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Grass-Root Democracy as a Bulwark Against Maoists

Context:

The recent Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh have concluded, and the tribal vote dynamics played a significant role for each political party, considering the substantial tribal population in the state. The tribal voters constitute 34% of the total vote share. The Maoist insurgency, currently prevalent in the country, is particularly concentrated in the tribal regions of Chhattisgarh, notably in Bastar, where tribals are a crucial base for the movement.

Relevance:

GS3- Internal Security- Left Wing Extremism

Mains Question:

The dismal polling turnout in the Maoist­-affected areas in recent state assembly elections is a pointer that democracy needs to be strengthened at the grassroots. Examine. (10 Marks, 150 Words).

Left-wing Extremism:

  • Left-wing extremists, commonly known globally as Maoists and in India as Naxalites, take their name from the village of Naxalbari in West Bengal.
  • Naxalism originated as a revolt against local landlords who assaulted a peasant during a land dispute.
  • Initiated in 1967, the rebellion aimed at the just redistribution of land to working peasants and was led by Kanu Sanyal and Jagan Santhal.
  • The movement has expanded across Eastern India, particularly in less developed areas of states like Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh.
  • Naxals are believed to align with Maoist political sentiments and ideology. Maoism, developed by Mao Tse Tung, is a form of communism advocating the capture of state power through a combination of armed insurgency, mass mobilization, and strategic alliances.

Democracy in Maoist Areas:

About the Recent Election:

  • Elections in these Maoist strongholds, designated as Schedule Five areas, have historically been marred by violence, often influenced by Maoist boycott calls. This year’s elections followed a similar pattern in this context.
  • Commencing with the data provided by the media, voter turnout in Maoist-affected regions such as Bijapur and Konta reportedly reached an extremely low range of 3% to 4%.
  • Interpreting this dismal participation could be seen as indicative of an underlying reality, depending on our willingness to recognize it.

Idea of Democracy:

For the tribal population residing in areas grappling with the ongoing Maoist insurgency, the concept of democracy holds diverse meanings. From the Maoists’ standpoint of advocating boycotts, it should be noted that these insurgents, who claim to fight on behalf of the people, paradoxically compel these very individuals to forsake their most potent means of empowerment—participation in the democratic process. This proclamation is crucial in exposing the hypocrisy that underlies the assertion that ‘Maoists are fighting for the people’s cause.’

Parallel Government:

  • In the current situation, the Maoists’ pursuit of their self-proclaimed parallel government, known as ‘jantana sarkar,’ seems unsustainable in both the medium and long term.
  • While the local tribal population tends to recognize this reality to some extent, the state has, for various reasons, failed to sufficiently inspire them.
  • This lack of inspiration has resulted in a discouragingly low level of mass participation in the democratic process. This shift is particularly noticeable compared to past trends where the local population often disregarded boycott calls.

Issues of Tribals in the Recent Elections:

Religion-based Conversions:

  • Regarding election issues concerning tribals, the predominant one revolved around religion-based conversions.
  • It is perceived that this issue was manipulated by political actors as a diversion from more fundamental concerns.
  • With an increasing awareness leading to tribal assertiveness, there is now a growing aspiration among tribals to claim the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution.
  • This awareness and assertiveness have become evident in movements like the Pathalgadi movement in Jharkhand, where tribals express resistance to assert their rights. These individuals are becoming more cognizant and rightfully demanding their entitlements, all under the banner of dignity.

On Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA):

About the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA):

  • The PESA Act, enacted in 1996, aims “to provide for the extension of the provisions of Part IX of the Constitution relating to the Panchayats to the Scheduled Areas.” Part IX, encompassing Articles 243-243ZT of the Constitution, addresses provisions related to municipalities and cooperative societies.
  • Ten states—Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Telangana—have identified Fifth Schedule areas, covering several districts either partially or entirely within these states.
  • It recognizes the right of tribal communities in Scheduled Areas to govern themselves using their own systems of self-government and acknowledges their traditional rights over natural resources.
  • Concerning the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), some political parties raised issues about its complete implementation in the field.
  • Despite the passage of the PESA Act in 1996, none of the relevant state governments has implemented it in its true spirit by issuing comprehensive policy directives.
  • The Act is designed to empower gram sabhas as the primary authority governing various aspects of the socio-economic lives of tribal communities within their respective jurisdictions.
  • The Act’s intent was to establish a direct connection between people at the grassroots level and the government, aligning with the historical and traditional tribal way of life.
  • However, several state governments have only partially implemented the Act to serve their own hidden agendas.
  • This gap has been exploited by the Maoists to advance their agenda and establish their authority in their strongholds through the ‘jantana sarkar’ (people’s government).

Fostering the Well-being of Tribals- Way Forward:

  • The Maoists have constructed a false narrative, portraying themselves as advocates for the tribal cause. It is crucial to debunk this narrative convincingly by strengthening grassroots democracy.
  • Acknowledging and providing a voice to tribal leadership, currently absent and leading to political disengagement, is imperative where it truly matters.
  • Addressing the challenge posed by the Maoists goes beyond mere security and development concerns; it involves a forward-looking approach that empowers democracy at the grassroots.

Conclusion:

Hence, the desired approach should recognize tribal aspirations and expose the hidden motives of the Maoists. Failure to do so will result in continued short-term attention to the Maoist challenge only when they choose to act at their discretion. Given its significant potential, the PESA Act could serve as a powerful tool to integrate the tribal community by accommodating their aspirations. Its determined implementation is feasible in the medium and long term.


February 2024
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