Friday, August 07, 2009

Money for the Maoists

Countering the Maoist insurgency that rages across India is one of those problems that receive attention in an on-off manner. The “latest of the best” to tackle the problem is the plan to offer Rs3 lakh to those ultra-Left insurgents who surrender. It is a bad idea that is least likely to deliver results.

Under the plan being considered, each surrendering insurgent will be given Rs3 lakh. This money will have a lock-in period of three years. While the erstwhile Maoist will not be able to touch the money, he/she will be able to take a loan against the deposit.

There are two issues at hand. At one level, the problem is that of policy efficacy and that of social incentives to abjure political violence. Incentives for militants who surrender have been tried for a long time in India. In Assam, for example, surrendered United Liberation Front of Asom (Sulfa) cadres were given money for rehabilitation. Soon the Sulfa men wanted guns to protect themselves from Ulfa. Gunfights in the towns and villages of Assam were the result. Soon enough, the Sulfa men took up petty crime to earn a living.

A linked matter is whether the government will offer such incentives to any group of citizens who take to crime and then become too big to be tackled by security forces. A surrender policy, instead of offering incentives to abjure violence, is likely to spur violence: the group taking up arms knowing well that money is out there just for the asking.

The second question is that of the capacity of the Union and state governments to tackle such violence. It is unsurprising that the scheme has found popularity in states such as Uttar Pradesh that have little or no ability to fight Maoists. Years of political interference and neglect in modernizing the police force have brought matters to such a pass. An interim solution, pending the larger project to destroy the social and political base of Maoism, would be to increase security spending. For example, the Rs3 lakh per surrendering Maoist (expected to cost Rs400 crore by one estimate) could be better spent on the badly equipped and demoralized policemen fighting Leftist militants in far-flung districts that few in Delhi have heard of.


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