The recent controversy over the alleged misuse of Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) in Jharkhand has raised some fundamental questions regarding the counter-Naxal strategy adopted by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in the worst Naxal-affected states of India; POTA had been used in an ad hoc manner and not as part of a comprehensive strategy to deal with left-wing extremism.
A team of civil society activists toured six districts of Jharkhand between January 29 and February 3, 2003 and concluded, Ã¢â‚¬Å“all the laws of the land are replaced by POTA.Ã¢â‚¬Â¯ According to their finding, a total of 654 persons had cases against them filed under POTA, 202 persons, including approximately ten minors, had been arrested, and nearly 3,200 persons had been named under POTA. The social profile of most of those arrested show that they are either farmers, students or daily wagers. A majority of them were booked because they either had provided the Naxalites with food or possessed Naxal literature. In contrast to the huge number of arrests under POTA in Jharkhand, only 100 persons were arrested and 400 accused under POTA in Jammu and Kashmir; in Andhra Pradesh, another State affected by left-wing extremism, an estimated 40 persons have were booked under POTA.
The Jharkhand government, after a lot of criticism and pressure from the Union government, was forced review all cases under POTA and subsequently decided to withdraw cases against 83 persons. The entire episode highlights the fact that the government, since the creation of the State in November 2001, has relied on excessive use of force to deal with the Naxalites, particularly the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the PeopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s War Group (PWG). In fact, POTA was the major component of the new governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s policy for its vigorous anti-Naxalite operations. Insufficient attention was paid to critical issues that sustain the Naxalite groups including their social roots, their support structure, their financial network, the preparedness of the police force and performance of institutions of civil governance in these areas. Consequently, the governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s anti-Naxal drive, despite large scale use of police and paramilitary forces, could not yield desired results and the Naxal groups have expanded their influence and started using Jharkhand as an important base to achieve their larger goal of unification of Maoist movements in the country and across South Asia.
Currently, Jharkhand is the State worst affected by left wing extremism. In 2002, a total of 156 persons were killed due to Naxal violence in the State. About 16 districts, out of the total 22 in the State, are Naxalite affected; the worst affected districts are Chatra, Palamu, Garhwa, Giridih, Latehar, Gumla, Ranchi, Hazaribagh, Lohardaga and Bokaro, and the Naxalites virtually run a parallel government in many areas of these districts. The dense forest terrain of Jharkhand coupled with poor performance of its governing institutions, particularly in the remote tribal areas provides a fertile ground for the Naxal activities.
The spread and growth of left-wing extremism, especially in states like Jharkhand, cannot be explained only in terms of law and order. There exists a deep rooted sense of neglect among the tribals. Prior to the creation of Jharkhand, the feeling was that the region was backward because of the the political and bureaucratic establishment, which was dominated by officials from 'non-tribal' areas of Bihar who did not care for the tribals. It was hoped that the new government, being more representative, would be better disposed to address the legitimate grievances of the tribals. Unfortunately, the NDA government failed to revitalize the institutions of governance in Naxalite affected areas. Conversely, it appears that the creation of Jharkhand has helped the MCC and PWG consolidate their roots in the region, considering the potential for extortion from contractors, traders and industrial units has increased with the creation of the new State. According to independent assessments, in Jharkhand, the Naxal groups have a whopping annual income of about Rs 100 crores (US$ 22 million) derived mostly through levy on mining, coal and kendu leaf trading besides hefty ransoms, levies and percentage from government officials.
Therefore, apart from effective policing, any strategy to deal with Naxalism in Jharkhand needs to take into account the efficiency and effectiveness of the institutions of civil governance and development in the State. There is also a need to assess and neutralize the dynamics of the thriving underground economy and parallel structures of 'governance' that the extremists have installed in their areas of influence.