For a long time during the dark days of the late 2000s & early 2010s, Naxals used to claim more lives than terrorists. Unlike any terrorist movement in India, at one point, Naxals had actually captured about 1/3rd of the landmass of India & were running their own parallel government. This is something no other terrorist group managed in India - a nuclear power. For most of this period while the Government of India was ostensibly fighting them on the one hand, on the other hand, “Facilitation services” would be provided to investors, that is to say, the government would appoint “points persons” for mining companies and the like who wished to extract ore in Naxal occupied regions. In short, while on one hand pretending to fight a dangerous insurgency, the government of the day was also busy lining the pockets of this independent terrorist state with “foreign direct investment”.
This solution was brilliant if you were corrupt - it created the perfect Conflict economy - a win-win situation for everybody involved except the people. It would mean states would extract central funds, those funds would be pilfered or spent on “confidential informants” - code for subsidising the car habits of security forces officers and their wives gold buying habits. The lack of accounting of these funds being perfectly legal. It also created an economic boom for the Naxals who learnt to earn rent from taxing all economic activity in the regions under their control while growing stronger based on FDI facilitated by the government. The third party to profit immensely from this were the NGOs - how they could raise funds internationally, get free business class travel & presidential suites in five-star hotels based on their talk-shop of human rights violations.
The only response that came up to this unholy trinity of state-naxal-NGO was the Salwa Judum - a people’s militia of sorts prone to all the pitfalls of such militias - bad equipment, bad training, and consequent human rights violations. The problem was that this organic fight back to the rapaciousness of this unholy trinity actually turned out to be quite successful. Given that India’s NGOs are more finely attuned to feeding off death than vultures they would of course even turn the military reverses of their primary cash-cow - the Naxals into a fundraising opportunity. And so they mobilised a massive financial campaign to take Salwa Judum to court and after a few initial reverses, they won the case. Surprisingly the case wasn’t won on the basis of the local populations right to self-defence, but rather the fact that Salwa Judum being quasi-government weren’t given the protections of government employment & hence were being exploited.
During all of this, a full-blown academic-literary campaign was being waged to normalise the terror and atrocities that the Naxals were carrying out. One particularly vacuous celebrity - renowned for her ability to draw infantile comparisons of everything to unconnected events & famous for thinking the Rafale is a floating aircraft carrier went so far as to call the Naxals “Gandhians with Guns”. However, the then Union Home Minister P Chidambaram was no man's fool. A security hawk with great foresight and administrative ability, he clearly saw what the game was and fought a rearguard but ultimately futile battle within the government to effectively crush the Naxals and the closed echo chamber of self-proclaimed academics who would award each other prizes for imagined profundity each year. He did on several occasions express his disgust - going so far as to say that “civil society organisations had to be held accountable” for the havoc they had wreaked on TV. But he was treading dangerous ground. After all, most of these mutually certified geniuses were on Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council that acted as a super-cabinet over and above elected officials.
While much of this vast sprawling network of intellectual corruption and indirect subsidy of Naxalism has been dismantled - the rump of this network remains potent, malignant and violent. The central government, for its part, instead of investing on the training, equipment and most importantly intelligence provided to the security forces, seem to think the threat is past. Moreover, instead of fighting this problem at all levels military, economic and Intellectual, the government thinks only a military solution is enough and even that on a sporadic basis. We have still not woken up or proactively gone after the deep political-business-NGO-academic nexus that funds and financially benefits from them. We focus on increasing the size of the forces dealing with the symptom rather than attacking the problem at its core. We have neither the intellectual depth or breadth to dispel the narratives of this toxic cabal.
The latest deadly attack that killed 22 brave young men, whose only crime was their love of the motherland and wanting to serve the motherland, points to a collective failure on our part. Winning elections is simply not enough unless you are willing to take tough decisions. Winning elections is not a substitute for going after the pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-academic roots that sustain this Terrorism. The fear of “what the international community will think” cannot hold back the leadership or turn it into an ostrich. It would be best if the central government remembers why it was elected and does what it was elected for - no matter how unpleasant, rather than engage in pointless pompous pageantry, empty speeches & being in perpetual election slogan mode.
The author is a Senior Fellow, Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies, Delhi.