A day after Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju told Lok Sabha about the foreign links of the CPI (Maoist), Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram claimed that “Naxalism is an international conspiracy against the country” and is not linked with tribal resentment across Central India.
He also said “successive governments and industries have cheated tribals, that caused resentment among them” and it is imperative that before launching any project that involves their land, talks should be initiated with them.
“Naxalism has no link with development… Naxalism is an international conspiracy against India. It is not a local problem, or a problem of jal, jangal and jameen. I can say with certainty that it has international dimensions. I do not believe that Naxalism can be curbed by checking displacement or halting development,” he told The Indian Express.
Asked what he meant by an international conspiracy, he cited secrecy and refused to elaborate. “Whatever I said is appropriate to disclose here. Disclosing more than that is not appropriate. I am a Central minister,” he said.
While several theories have been floated for the Maoist insurgency in India, it is perhaps the first instance when a Union minister conclusively termed it an international conspiracy against the country.
Significantly, while Rijju had hinted at the Maoist links with the similar ultra-Left outfits of European nations and Philippines, he said there was no evidence yet of any foreign assistance to the rebels in India. Last year, The Indian Express had reported about a conference of Leftist revolutionary parties in Hamburg, Germany, to commemorate the first death anniversary of Kishanji, who was killed in an encounter with the security forces in November 2011 in West Bengal. Though the CPI(Maoist) could not participate in the conference, it had sent a written representation.
Oram also admitted that tribals, who live in the forests where the Maoists are based in, have been alienated as successive governments and industries cheated them. The development gains did not reach them as the government failed to keep its promises.
As he stressed on the importance of taking consent of locals before going ahead with any project, he seemed to record a significant departure from the perceived stand of the Narendra Modi government towards several projects across the forests of central India that are stuck for want of environment clearance and land acquisition. The Modi government, it is said, is trying to clear these projects fast.
Taking a different stand towards big projects, Oram said: “Displacement is a big issue for tribals. We tribals never posed any hurdle in the country’s development. Many industries, factories were set up but we never resisted. Whenever any land was notified, we happily left it considering that the government needed it for country’s development. But the promises of jobs and proper compensation…, these promises were never met. They did not get the promised benefits of factories and dams. Therefore tribals have a feeling that the government is cheating them, not meeting its promises. Hence, a distrust gradually grew (within tribals), and converted into resentment. Therefore, if you look anywhere today, wherever the land of tribals is being acquired for projects there is resentment,” said Oram, who represents Sundergarh constituency of Orissa.
Pointing at another dimension of the problem, he said: “Earlier, land was in abandon. Whenever people were displaced from one place, they shifted to another location. Now there is little land left. So when their land is taken away, they get neither compensation nor alternate land. It is the second cause of the tribal resistance. The government first deceived them, and did not give any compensation or land. Therefore the first and the biggest benefit of such projects should go to tribals and other displaced people. Such assurance should be given by the government.” He added that “discussions should be held with them before their land is taken away”.
“These days it is witnessed that the day governments decide to begin a project, next day they notify it and on the third day they ask tribals to leave their land. This approach is not appropriate. Before bringing any industry, factory or development project, the first discussion must with begin local people. If they deny it, they should not be pressured. But the opposite process is adopted. The first discussion takes place at the government level with companies, and once everything is finalized, locals are involved. It is not appropriate. First talk to public, ask them what do they want, form an agreement with them, and then sign any MoU or bring companies,” he said.
Outlining the priority of his ministry, Oram said: “Tribals feel alienated and the biggest task is to cultivate this feeling in them that they are also a part of society. The first requirement is to win over their hearts.”
Despite forcefully outlining these objectives, he did not specify how he proposed to handle specific projects where tribals are objecting to land acquisition. Asked about several projects such as the proposed rail line from Dalli Rajhara-Raoghat in Chhattisgarh or Polavaram Dam in Seemandhra, he expressed his inability to directly intervene.
“Yes, my people, tribals, are affected. But it is not the issue of my department. I am only a nodal authority for their overall development,” he said.