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The Maoists get bolder

Business Standard  |  New Delhi 

The Maoist challenge gets ever more serious. Across a broad swathe in southern, central and eastern India, spanning half a dozen states including Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand, it is clear that a well-organised extremist force has acquired the muscle to openly challenge the state and now seeks to paralyse the economic system. The last couple of weeks have seen blockades, strikes, bomb attacks on the rail and communications systems and on mining companies, and much else. Previous episodes have included attacks on armed police encampments and jails. It is time someone in the government explained what is the response to this most serious internal security challenge. So far, the modern part of the economy could ignore what was going on in the hinterland, but now the two worlds are on a collision course.
The home minister has typically said almost nothing on the subject in public""but then, few ministers are willing to face the camera when there is serious explaining to be done. Various documents put out by the home ministry have talked about the nature of the security response (more money, better equipment, new high-level posts created to focus on the problem), and of the effort to reach out to disadvantaged and alienated groups. For the easily-convinced, these make satisfying reading because the statistics are presented in such a way as to suggest that the violence is abating and that the situation on the ground is improving.
But inconvenient facts have a way of coming in the way of facile conclusions, and the events of the past fortnight should make it clear that what has been done so far by way of a response to the Maoists, is not good enough. Roughly half the districts in Chhattisgarh now face the Maoist problem. The Salwa Judum (or peace march) campaign in the state is acquiring a bad name because no one sees it as a spontaneous people's response to the Maoists; if anything, the government is rounding up tribals to make them armed activists or vigilantes, disrupting normal life in the process. And in Andhra Pradesh, the (Congress) state government's initial honeymoon with the Maoists ended quite quickly without yielding anything
Everyone knows that insurgencies take root when there is an alienated population. The tribals have been a peaceful set of people so far, but have got the short end of the stick when it comes to development. Mining contracts, for instance, may spell big money for contractors and companies, but what do they do for ordinary people in the area? State governments get substantial revenue by way of cess and/or royalty on the metals and ores extracted from the ground (and the rates have just been increased by the Centre), but little of that gets spent in the same area. Rapacious officials in the forest, police and other departments don't help matters. Perhaps the tribals are not worldly-wise enough, but that is no reason for corrupt local officials to turn the citizen-government interface into a harassment or extortion game. Extremist activity can be contained only if new revolutionary recruits become hard to find""and that is predicated on the presence of a people-friendly local government machinery and evidence of genuine development activity. In short, the Maoist challenge can be met only if alienation is addressed""and that is a challenge facing primarily the state governments concerned.

First Published: Thu, June 28 2007. 00:00 IST
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