Troops have entered the forests. And with this has set in a hot debate—Is 'Operation Greenhunt' the solution for the Naxal problem which has infected large areas of well over eight important states of the country—Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharastra and West Bengal.
These states are 'important', for they house well over 80 per cent of the mineral resources like iron, coal, bauxite, manganese among others, of India. The future industrial and economic growth of the country depends much upon the 'peace' in this region. Naxalism in this region thus, is looked upon as an impediment of future growth of the country.
After several rounds of talks of Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram with the Chief Ministers of Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal that were held either in Delhi or in Kolkata in the months of January-February recently, the anti-naxal operations have taken off. The troops can now be seen in the forests of Jharkhand and West Bengal.
Entry of para-military forces into the forests has resulted in a debate among intellectuals, some of whom have now found a new subject to think upon—the tribal population. In several metro cities including Delhi, several intellectuals are proclaiming themselves as 'experts' on 'Naxal' issues and 'tribal' issues. Since majority of the areas affected by Naxalism coincidentally falls in tribal areas, some intellectuals have mistakenly conjoined Naxal issues with tribal issues, which actually is a misnomer. In television channels too, often some people go close to put forward the two things as one, when they say that Operation Greenhunt will hunt down the tribals. Thus, in a way they are identifying tribals as Naxals, which by all yards stick is a false propaganda which has its origin in ignorance. The sooner such kinds of a line stops, the better it is for the tribal people.
It is true that a good chunk of the Naxalites may be tribals, as the Naxalites find it easy to cheat the gullible tribal people into their fold. As the tribal people have been suppressed, oppressed and denied their share in the modern developments, red brigade's minor effort is enough to pull this group into their fold. However, only a small portion of the tribal youths are actually with them, majority of them still believing in the goodness of democracy.
The Indian society must know that it is the tribal society which has borne the maximum brunt of Naxalism. Worse happenings due to Naxalism still await the population that has always been at the receiving end. If the Naxalites kill the innocents in order to spread their fear among the people or send out a message to the government, it is the poor tribal villagers who get killed. If the Naxalites kill the police—often the constables, it is mostly the tribals policemen as they are in large number in the lower strata of the police—at least in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
Further, the idyllic life of the tribal people in the villages, their rich culture and values have received a massive set back due to Naxalism. Earlier, they celebrated various festivals with each other in joy—sharing life together. They used to dance and sing at night in the akhras (dancing ground) situated in the middle of the village. But not more. Naxalism has eroded all these cultural values. It has broken the tribal villages into groups, leading to bloody fights among each other at times.
In all this, the opinion of the tribal people on the Operation Greenhunt is scarcely cared for. But, this is very important because the operations are or will be carried out mostly in areas which are mainly populated by the tribal people. It is this group who will see it from close and will be a 'factor' in the process. It is true that some intellectuals have spoken for them or some journalists have written on their behalf on the Operation Greenhunt. But tribals themselves are yet to speak. True, they have elected representatives in the assembly as well as in the Parliament. But even these representatives consciously avoid burning their fingers speaking about Naxalism.
Factors like levy collection on government works, from contractors or from private companies; have alienated the Naxalites from the people. This cult of the present day so-called Naxalites has reduced them into a bunch no better than thieves and extortionists. The recent practice of abduction of government officials in West Bengal and Jharkhand order to create pressure on the government(s) has also put them far away from their forefathers—the original revolutionists from Naxalbari of West Bengal.
Therefore, the usual line of thinking often displayed by some intellectuals that tribals are Naxal sympathizers is grossly wrong. Feeling the pulse of the tribal people on the issue of Naxalism would reveal that they would like peace in their regions. They would not like killing—either by the Naxalites or by the security forces any more.
The long oppression, suppression and exploitation of the tribal people have played as the cause for some tribal villagers joining the rank and file of the Naxalites. In several villages, the tribal people may appear to be with the Naxalites as the police may find them non-cooperative. But, it is the fear of the Naxalites that makes them so. On the other hand, the population finds itself a sandwich between the police and the Naxalites—a phenomenon which may find its zenith during the operation.
Operation Greenhunt has generated two groups among the intellectuals who are closely observing the same and like to talk what they think. However, the group of intellectuals who are opposing the operation seems louder.
Like the intellectuals, the anti-naxal operation has also resulted two groups in the tribal society—a group supporting the operation, especially the one which is just tired of the killing spree of Naxalites. However, the group which is supporting the operation appears bigger in size. All they want is end of the Naxal menace and real development. This group is an optimistic one and opines that democracy will deliver. If the government fails to live the expectation of this group in the coming days, the region is headed for an eventual doom.
But, even this group of tribal people has one fear—is this operation actually aimed at solving the Naxal problem or a 'hunt' for their lands which are mineral rich and upon which have the greedy eye of multinational companies?
The Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram should therefore tell the tribal people that this operation is not motivated for any other purpose except cleaning the greens (forests) of the Naxalites. This operation will only free the region of Naxal problem. And this operation will not in any way evacuate the villagers from their villages.
The fear of the tribal people about this Operation Greenhunt has been compounded by the recent example of consequences of Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh. Thousands of tribals have been evacuated from their ancestors' villages and lands and put in camps. They have been reduced to the status of refugees in their own land. And the government reportedly, as some intellectuals opposing the Operation Greenhunt argue, is planning to hand over the vacated lands to the multinational companies so that they can set up their shops there. If this happens, India is set for a bigger problem which would be worse than the present Naxal problem.
Is use of force against Naxalites is not the only solution? While many would not like to talk about an alternative, some would opine that 'dialogue' is an alternative. But, are the Naxalites actually interested to end Naxalism. Now, some Naxal leaders have shown interest in dialogue. But the genuineness in such a change is doubtful.
Use of force in ending Naxalism is being thought as an alternative. But, the real issue is to what extent and how. And, to what end.
Amidst all these debates, Operation Greenhunt—a code name of anti-naxalite operation given by the media rather than the government, has begun. The real care that should be given by the government is that no innocent villager is killed in the operation. This apart, the government should immediately ensure that the forgotten culture and community life is brought back in the villages simultaneously. Further, in no way it should vacate the villagers from their villages. This will be self-defeating action for the government. For, the government, through this act, will prove the Naxalites' stand—that the government wants to take away tribals' land for mining and industries-- right. This would be deadly. Naxalites may die in the operation. But, Naxalism will get a new life.
(The author is associated with Indigenous News and Feature Agency—INFA, Ranchi, Jharkhand)