One of the major issues that Bihar would be tackling in this election would be the rise of Naxal violence in recent times. This issue is of special importance as it impacts the country and not just any one state. Moreover, it is directly related to the development of the downtrodden – as claimed by the Naxals – and development is the main poll plank, as per CM Nitish Kumar.
The issue is hot again because of the recent kidnapping of four Bihar policemen by Naxals and the killing of a tribal cop from among them. It led to many anxious moments for the government and a chance for the opposition to make hay. The government managed the freedom of the cops and the CM deftly involved all political parties in the resolution of the issue, spoiling their schemes to milk the situation.
At what cost did this freedom come, no body knows till date.
Whereas the opposition would try to pin down Nitish for his so-called ‘soft’ approach towards Naxal issue, the government would try its best to borrow support of what constitutes the Naxal base i.e. the poor masses and at the same time accommodate the extremists, as far as possible, for a peaceful election. They say no votes can be polled in some Naxal areas without their permission!
Naxalism in Bihar, though right now a burning issue, has been for long a bloody chapter in the state’s turbulent history. Sixteen out of the 38 districts in Bihar are Naxal infested. The presence of Naxals was always been a factor to reckon with, but in the recent years they have reinforced their position. On the one hand they have held onto their strongholds, on the other they have also managed to break new ground. East Champaran, West Champaran, Sitamarhi, Darbhanga, Madhubani districts have seen rise in Naxal extremism.
Other than that, the districts of Saharsa, Begusarai and Vaisali have also been recognised as newly acquired Naxal dominations. The original strongholds of Patna, Gaya, Jehanabad, Aurangabad have been solidified too.
Evolution of Naxalism
In Bihar, nothing escapes the clutches of cast, not even the so-called class based struggle. It is believed that the Naxal movement started in Bihar as early as in 1967, in a sleepy village of Ekwari in Bhojpur district by Jagadish Mahato who, with the help from the firebrands Naxal leaders, led a war against landlords. He was supported by the lower caste land tillers.
But the Naxal movement in Bihar actually came to national attention in the 1980s with the advent of a group called the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). It was notorious for its acts of violence, especially in Central Bihar. From the late ‘80s to the early ‘90s, the MCC hit Bihar with major acts of violence in places like Gaya, Aurangabad and Chapra in which Bhumihars, Rajputs, policemen and politicians were brutally killed. In Bihar, the Naxal movement did not remain a struggle for the poor but degenerated into a caste conflict as cadre were created on the basis of hatred against the rich and influential castes.
The Maoist Communist Centre had become so powerful in certain areas that they ran a parallel government, even handing out orders of beheading the ‘guilty’. On March 21, 2004 the Naxal movement in Bihar got a tremendous boost with the two heavyweights, the MCC and the People’s War Group (PWG), going in for a merger. They are now called the CPI (Maoists).
The MCC & the PWG were cleansing the society of landlords and the rich property owners. It became difficult for them to survive. To counter the forces of Naxals, the rich landlords formed various private armies, one of them being the dreaded Ranvir Sena. The Sena perpetrated atrocities in Naxal-infested areas and targeted the poor land farmers and other lower castes. The political parties joined hands with these gangs, leading to the emergence of ‘bahubalis’ and importance of muscle & money power in Bihar’s politics.
The Naxals tried to enter mainstream in 2000 when panchayati polls were held after 23 years. They managed to get elected on at least 6 seats, but were later overthrown, indicating the frustration of the people.
Nitish’s policy on Naxals
The Bihar government’s approach, under Nitish Kumar, has come under severe criticism. His policy has been that of appealing to the Maoists for joining the mainstream. He has also tried to take development to the hinterland so that the Naxal influence wanes.
In 2006, Nitish dished out a lot of developmental schemes in the Naxal belt.
The government has announced reservation for the Mahadalits and Extremely Backward Castes of Bihar to give them benefits so that they shun the path of violence and lead a normal life. The Naxals were using these people, from the most poor class and caste, to further their struggle.
The state government also actively put a lot of Maoists behind bars and made a lot of them to surrender. But by 2010 the attitude seemed a little indifferent. Opposition has been accusing that since the polls were near, Nitish did not want to upset the tribals by taking any drastic steps and losing out on votes. A lot of passing-the-buck also has been going on with the Centre and the state saying that it is the other’s problem to sort out.
The Bihar CM has been saying that the Naxal issue should be treated like a national problem and that the state government’s hands should be strengthened with the Centre’s support. After a meeting of Naxal affected states’ CMs called by PM Manmohan Singh, Nitish said quite categorically that the Naxals were part of our society even though they were being misled onto the path of violence.
His government has also lashed out at the Maoists for using violent means to achieve their ends. Maoists were asked to come out and take part in the democratic process after the kidnapping of cops. If the Naxals are fighting for a change in the conditions of the tribals and their rights, instead of taking the path of violence they should fight elections and get their candidates in the Assembly, Nitish had urged.
Everyone would try to use the Naxal issue to their advantage this election. But what is of greater importance is that whichever party forms the government, the Naxal issue will have to be on the top of their agenda. It will have to be kept away from Centre-state politics of caste factors if the matter is to be sorted out once and for all.