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Maoists and the long arm of Narendra Modi

LiveMint logoLiveMint 29-05-2014 Sudeep Chakravarti

A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues assumed office on 26 May, like many subscribers to the citizen journalism platform CGNet, and its pioneering mobile-and-Internet initiative, CGNet Swara, I received the following update.

“Tameshwar Sinha in Kanker in North Bastar district in Chhattisgarh is talking to son of Sundar Boga who was killed by Border Security Force [BSF] earlier this month (on 1 May). He says his parents were returning with their buffaloes after grazing and BSF fired and his father died. Whole village was busy in a marriage at that time. No investigation has been ordered. You are requested to call SP [superintendent of police] at 9479194100 and Collector at 9425532380 for justice...”

This tiny, wrenching plea illustrates the overhang of the Maoist rebellion and its root causes.

And it certainly queries the incongruity of stationing BSF in the heart of the country, in a zone of Maoist conflict, instead of staying sharp at the borders of India. What’s the purpose? Cross-training? And, what happened? Mistaken identity? Troops spooked under pressure? Needing a kill to make the unit look sharp and so, what better than a herder that few would care about? Or will government dismiss it as Maoist propaganda?

A day later came another plea on CGNet Swara. “Omprakash Baghel is visiting Jachga village in Udaipur block of Surguja district in Chhattisgarh where he meets Ghasiram Ji who tells him that they have a school in the village but no building. All the five classes sit in one room in panchayat (village council) building. They have requested all in power but no one helped. They also need a hospital and road. You are requested to call Collector at 9406100100 and Tahsildar at 8120511800 to help...”

Such everyday pleas and their allegations indicate the way for the government to engage with the heartland of the Maoist rebellion.

The way lies beyond bulldoze-at-any-cost proposals of a fringe of über-right wing commentators, currently, or formerly, of the security establishment. Consider another aspect. Along with a few others, I have repeatedly suggested, and continue to strongly suggest, engaging in peace overtures with Maoists. But such a course by itself without aggressively addressing development and governance issues will amount to little.

Peace talks can lead to absence of conflict, but peace can arrive only if the rationale for rebellion is sincerely addressed. Those who disagree need only look to areas of Telangana and Seemandhra reclaimed by security operations, but not governance. Or look at areas of Assam freed from conflict on account of peace talks with the United Liberation Front of Asom, but already vulnerable to Maoist recruitment because governance, development—and according dignity of identity—have remained largely absent.

Two ministers of the new government are making the right noises. Jual Oram, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s) minister for tribal affairs, was quoted earlier this week in media as describing the Maoist rebellion as a “social problem”. He also mentioned the need to “woo” communities, chiefly among tribes, whose disenchantment and anger against massive administrative corruption, as much as lack of development, had helped the Maoist cause with recruits and support.

Oram, based on his past record as minister for tribal affairs in the previous NDA-led government, his tribal roots, and even opposition to an iron ore mine in Odisha on the grounds that it would be detrimental to the interest of the area’s tribal residents, has already walked his talk.

His colleague, minister for rural development, panchayati raj, and drinking water and sanitation Gopinath Munde spoke to media of the need to “rigorously” implement the new land acquisition law. Munde also mentioned the need for strengthening a slew of measures to develop 250 of India’s most backward districts, including the 80-plus designated by the previous administration as being affected by the Maoist rebellion.

Prime Minister Modi would do well to not rein in well-intentioned ministers in key result areas so pivotal to India’s core development and core security. If he is either unwilling or unable to encourage them, the country will continue to fester, suffer. Rebels will continue to find reason.

“Perhaps the Maoist movement is the single large left movement in the country today,” a pro-Maoist South Asian commentator mockingly wrote in a partisan publication earlier this month. “Given its extra-parliamentary nature, it is like the reserve army of left revolutionaries, beyond the contingency of electoral defeat or victory, beyond the long arm of a Modi!”

Such thought is deliberately offensive, but there’s little gain in browbeating, arresting, torturing or shooting the messenger.

Sudeep Chakravarti is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business, runs on Fridays. Respond to this column at rootcause@livemint.com

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