a stake in what is their country since the very beginning! Jai Hind!
    2 days ago

    “These people live in the remote and forested areas of India, and they are ethnically and lingustically different to the rest of North India, and this is a mainly a North Indian matter”
    India has 1000s of ethnicities and it in itself does not justify the Maoist separatists militancy. Also, their militancy and demands makes it a national issue.
    Yes, I agree totally that injustice, of whatever form, is the root cause of the militancy and your suggestion seems perhaps the way to address it.
    2 days ago
    in reply to The Reverend Peter M. Hawkins.

    The Reverend Peter M. Hawkins
    Indian politics has adopted various labels from elsewhere, Communist/Marxist/Maoist, but these are fronts for local people who have serious grievances. Indian politics like that of the USA can be quite violent.
    2 days ago
    in reply to Blaggerr2011

  2. Naxalites have been able to occupy space vacated by politicians and administrators by using ideology backed by force. The larger question is , reasons for vacation of space by politicians and administrations. Politicians wanted votes and hobnobbed with naxalites in beginning and eventually loosing all votes in end. Administators wanted to palm off money available in various schemes and could not do so because of force and popular support enjoyed by naxalites. Both, politicians and administrators were without any commitment in these areas.

    The lack of commitment and hunger for votes by mainstream political parties , is still there. The talk of ‘politics’ by Jairam Ramesh is only for gaining votes in coming elections by hobnobbing with naxalites at election time. He may be star campaigner of Congress at these areas and is moving ahead with good speed. You may see Rahul after elections of UP; campaigning there. It is least expected that all mainstream political parties will not take help of naxalites in next election. And problem remains there.

    Only solution is expected from people of that area . It will come out when people will feel burden of naxalites. And naxalites will face anti-incumbancy factor. Otherwise, not a single mainstream political party can match up the dedication and commitment of naxalites. Leave aside matching with naxalism, these political scoundrels cannot even match the commitment of ‘corrupted and maligned’ Anna team.

    Let us hope for best.

    with regards

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