Perception matters against left wing extremism

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Mathew Sinu Simon
In 2006, the Government of India declared a ‘four pronged strategy’ to deal with the menace of Left Wing Extremism (LWE). This strategy has, in fact, evolved over a period of time. Its four prongs include: security related interventions, development related interventions, ensuring the rights and entitlements of forest dwellers, and better public perception management. Winning hearts and minds through the Civic Action Programme (CAP) and the Media/Perception Management Plan is an important element in combating LWE propaganda. This article focuses on the government’s civic and media components of the strategy for dealing with LWE.
CAP in LWE affected states was initiated in 2010-11. Over the last few years, CAPs have also been initiated in the insurgency-affected North East and Jammu & Kashmir. Under this scheme, funds are provided to the central armed police forces (CRPF, BSF, ITBP and SSB) at Rs. 3 lakh per company per year for conducting welfare activities in their deployment areas in LWE affected States. The aim of the scheme is to bridge the gap between the security forces and the local populace. An amount of Rs. 99.22 crore has been released to Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) under the Scheme up to December 31, 2015.1 CAPFs distribute blankets, medicines and other essential commodities to individuals and families in order to bridge the trust deficit and foster cordial relations with villagers in rural areas. The Government has tweaked the CAP, which was earlier focused on allocating funds for small projects and development activities including the construction of small bridges and roads as well as implementation of drinking water and irrigation schemes.
Under the Media Plan, activities like broadcasting audio jingles by All India Radio (AIR) in the LWE affected States, presenting programmes on development issues through the Song & Drama Division, AIR, organization of the 8th Tribal Youth Exchange Programme (TYEP) through the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS), etc. have been carried out. Media guidelines have been framed and Rs. 3.5 crore has been allocated under the media plan for the year 2015-16, of which Rs. 2.82 crore has been released to AIR for broadcasting jingles and to NYKS for organizing the 8th TYEP 2015-16.2. For wide publicity of the Government’s view and spreading awareness about the false propaganda of the Maoists, three documentary films have been uploaded on the YouTube channel of MHA and telecast through Doordarshan on national channel on a complimentary basis.3 The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has also spent Rs.1.64 crore during the last three years, i.e., Rs. 80 lakh in 2013-14, Rs. 50 lakh in 2014-15 and Rs. 34 lakh in 2015-16, for spreading awareness in LWE affected States through live folk and traditional art forms.4
In addition, the government should also consider the following measures to effectively rein in the spread of Maoist disinformation: massive use of anti-naxal graffiti in villages; extensive screening of short anti-LWE documentaries in cinemas across the affected districts; ensure that Government officials at various levels, and in all departments, consciously cultivate stringers and mofussil journalists; organise people to undertake rallies, protests and sit-ins against Naxalite activities; and accord massive publicity to any anti-people action of the Naxalites.5
Additional measures may also include: broadcasting Government initiatives in LWE affected states in regional languages, follow-up to distribution of essential commodities and regular conduct of medical camps, public-private partnership models and civic society participation in imparting education and sports to tribal youth. The revised Surrender and Rehabilitation policy (S&R) of LWE cadres needs to be further strengthened and highlighted through the media plan. The revised policy guidelines includes immediate grants for higher and lower ranked Maoist cadres, incentives for surrender of weapons/ammunition and imparting vocational training to surrendered naxals. Radio jingles, short films in various regional languages on the benefits of the S&R policy can be effectively used against Maoist propaganda through the media plan.6
Further, CAP can be linked to Public Perception Management (PPM). The broadcast and wide coverage of welfare activities conducted by CAPFs through PPM closes the gap between security forces and villagers.
There is still room for improvement on this front. CAP can work in tandem with PPM in steering villagers away from the Maoist web. There is an urgency to effectively counter the Maoist propaganda through the frequent release of advertisements8 against naxalism and the regular conduct of tribal youth cultural festivals.Tribal personalities and leaders can be showcased as role models in inspiring tribal youth to seek a better life. The time has come for arresting the trend of Maoist inflicted violence by combining security and development related measures to counter the challenges posed by Naxalites. A holistic approach involving coordination between the Ministries of Home Affairs, Tribal Affairs and Social Justice and Empowerment can also help in tackling the root causes of slackening development in tribal areas.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

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