Despite occasional reports to the contrary, the gun has lost to the ballot in these elections. If violence had truly been the only weapon of change, then people in Naxalite-dominated regions wouldn’t have come out in large numbers to cast their lot with electoral democracy. The 65 per cent voter turnout in three conflict-ridden Chhattisgarh seats lends credence to the belief that democratic participation is key to the change that an electorate wants to bring about in governance.
But Red terror, the most powerful subversive force to have emerged from the grassroots and the “greatest internal security challenge to the country” in the words of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, cannot be wished away. The most recent ambush in Jharkhand’s Dumka on April 24, claiming five policemen and three poll officials, is a deadly sign that Naxals are far from being a spent force. Their desperate attempts to destablise democracy will continue. The earlier and much more audacious operation, resulting in Sukma’s Darba Ghati massacre, killing and fatally injuring 36 Congress leaders in May last year, had rocked the nation.
To construe Naxalism as a law-and-order problem would be erroneous, since it fails to question the official narrative of development and progress. Drowned by the government propaganda is the stark narrative of exploitation of marginalised tribals. The greed of the State, evident in the plundering of natural resources, coupled with its chronic failure to address the existential crises of the aborigines, was perceived as a betrayal. Large-scale displacement of tribals and loss of their livelihoods fuelled anger against an unjust, exploitative system. The ground was fertile for Maoists who stepped in with the promise of delivering justice against the repressive machinery.
The State’s strategy to retaliate with even more brutality — deploying the army and unleashing Salwa Judum, the civilian militia sponsored by the Chattisgarh government — has been counter-productive. It served to bolster the Maoists case whose ranks swelled from the spontaneous participation of poor villagers. The Centre, blinded by the arrogance of its superior military might, paid scant emphasis on inclusive development when that alone could have tilted the balance in its favour and deprived Maoists of their support systems.
The proof is in the spell of relative peace in West Bengal where Mamata Banerjee has blunted the edge of Naxalism through sustained welfare policies. Three years back, Junglemahal in West Midnapore used to be the epicentre of counter-insurgency operations. In the last two years, there hasn’t been a single case of murder and extortion. In the days following the encounter of dreaded Maoist leader Kishenji, Mamata changed tack, to show a benevolent administration reaching out to the people. The growing participation of the region’s women in bringing about normalcy has been one of her sterling achievements. Mamata’s other masterstroke is the rehabilitation package that inspired scores of Maoists to surrender arms and return to the mainstream. The Trinamool government recruited 10,000 police constables from the locals. At the same time, acute poverty is being tackled with BPL schemes and other sops. Junglemahal now hosts a football tournament, and every block has a couple of all-women football teams. Educational institutions too are being constructed as part of the development package.
Come May 7, people in the six constituencies of that area will have every reason to show up at polling stations. That would be the best endorsement for democracy.