There is some good news coming out of Bihar as it heads for elections. The state used to be the hub of Maoist insurgency-related violence till the beginning of the last decade. A key Left-wing outfit, Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), had Bihar as its base.
At its peak, the outfit ran a semi-parallel state in parts of south Bihar, now called Jharkhand. Caste massacres were rampant — and MCC mobilised the Dalits to take on the upper-caste militias. The MCC then merged with the People’s War Group in 2004 to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and it was feared that the group would become more potent and destructive.
But even as Maoist violence remains an area of concern in other parts of the country, there has been a swing towards peace in Bihar. There are now about 20 deaths due to the insurgency annually, a sharp drop from almost 100 deaths in 2005. The caste-based tensions and violence have dimmed, if not disappeared.
The bifurcation of the state in 2000 led to the shifting of Maoist insurgency to Jharkhand. The new state has witnessed violent incidents and Maoists there have degenerated and fragmented considerably. The Nitish Kumar government deserves credit for a range of progressive political measures. By especially reaching out to Dalits and the more backward among Dalits, the government have deprived the Maoists a fertile constituency. Democracy in this sense is the best antidote to Left radicalism. The government shifted the discourse to development and kept a check on upper-caste militias.
The Centre too has become more serious about taking on the Maoists. The Maoists are in crisis; many top leaders have been arrested or killed; cadre morale is low; and there is lack of political and ideological clarity. But this is no time to be complacent. Maoists may be down, but they are not out. The structural factors that help them grow, still persist. Landlessness is acute. untouchability may have reduced but caste discrimination, especially in the case of Dalits, takes other forms. The state government has not taken action against perpetrators of earlier massacres — only adding to the sense of injustice, which can contribute to rise of the Maoists again. There is also a growing young demographic that is semi-educated, but unemployed, angry and restless — a neat group for the Maoists to indoctrinate. The next government in Bihar must build on the fragile achievements of the past decade and leave no reason for people to be attracted to Maoists.