People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 29

July 17, 2011

Beyond the Salwa Judum Judgement


Archana Prasad


IN its order dated July 5, 2011, the Supreme Court ordered the state government of Chhattisgarh to “take all appropriate measures to prevent the operation of any group, including but not limited to Salwa Judum and Koya Commandos, that in any manner or form seek to take law into private hands, act unconstitutionally or otherwise violate the human rights of any person.” In this way it questioned the constitutional legality of the five year old anti-Maoist counter insurgency strategy of the BJP government in Chhattisgarh. It also asked the union government to “cease and desist, forthwith, from using any of its funds in supporting, directly or indirectly the recruitment of SPOs for the purposes of engaging in any form of counterinsurgency activities against Maoist/Naxalite groups.”




The order has been hailed by the petitioners and democratically minded citizens as being ‘historic’ because it restrains the state from unconstitutional activities. The judgement also points to the capitalist and neo-liberal developmental policies as one of the most important causes for the growth of the ‘Maoism’ and ‘Naxalism’ is a result of that has been followed by the union and state governments. Interestingly, this order comes on the eve of the announcement by the Bengal government that it was going to pump in developmental funds into the Jangal Mahals, and start talks with the ‘Maoists.’


The press release of the petitioners also appeals to the ‘Maoists’ to enter into peace talks with the government and desist from attacking the disbanded SPOs. While there is no doubt that this order is a welcome step forward to stop the atrocities being faced by the tribal people of Dantewada, its implications need to be examined for the larger strategy to fight the ‘Maoist’ political tendency.




One of the central assumptions of voices opposing Salwa Judum has been based on the understanding that the control of natural resources by the state has led to the penury of the tribal inhabitants of the region and contributed to the growth of ‘Maoist violence.’ While this proposition is accepted by most of the democratically minded activists in general, two specific points need to be kept in mind when the case of Bastar is concerned.


The first point here is that the creation of the ‘guerrilla zone’ by the ‘Maoists’ just prior to the advent of the neo-liberal policies was a result of the absence of welfare activities by the state and the exploitation of its nexus with the traders and contractors in these tribal areas. Despite state monopoly control over forest lands, the lack of political will to combat the market forces in the trading pf forest produce in this resource rich region led to the entry of the ‘Maoist’ activists in the region. Most of these activists were from the People’s War Group (PWG) and had escaped from Andhra Pradesh at the time of police action. By the late 1980s they had started to build some mass organisations, carry out small local struggles against oppression by the traders and create their own network of managing the markets. Here the government was identified as the agency of extraction whose apparatus could not be easily controlled by them. Hence, the support to the contractor system was one of the first methods to ensure the absence of the government in ‘Maoist’ dominated areas.


This led to the second stage in the development of ‘Maoist organisations’ in Dantewada where they effectively put an end to all state. In the process they identified local people who would be their informers and form an armed local militia that was trained by them. By the mid-nineties the control of the territorial control of the state over Dantewada was virtually non-existent and the stage for a conflict between the state and the ‘Maoists’ was virtually in the offing. The ‘Maoists’ had been allowed to penetrate to the extent that they set up their own ‘parallel governments’ by an unaccountable and ineffective state apparatus. Further the lack of an effective alternative political leadership amongst the tribal rights organisations and their identity politics was unable to cope with the emerging challenges of neo-liberalism.




The role of the state in tackling the ‘Maoist’ insurgency, which is the main focus of the Court Order, has to be considered in the above context. The political consensus on dealing with ‘Maoist’ insurgency through counter insurgency operations was evident in June 2005 when the leader of the main opposition party started counter insurgency militia of tribal volunteers to fight the ‘Maoist’ operations in the area. This force soon gained the recognition of the BJP government and the volunteers were recognised as Special Police Officers. As the court has observed, tribal youth appointed as Special Police Officers were “being given firearms on the ground that SPOs are treated “legally” as full-fledged members of the police force, and are expected to perform the duties, bear the liabilities, and be subject to the same disciplinary code.” This meant that the main responsibility of combating the ‘Maoist’ insurgency fell on the tribal youth who were the first line of defence in Dantewada.


Once again, thus, the neo-liberal state was trying to minimise its own losses and costs in fighting insurgency. Hence even on the law and order front, the state was more interested in recruiting and outsourcing policing operations to local youth rather than investing in the modernisation of its own police force to battle insurgency. Thus, the raising of a government supported local militia is not only a way of dividing the solidarity between local tribal people, but also outsourcing policing operations. This once again perpetuates the absence of the state that was in the first place responsible for the consolidation of the ‘Maoists’ in the region.


Today, the government is attempting a change in its strategy to tackle the Maoist insurgency of the area. Under pressure from allies like the Trinamul Congress and other groups, it has declared an integrated development programme for tribal areas in the ‘red corridor.’ Recent reports also suggest that Rs 10,000 crore will be invested in mineral rich tribal districts as compensation for mining by private companies. But the question is whether such investment can lead to an effective strategy for combating the ‘Maoist’ influence without ensuring an effective state apparatus that routinely combats exploitative forces in region such as illegal mining. Chhattisgarh is the second largest mineral rich state and had had over 7000 cases of illegal mining by the end of 2009, with Dantewada and the Bastar region being the largest. However, only 2203 cases were filed against illegal mining in the state. At the same time, the presence of the ‘Maoists’ was also used as an excuse to ensure that no action was taken against illegal miners.


But the state was not the only one that benefited from this illegal mining. Reports from the ‘red corridor’ suggest that ‘Maoists’ themselves have been involved in such activities which give them funds as well as provide them explosives for their operations. Thus while on the one hand the state uses Salwa Judum operations and the ‘Maoist’ violence as an excuse for allowing the mineral loot of the tribal areas, on the other hand the extractive presence of a parallel government also perpetuates this illegal mining that is an essential outcome of neo-liberal policies.




In the light of the above analysis, it may be said that the Salwa Judum judgement points to only a part of the problem with respect to neo-liberal policies. It is right in asserting that a reversal of neo-liberal policies is essential to enable a solution to the problems of the tribal districts under ‘Maoist’ influence. But such a reversal of policies has to be accompanied by the establishment of a democratic and accountable state administration. The experience of the Left from Tripura shows that a humane administration and democratic power-sharing agreements can go a long way in providing solutions to such problems. To this end the Left has been demanding that the Schedule V areas (under which Dantewada falls) should be upgraded to the status of Schedule VI so that the tribal people can enjoy full democratic rights. At the same time the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) and Forest Rights Act should be implemented in letter and spirit so that tribal people can enjoy some control over their own resources. But for this to be achieved an alternate Left led democratic politics is necessary and needs to be extended to such regions on an urgent basis. In its absence the oppositional space is being dominated either by the ‘Maoists’ or by the politics of tribal identity, both of which are unable to cope with the challenges posed by an increasingly undemocratic neo-liberal state.