Friday, October 30, 2009

The Naxal Imbroglio

Following the possibility of a crackdown in Naxal affected areas including Dandakaranya in Chattisgarh during government sponsored ‘Operation Green Hunt’ in the month of November, 2009, a part of the intelligentsia wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The letter condemned the forthcoming full-scale State-backed attack on Naxals, expecting killings of innocent poor and tribals in the name of security and development. Presently, our Prime Minister and the Home Minister are of the view that leftwing extremism is posing the gravest threat to the internal security of the country. After facing intense agitation from the civil society organizations, the PM has, however, refused of using the Indian Army and Air Force in the combat operations against the ultras.

The Naxalite movement started on the premise of attaining the broad objective of land and tenancy redistribution in favour of the landless and poor in Naxalbari, West Bengal during the 1960s. Since then it has spread to the states of Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Maharastra and Orissa. According to officials from the Home Ministry, there are 11 extremely sensitive areas, spread over 40 districts. Since the 1970s, the country saw various armed factions, of which the biggest were the People's War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). The banned CPI (Maoist) party was formed when PWG and MCC merged in September, 2004. Some of these groups also engage in killings, arsons and abduction.

Today, the hotbeds of movement are Lalgarh, West Midnapore and Dantewada, Chattisgarh. The movement finds support among rural poor, tribals from the mineral and resource rich regions, and a part of the urban intellectual class. Previously, the State was accused of abusing human rights for branding social activists as Naxal sympathizers and creating Salwa Judum in Chattisgarh to deprive the Maoists of local support.

Many feel that the type of development, which Indian State pursued, has pushed millions into abject poverty and destitution. The State has worked closely with the corporates like Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas and Jindals so as to plunder natural resources away from the tribals. Behind-the-doors secret meetings led to handing over of natural resources at negligible prices to corporate houses by the Government under the garb of MoUs. Adivasis have been evicted from their own lands and forest to satisfy the development needs as envisioned by the Indian elites. The Naxalite movement grew out of the resistance to challenge the State, which alienated its people from their habitats and which cared too little for its poor citizens. Humanists and the human rights activists think that the Naxal threat is not just a law and order problem. It is a problem related to the socio-economic development of the country, which has brought forth more of inequality among the masses and injustice to the dalits, the adivasis and the farmers. Among social groups, SCs, STs, and backward castes accounted for 80% of the rural poor in 2004–05, as per the 11th Five Year Plan. Capital intensive industrial development has been unable to unleash human development of the masses.

Experts in the government, however, feel that people-centric development is not possible in the Maoist affected regions unless force is used. The red army enjoys the experience of deftly using land mines and sophisticated arms and ammunitions (smuggled through the porous borders) against the administration and the police forces to thwart all sorts of development related activities in their areas. This is done to create a rift between the State and its citizens including the tribals.

If we look at the basic human development indicators in the regions under leftwing extremism, we would find that the figures lag behind that of some of the Sub Saharan African countries. Be it health, nutrition or education, the tribals and dalits are the worst sufferers in the country. It is at situations like this when they become victims at the hands of Maoists and are exploited. The Indian State for its own sake must understand this grave reality and take steps before it is too late. A meaningful dialogue between the extremist groups and the government focusing on the all-around development of tribal communities must begin. The Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, popularly known as PESA should get implemented properly as soon as possible for inclusive governance.

Further readings

Weapons Of Mass Desperation by Shoma Chaudhury, Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 39, 03 October, 2009,

Taking on Maoists by Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, Volum 26, Issue 22, 24 October-6 November, 2009, Frontline,

Planned Military Offensive, Open letter to the Indian Prime Minister, October 10, 2009 Vol. XLIV No 41, Economic and Political Weekly

An Open Letter To Noam Chomsky by Nirmalangshu Mukherji, Outlook India, 22 October, 2009,

Stop Offensive, Hold Unconditional Dialogue-Call From National Convention Of Citizens Initiative For Peace, Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 45, October 24, 2009,

Rent-a-quote liberals stand up for Naxals, 22 October, 2009, The Economic Times,

Gladson and Arundhati Roy on Naxalism: CNN-IBN Debate, October, 2009,

Maoists linking up with Tamil Tigers? 26 October, 2009, The Times of India,

What Muslims were to BJP, Maoists are to Congress: Arundhati Roy, 26 October, 2009, The Times of India,

Crushed in the middle by Ramachandra Guha, The Hindustan Times, 22 October, 2009,

The Phantom Enemy by Ashok Mitra, The Telegraph, 23 October, 2009,

A Million Mutinies Within by Aditya Nigam, Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 26, 04 July, 2009,

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Who’s who in the Maharastra Assembly Polls 2009

After the successful comeback of the United Progressive Alliance as UPA 2 for the second innings in the Central Government, the country is poised to see Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh going to the Assembly Polls on October 13, 2009. The Assembly Elections are going to prove whether the Indian National Congress (INC) in particular and the UPA in general are able to retain the popularity among the voters, especially when the country has seen enough of price rise particularly in food and sugar, unemployment owing to global downturn and political ‘tamasha’ over the recent austerity drive.

The Maharastra Assembly Polls are going to be interesting since Mumbai, its capital had been the target of terror attack during November, 2008 where over 170 persons got killed and more than 300 were injured. The trial of Ajmal Amir Kasab is still going on. The city has also seen huge loss to life and property caused by flooding on numerous occasions.

Maharastra has been undergoing agrarian crisis since a decade or so in districts of Akola, Amravati, Buldhana, Gadchiroli, Gondia, Nanded, Nandurbar, Osmanabad, Wardha, Wasim and Yavatmal. Farmers’ suicides from cotton belt of Vidarbha region due to indebtedness and crop failures has become a regular feature. Five farmers committed suicide from this region within the last two days of the month of August, 2009. The recent hike in sugar prices too has made the consumers getting disenchanted with the Sharad Pawar led Agricultural Ministry. Issues surrounding displacement of tribals from forest and farmers from their land due to promotion of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) by the state government have made headlines. The state has also witnessed anti-North Indian agitations being launched by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in which workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were beaten up mercilessly and were sent back to their respective states by trains. Coupled with all this are the dynasty politics existing among all major political parties and criminal track records of the candidates who have been fielded in the recent polls.

In the forthcoming Maharastra Assembly Polls, the total number of candidates who are contesting is 3559, which is an increase of 33% over the number of candidates who contested way back in 2004. The Election Commission of India has found that there would be 7.56 crore electors in the state of Maharashtra this time. The total number of contesting parties in the Assembly Elections is 92, which is an increase of 60% over the number of contesting parties in 2004. While these figures may point to democratization of Indian polity combined with greater participation, it is important to look deeper into the backgrounds of the candidates who are contesting. The National Election Watch (NEW,, a citizen action group comprising of 1200 NGOs, which is working for poll reform, has recently done an analysis of 880 affidavits filed by contesting candidates out of the total 3559 in Maharastra. It has been found that there are criminal cases pending against 276 candidates out of 880 candidates (31%). Both Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and Shiv Sena (SS) have 42 each, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has 31, and both Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) and Indian National Congress (INC) have 23 each such candidates who have criminal cases pending against them. These numbers portray the pitiable condition of electoral democracy in Maharastra as far as criminalization of politics is concerned. If candidates with such track records are elected, then law and justice would be at peril. Such persons with criminal backgrounds may manipulate the rules and regulations in order to come out clean every time when their activities are being scrutinized.

There are 212 crorepatis (24%) among the 880 candidates whose affidavits have been analysed by NEW. If criminal track record combined with money power is what makes a candidate a winner in the Assembly Elections, then it is difficult to predict who would take up the issues surrounding voters’ lives and livelihoods when it comes to democratic governance.

The total number of candidates with pending criminal records is 45 in the case of Vidarbha region. Major political parties have fielded candidates with criminal records. There are 26 “crorepatis” among 114 candidates (23%). BJP is topping the list with 53% “crorepatis” (9 out of 17). 46% of candidates (52 of 114) from Vidarbha region have not furnished PAN card details. What more do we need in a region like this which is regarded as the dark spot of agrarian despair and where farmers’ suicides is rampant.

NEW has also released an analysis of the 309 candidates of Mumbai Suburban district of Maharashtra, contesting the Vidhan Sabha elections on October 13. There are 75 candidates who used to be criminals. There are 68 “crorepatis” among 309 candidates. The BJP has deployed 12 candidates who are “crorepatis”. From the affidavit data of 470 candidates (out of total 705) from 60 constituencies from Mumbai City, Mumbai Suburb and Thane districts, we get that there are 126 candidates who used to be criminals. There are 122 “crorepatis” among 470 candidates. The point is if “crorepati” candidates with track record in crime get elected, then what kind of policies can we expect to be formulated once the government is formed. According to a new Human Development Report compiled by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 54.1 per cent of the population are slum dwellers in the city of Mumbai, which is also termed as the finance capital of India. In the year 2006-07, Mumbai had a per capita income of Rs. 65,361, twice of India's average per capita income of Rs. 29,382. Despite having the highest per capita income in India, the income of nearly 10 per cent of the population in Mumbai is not above Rs. 591.75 per month, which means Rs. 20 each day. In Mumbai, people reside in ‘chawls’-both single and multi-storeyed, single-room tenements, and many are pavement dwellers.

It is not a surprise that political parties and the civil service are perceived on average to be the most corrupt sectors around the world, as per the Global Corruption Barometer 2009 prepared by Transparency International. Many believe that information on the affidavits filed by the contesting candidates should get displayed by the electronic voting machine. This will ensure that voters push the button in favour of the right contestant after going through the track records of the candidates. Transparency and accountability in governance would prevail only when the right candidates are elected.
The main points of the study done by National Election Watch are:

1. Mumbai Suburban
a. Candidates with Criminal Records = 75
b. 68 “Karodpatis” in 309 candidates
c. Average assets value for 309 candidates = Rs. 1.52 crores

2. Mumbai and Thane
a. Candidates with Criminal Records = 126
b. 122 “Karodpatis” in 470 candidates
c. Average assets value for 470 candidates = Rs. 1.8 crores

3. Nagpur
a. Candidates with Criminal Records = 17
b. 13 “Karodpatis” in 45 candidates
c. 47% of candidates (21 of 45) have not furnished PAN card details

4. Vidarbha Region
a. Candidates with pending Criminal Records = 45
b. 26 “Karodpatis” in 114 candidates
c. 51 candidates are graduates and above
d. Average assets value for 114 candidates = Rs. 83 lacs

Further readings

Report of the Expert Group on Agricultural Indebtedness, Banking Division, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Government of India, July 2007,

National Election Watch,

Dynasty politics unite Cong, BJP in Maharashtra by Prachi Jatania / CNN-IBN,

'Bal Thackeray wants his son to become the CM',


Global Corruption Barometer 2009 prepared by Transparency International,

Every second person in Mumbai resides in slum: UNDP, The Times of India, 4 September, 2009,

Farmers’ suicides continue in Vidarbha despite relief package,