Friday, December 21, 2007

Walk The Talk

22 Dec 2007, 0002 hrs IST

The prime minister has identified Naxalism as the biggest threat to internal security and wants it eliminated. Official figures indicate that over 300 people, including civilians and security personnel, died in Naxal-related violence this year. Large areas in central India are under the control of Maoist groups. The PM, correctly in our view, sees it as a fallout of uneven development. But Maoist violence is a complex phenomenon and simple solutions, such as paramilitary might, alone can't guarantee peace. The prime minister sensibly suggests that a combination of development measures and security initiatives has to go together if Maoism is to be eliminated. That's been said before; the point is now to do it. But neither the prime minister nor the chief ministers who heard him out seem to have answers that go beyond expressing sterile intentions.

Maoist politics, from the time it began in the late 1960s, is restricted largely to underdeveloped, mostly tribal, areas. The forested regions of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Telangana and Vidarbha are the main centres of relatively successful Maoist activity. The absence of sufficient public intervention, especially in education, health and employment, allowed non-state actors to push their agenda among the tribals. The entire region under Naxalite influence desperately needs development. The question is what sort of development and how it should be executed.

Crony capitalism aided by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats is not the solution. Public utilities and institutions have to be built by the state to make development inclusive, because development is as much a perception as it is about improving economic indices. The government should not confuse development with building an egalitarian society - because all growth has to be iniquitous to some extent - but it ought to remember that noble public policies alone do not further resentment of inequality, even when average conditions of living visibly improve.

A vibrant civil society can ensure that development is relatively inclusive. States like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are handicapped by the absence of an influential civil society. The Maoists have stepped into this space. The state machinery and Maoists compete to deny political space to the few independent voices that are courageous enough to criticise the endemic corruption and violence. The prime minister should perhaps begin here: tune public policies towards building a civil society. The government should build schools, universities and hospitals. Local entrepreneurs should be encouraged - through micro-finance initiatives as well as regular forms of banking - to create employment and an expanding market-based society. Maoists will then have very little ground to spread their poisonous ideology.

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