In 2004, CCC brokered talks between Maoists and the erstwhile State of Andhra, creating a framework for rearticulating the development conundrum. Sukma deserves the same
The ambush of 25 CRPF jawans in the midday attack of April 24 in Sukma has prompted commentary on the conditions under which these men work. Fewer commentators highlighted the combat preparedness of the CRPF unit. Even fewer noted the fact that these men were frontline fighters of an ongoing war that is not of their making. It is now passé to speak of operations as if they are no different from war against a hostile neighbour. Both evoke the same kind of nationalist speak. That in the end, it is war against people who are apparently unconvinced by the promise of development is given a quiet burial.
This is not a new war. It has been attendant upon India’s story of development for the last eight decades. Do we have the political and economic wisdom to seize the opportunity when it presents itself to reorganise the conflicts generated by development to more productive and less militarised forms? Rolling back militarisation is sometimes justifiable on pragmatic grounds. Armed conflict pre-empts conversation. It forces all sorts of local and regional actors into silence and concealment. The costs of this permanent state of war mobilisation are borne not just by individuals and their families but by entire regions.
Development, as we have known, involved prosperity, but also aggravated want. It made room for new allies even as it deepened old enmities. These conflicts are most concretely manifested at local and regional levels — in Sukma and Dantewada as well as in Chhattisgarh; in Daltonganj as well as in Jharkhand. Today’s Maoist movement arose from previous rounds of development. In this sense, the governments of the day have surely inherited their Maoists from previous governments.
The Committee of Concerned Citizens (CCC) led by the late SR Sankaran and KG Kannaviran came into being in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh in 1997, precisely when a window of time opened up in the region. Armed conflict had gone on for far too long. The conflict had reached a deadlock with over one lakh acres of land lying fallow, and all but the most extractive of the economic activities such as mining had come to a standstill. The committee deliberately circumscribed its own role. It did not believe that it was going to forge a solution to the conflict for all times and all places. All it attempted was to create a framework for rearticulating the development conundrum. It offered no guarantees for lasting peace. It only sought limited assurance from all actors. The seven years during which the CCC persisted in its efforts created conditions for everyone to seize an opportunity when it emerged during the 2004 elections, when people who had been silenced for long could finally have a say. Everyone had a chance to re-strategise. There was a mutually agreed six-month ceasefire, which meant that normal villages and towns that had only seen fear and violence began to hum with open meetings and discussions, itself an unprecedented shift in reality.
The Sukma incident of April 24 is noteworthy because it signals a shift. Sukma is not the site of global or national interest in large-scale mining ventures or power projects. It is the site of a road construction by a State agency. A two-lane-road of 20 km from practically nowhere to nowhere, as far as the people of the region were concerned. It was the site of new alliances and new enmities organised under the auspices of a State agency. This in a district which boasts of one urban centre of 14,000 people and is mostly inhabited by non-locals with a literacy rate higher than the State average. The rest of the district is populated by scores of hamlets interconnected by small weekly markets which have been shut down for one reason or the other for a long time. Against that backdrop, the new road stands as a symbol of a new frontier that has to be guarded by CRPF jawans. Development comes to Sukma riding an armoured vehicle. And when it steps out of the vehicle in uniformed toughness, it draws upon fairly mundane norms of authority and force and fear — inflicting assaults, torture and punishment on the subjects of development. These subjects can then only make a stark choice either with development or against it — either with the CRPF or with the Maoists.
The first step towards moving beyond is to recognise that the Maoist movement is but one actor in the development saga. It aligns those who justifiably feel shortchanged in development against those who appear to benefit unduly from it. The second step is for the State to find economic and political creativity to reorganise the logic of development and manage its consequences intelligently. But this can happen only through the emergence of a new set of actors, who can give words to new aspirations at the local and regional scale in Chhattisgarh, as it did in Telangana. Justice will be done to the families of the CRPF jawans in Sukma only when we engage withthe local and regional dimensions of this conflict, brought to light against all odds by hundreds of journalists and public intellectuals. Meanwhile, corporate leaders and politicians would do well to remember that sustainable development cannot come riding in armoured vehicles.
Anant Maringanti is a development geographer and a founding member of the CCC