Naxal Violence in India

There was another naxal attack in Chhattisgarh today. The naxal violence has had a secular upward trend in the last couple of decades. The violence has also spread geographically. The government response has often been local, confined to the state governments. There has never been a coherent national strategy to deal with the naxal violence. This may partly be due to the fact that policing is a state subject and the problem by default is percieved to be a law and order problem. Historically, the central government gets only involved once the political conflicts in the country become significant enough to start having impact beyond the boundaries of the state in question. Home Ministry, the ministry responsible for internal affairs in India is a fairly opaque body with very little accountability. It controls the country’s resources for policing yet tends to not consider itself accountable for any lapse that may occur. The national strategy for most political conflicts in the country have had a predictable cycle where it is initially perceived to be a law and order problem for almost a decade before the government starts thinking of political solutions.

The response to the recent upsurge in the naxal violence has been mainly a militaristic on, both at the level of state and central government. The chattering classes seems to be of the opinion that it is a problem that needs a political solution. Yet, the response hitherto seems to be mainly in terms of increasing the resources allocated to the police marginally. Since the naxal problem has been perceived as a law and order problem by the government, the responsibility of dealing with it has fallen on the police by default.

Lets look at pattern of violence. It is clear that the naxal violence is confined to the tribal areas in India. By no means all tribal areas have been affected. The pattern seems to be that in the afflicted states, the intensity is much greater in the tribal areas. Further, the newly formed states like Jharkand and Chhattisgarh have bore the brunt of the naxal attacks in the recent years. These are states that were formed in 2000 and thus are just 10 years old. It is possible that when the boundaries of the new state were being drawn, the bigger states parted with under-developed areas more easily. The bottom line is that the government in these new states are less effective administratively as well as less muscular than in states with longer history.

Further, the naxal violence dominates the mining belt. Mining is a significant proportion of India’s export basket. Mining requires land acquisition and it is not difficult to imagine that the unfairness in land acquisition maybe be one of root causes of the naxal violence.

Moving on from root cause, it is useful think about the organisational structure of these organisation. It seems that there is a very dedicated upper management cadre that guides the naxal movement. What is also striking is that there is no branding in terms of the name. There seems to be significant amount of decentralisation in the actual execution of the violence. At the local level, there seems to be a local coalition of people, some with clear criminal intent, that seems to act like the psuedo-state at the local level in the absence of effective local government machinery. This local coalition seems to get material support from the upper management, yet it does not have the rigid organisational structure that we associate with terrorist organisation in the 70s and 80s. As a result, the movement can lose the local organisational structure and yet preserve its upper management that goes on to create other local organisation structures. Peter Bergen in his 2001 book Holy War, Inc. claims that it is exactly the strategy made it so difficult to penetrate Al-Qaeda. He claims that in Al-Qaeda information flows down but does not flow up. As a result it is very difficult to the pin down the upper management of Al-Qaeda.

The other interesting element seems to be that hitherto the funding for the naxal movement has been very local. There is no evidence as yet that there is any flow of resources either from outside the India or from institutions within the country. The arms naxal movement uses are the ones captured from the police. In their attacks, they have often targeted places which would give them access to resources that they can use to perpetrate more violence. Recall the attack on Nalco’s Daman Jodi mines in 2009.

The current militaristic strategy seems futile. The strategy seems to be take on the problem locally through policing. Yet, it seems that breaking down the naxal coalition will involve the empowering the local administration and making them accountable to the local population. Of course that is easier said than done. Further, there needs to be some kind of national strategy that fights the problem both locally and nationally. The problem can be fought locally by strengthening the local administration through a combination of the state and non-state actors. The non-state actors could be given the responsibility of providing public goods. The state actors along with the local community become monitors and give signals that have an impact on the payoff to the non-state actors. Bolivia, through its social funds has implemented this kind of decentralised problem quite effective (See Faguet, 2004).

Of course, this on its own would not be enough. In any peaceful society, the state has a monopoly over violence. How peaceful the society is depends on how judicious the state is in using violence. The upper management of the naxal movement are competing very hard with the government to take over this role by using violence judiciously to protect the local population. Breaking down the upper management is critical, with the understanding that if the problems at the local level are not solved, a new upper management cadre would come up very soon to the replace the old management cadre.

Bergen, Peter (2001). Holy war, Inc.: Inside the secret world of Osama bin Laden. Free Press.

Faguet, Jean-Paul (2004) Does decentralization increase responsiveness to local needs?: evidence from Bolivia. Journal of public economics, 88 (3-4).