by N.V.K Murthy
India became free more than sixty years ago. Yet, it is simmering with problems. We still don’t seem to be sure whether India should be promoting free enterprise or depend on a centrally planned economy. We pride ourselves on being the world’s biggest democracy. Yet we seem to have different ideas about minority rights and a single set of personal rights for all women. When we talk of equal rights for all women, fanatics in the muslim community raise a loud cry of Islam in danger. On the other side, the Hindu fanatics organize demonstrations of hindu women asserting their right to commit Sati.
Yet, there seems to be a fair consensus about the broad lines along which India should develop. I don’t think there is any danger of India becoming a non-secular state, despite fanatics holding up a green banner of Islam on one side versus the saffron banner of Hinduism on the other side. There is also no danger of India giving up its aspirations for being a welfare state. Now that India is in the throes of a general election, there is little that the central government can do by starting any initiatives. However, the various political parties can consider some important problems facing the country and offer solutions in their respective election manifestos. The two most important problems which seem to be holding back the development of the country are (i) the Naxal problem and (ii) the Kashmir question.
In this article I take up the Naxal problem. Though the Naxal problem has been named after the peasant movement which was started in Naxalbari district of West Bengal in the late fifties, the problem really started with land reforms, right from the day India became free. India was a feudal country when the British conquered it and made it a part of their colonial empire. Under the feudal system, most of the land was owned by the feudal lords and tilled by the landless laborers. On the eve of freedom, the country had seen the rise of powerful industrial and agricultural labor organizations. These agricultural organizations were mostly led by the Communist Party of India, which was founded during the years of the second world war. As long as the party was headed by the founder general secretary, P.C. Joshi, it was working hand-in-hand with the Indian National Congress to achieve freedom and establish a just society in free India. But a marked change came about in 1948 when B.T. Ranadive became the general secretary. By then, the peasants’ movement had become very strong in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, parts of Orissa, and West Bengal. The communists in his party gave a call for armed revolution against the injustice in land reform, and the formation of a workers and farmers state in India. They dreamt of a whole swarth of Indian land being taken over by the communists. That was the beginning of the Naxal movement. So what began as a land reform movement ended up as a terrorist movement in the forest areas of Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
We must remember the history of this Naxal movement if we have to solve the problem. Land reforms had always been recognized as a very important component of modernizing India. But the entrenched vested interests of the landlords prevented a complete overhaul of the land revenue system. Considerable land reforms were brought about only in two states, namely, Kerala and West Bengal. But unfortunately during the last rule of the communist government in West Bengal, when Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was the chief minister, the very people who led the peasant movement, which was then known as the Tebhaga movement (one-third division between landlords, land-laborers and the government), went against the interests of the peasants in Nandigram, when the Tatas wanted to acquire that land for their car factory.
We must also remember that similar terrorist movements started in Assam and other parts of north east India. Although terrorism cannot be condoned under any circumstances, the reason for the growth of these terrorist groups was simple — the people in Assam, like the the forest tribals in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, felt that injustice had been done to them. In Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, minerals like iron-ore and coal made the entire country rich, as did the oil from Assam. But the beneficiaries were not the people of the land. Once this factor is realized, it becomes clear that unless this sense of injustice is removed, by taking proper remedial measures, the terrorist movements cannot be ended.
To accomplish this, a proper systematic remedy in the shape of a fair taxation policy has to be evolved. As a first step, a commission of knowledgeable and objective people has to be formed. The problem is to find people who have the confidence of the tribals. Here I would like to suggest the names of persons like Dr. Binayak Sen, a dedicated physician who has been working among the tribals, and Medha Patkar, a noted social activist who became known during the Chipko movement of Narmada. The inclusion of a solution to this problem in the manifestos of any progressive parties will go a long way in bringing hope to the people who have felt alienated over the last six decades.