In Bastar’s Maoist Belt, a Peace Move That’s up for Exploitation
Peace activists gather in a meeting to help open channels of communication between state government and Maoist rebels.
Peace activists gather in a meeting to help open channels of communication between state government and Maoist rebels.(Photo Courtesy: Chandan Nandy)

In Bastar’s Maoist Belt, a Peace Move That’s up for Exploitation

Less than six months before Chhattisgarh goes to the polls, efforts have been initiated by some Left-leaning intellectuals, peace activists, non-governmental organisations and civil society and tribal leaders of Bastar to help open channels of communication between representatives of the state government and the Maoist rebels.

Even before any formal and structured process to transform the bloody conflict could get underway, there is already a buzz in Chhattisgarh, especially in the troubled Bastar zone, that the BJP government under Chief Minister Raman Singh will show “interest” in any proposed dialogue till such time that Assembly elections, which are due sometime toward the end of this year, are concluded.

Finding an Alternative Path

While such a “cynical” stand will not help bring lasting peace to Bastar and its hapless tribal people, a meeting of pro-peace activists in Chhattisgarh’s Tilda area between 8 and 10 June has kindled some hope among the organisers seeking to “finding an alternative path” to end the protracted conflict that, from time to time, is manifested in deadly gun battles between the Maoists and the security forces.

Participants at the meeting admitted that there is little trust between the elusive Maoists and the state government, given the number of times the proverbial spanner has been thrown in previous peace moves — primarily in 2004, 2010, and 2011.

A few organisers of the June meeting in Tilda have met a senior Chhattisgarh bureaucrat close to the chief minister, besides sending out feelers last month to the Maoists to revisit the negotiation table.

“The Maoists are yet to respond,” a civil society leader privy to the developments told The Quint, even as he expressed doubts over the state government and the security force’s seriousness in beginning and continuing a process which could take months, if not years, to even bearing fruit.

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Among those who took part in the two-day conclave in Tilda were Professor G Hargopal, who is said to be close to the Maoist leadership and who helped negotiate the release of men previously abducted by the ultra-Leftwing rebels, former Madhya Pradesh Chief Secretary Sharad Behar, Manish Kunjum of the Adivasi Mahasabha, CR Bakshi of the CPI, BPS Netam of the Sarv Adivasi Samaj among other NGO activists.

Also Read : 10 Naxals, 1 Cop Killed In Chattisgarh-Telangana Border Encounter

Shrinking Maoist Operations

While the state government’s decision to react to the overtures of the peace activists has several objectives – gauging the seriousness of the move, the relative military strength of the Maoists and the likely political advantage the BJP government could get – civil society leaders are skeptical how far the Raman Singh establishment would go to make the latest move at transforming the conflict work.

An NGO leader involved in initiating the latest round of peace moves said,

We are fully aware that despite encounters between the Maoists and the security forces, in which the latter have taken several hits and have suffered loss of men and weapons over the last two to three years, the government still has the upper hand.
NGO leader

The Raman Singh government will not act unilaterally in the face of this renewed move to help Bastar experience some let-up in violence, under-development, grinding poverty in the region and mutual distrust between the socio-economically weak tribals and the relatively prosperous non-tribals. It will consult the Intelligence Bureau as well as key officials in the central internal and national security bureaucracy and the BJP leadership before it makes any peace overtures to the Maoists.

In this continuing “asymmetric” conflict, the Maoists, while scoring significant “battlefield successes” against the security forces, have also suffered reverses, especially in the form of loss of leaders. Their area of operation has shrunk as they have been boxed into a contiguous zone in the Telangana-Odisha-Chhattisgarh forest belt. Besides, the present leadership is ageing.

Security officials said that while the Maoists’ sources of weapons have dried considerably, the flow of money and local support networks hasn’t.

Neither have they weakened ideologically, which keeps the cadres militarily and politically active and committed.
Senior IB official

Also Read : Twenty Six Naxals Surrender in Chattisgarh, Police Calls it a Win

A civil society leader, however, said that there has been a “degree of degeneration” in the Maoists’ ranks even as the ageing leadership, with no second-rung potential leaders, might like an “honourable exit” now.

The Election Gimmick

Sources who have taken a lead in the latest move to engage with the state government said that they are “not overly optimistic” about future prospects of “peace”, especially because civil society activists as well as the intellectuals, both tribal and non-tribal, are “conscious” of the fact that as the Assembly elections get closer, the Raman Singh government will make efforts to “sell” its “peace and development agenda”.

The sources added cautiously that “short-term” expediency could be “more harmful” because one or both sides might try to take political or military advantage even at this “incipient” stage.

The tricky part of this emergent process would be to identify and involve all stakeholders, including the political class — not just the ruling BJP but also the opposition Congress which “may or may not” even be prepared to invest itself politically in any peace process at this juncture.

With just months remaining before the Assembly polls, the Congress’ agenda will involve highlighting the state government’s failure to end the conflict and thereby provide succour to the tribals who are caught between the Maoists on one hand and the security forces on the other.

At the same time, ‘development’, which has been piecemeal and elusive in Bastar, is a double-edged sword for it has the potential to “take away” more than “give” to the backward and marginalised tribals. The indigenous Gonds of Bastar, sources in Raipur said, watch with “silent anger” the indifferent and often reckless manner in which their forests and sacred burial spaces are being destroyed to pave the way for “roads”.

“Development so far has been top-down and not in consultation with the tribal leadership and other local stakeholders,” Subhranshu Choudhury, a Raipur-based activist who pushed in favour of the Tilda meeting, said.

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