Different states have different strategies to combat Maoism, which still produces violence in 80 of India’s 620 districts. Chhattisgarh has used quasi-military force and created an anti-Maoist militia, SalwaJudum, which is widely criticised for violating human rights. Andhra Pradesh has deployed a specialised anti-Maoist force, the Greyhounds, combined with development programmes in areas earlier abandoned to the Maoists.
Bihar has taken another route. Maoists usually cluster in dense jungles for safety. Bihar lost most of its jungles to Jharkhand on partition, but its Maoists flourished in settled agricultural areas, battling private armies of landowners loosely called the Ranvir Sena.
Rule of the Gun
For decades, the administration and police hardly existed below the district level. Upper-caste landowners (mainly Bhumihars and Rajputs) were warlords ruling by the gun. Low-caste labourers could be beaten, raped and forced to work at far less than the minimum wage.
Maoists organised landless labourers to demand the minimum wage, declaring strikes at harvest time. The Ranvir Sena responded with bloody carnages. The Maoists counter-attacked . Bihar became a chaotic killing field.
The collapse of law and order and rise of private armies hit urban areas too. Politicians initially used gangsters to settle scores, extort money and capture polling booths. But soon, the gangsters themselves became politicians. Having guns and gangsters ceased to carry any social stigma , and became a qualification for political office. Mafia dons like Taslimuddin , Shahabuddin and Pappu Yadav rose up the political ladder.
Kidnapping for ransom became rampant. Applicants for a car or building permit would get protectionmoney notes. Lack of safety inhibited both consumption and investment, so the economy sagged.
Height of Might
Dons in power tried to get rivals jailed . But the courts and police were demoralised , corrupt and moribund. Even if a politician was convicted, he would continue operations from jail, and his wife would stand for election and get elected. The criminalisation of politics started in the Congress era but rose to new heights under Lalu Yadav during 1990-2005.
When Nitish Kumar became chief minister in 2005, his top priority was to crack down on the mafia, restoring public order and confidence. He got together once-demoralised police , judges and administrators to devise speedy trials. Imaginative use of the Arms Act helped convict gangsters within weeks, and more than 70,000 were jailed after 2005.
Ordinary folk were thrilled with the return of safety and order. Safety, plus huge infrastructure expansion — notably of roads and telecom — encouraged business and agriculture . A revitalised administration produced record leaps in literacy, health indicators and GDP. Literacy rose 17% in the decade 2001-11 , the fastest among all states. The number of patients treated per primary health centre rose from an average of 39 per month to 4,000. Rural wages soared as state GDP boomed by 12% per year.
The economic boom, revival of government service delivery and restoration of public safety had a major impact on Maoist areas. The jailing of gangsters debilitated and fragmented the Ranvir Sena.
Nitish Kumar used reservations in panchayati raj institutions to give, for the first time, some political power to Dalits, tribals, women and backward candidates. This eroded — but did not end — the historical landowners’ stranglehold on power.
The labour scarcity caused by a national as well as state economic boom sent rural wages zooming. Suddenly, the Maoists alone could not claim to be rural saviours: Nitish was a rival saviour. His model promised more than the Maoists could, and converted many (though not all) once-dispirited villagers into a class of aspirers. By winning the confidence of villagers, his administration was able to infiltrate Maoist groups, get much better intelligence and hit Maoist citadels. Maoism in Bihar is now diminished, though by no means eradicated.
Comparing Lalu Yadav’s last term (2001-05 ) with Nitish’s first (2006-10 ), the number of violent incidents fell from 1,309 to 514, civilian deaths from 760 to 214, and armed encounters from 141 to 115. The number of security forces killed rose from 75 to 102, of Maoists killed fell from 76 to 70, but of Naxalites arrested shot up from 1,437 to 2,250.
Arms recovered changed only a bit from 771 to 701, but explosives recovered shot up from 168 kg to 80,771 kg, landmines/can bombs recovered improved from 19 to 431, and levy money recovered rose from . 70,820 to . 56.6 lakh. Nitish Kumar says he will not use quasi-military tactics as in Chhattisgarh, will not resort to fake encounters as in Andhra Pradesh, and will focus on development as the way to combat Maoism.
This model has been moderately, but not spectacularly, successful. There is still a long way to go.