Address the real issue

Address the real issue

Government has to declare war on hunger, as just warring with weapons on a sporadic basis can never resolve the issue.

The abduction and then the release of the district collector of Sukma in Chhattisgarh by the Maoists after several days of negotiations with the state government has triggered a need for a uniform policy in the country for dealing with similar situations in the future.

The Chhattisgarh government has not come out in the open about the compromise or deal that it must have struck with the Maoists like releasing the number of Maoist leaders who are in jail or a reduction in security presence in the Maoist dominated areas. Until now, every time a Maoist attack occurred, a patchwork solution has been worked out. The Sukma collector’s incidence is no different.

Maoist terror is a serious one, as it has spread in almost 180 districts out of 604 districts of the country and spans a geographical belt running from West Bengal to Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and parts of Karnataka. This belt almost cuts the country into two halves and hence this is a development with possibly grave prospects for future. Moreover, the problem is not a superficial one but is deeply entrenched at the grass-roots level. Hence, it deserves a better treatment by the Central and state governments than the short-term and cosmetic way out sought by them until now.

We need to have a single policy in the country – whichever the state – about our response to the terror groups whenever they venture to pose a threat of abduction and killing of officials and citizens. Terror groups need to be informed in no uncertain manner that the next adventure by them will meet with a very stern reply. A tough stance and a hard-hitting reply are one part of the response. In ancient Indian terms this is “Danda neeti” or a policy of penal action.

There is an even more important aspect that we need to address. We need to understand as to what keeps feeding such insurgent or terrorist groups. While it may be true that there may be a foreign hand in these attacks, the individuals within the terror groups are Indian citizens. They are mostly our own local disgruntled tribal people and villagers. What makes our illiterate tribal folk take up arms against the state?  

The answer is not something that needs a great deal of investigation. The government already knows it and as early as in February 2009 it had announced an Integrated Action Plan. The word ‘integrated’ needs to be emphasised. Development of the tribal areas in the central region of India was one of the important planks of this action plan. The government has all the intellectual capital; what it has been lacking is a ‘heart’ to implement it. The dedication to the plans is shockingly lacking. What the government mouths and what it actually does are two entirely different things.

Action plan

So, while an integrated action plan is announced, the governments – Central and state – are constantly engrossed in facilitating the exploitative practices of mining of ores, destruction of forests, declaring productive farm lands as industrial lands, and displacing villagers and tribals to far off places for the sake of irrigation and power projects. The entire focus is on economic growth for a small privileged class and, thus, has been terribly lop-sided. Industrial projects are promoted in the name of development. But, whose development is it? While the hills and forests in Chhattisgarh or Odisha or Jharkhand get destroyed for minerals underneath by the corporates for a handsome profit, the displaced folk are utterly neglected. The displaced illiterates seldom get placed in the modern factories or other ventures. Their capabilities have not been built for such an action. If ever some compensation reaches them, it is quickly pilfered and plundered by the middlemen.

The simmering discontent within the hungry mass of village and tribal people shows up as their support to the militant groups. A hungry person cannot be faulted; it is those who keep him hungry are at fault. This root-cause needs to be corrected urgently by the governments across the length and breadth of India.

Government has to declare war on hunger as a part of war on the terror groups. Just warring with weapons on a sporadic basis can never resolve the issue. Addressing the underlying socio-economic issue should be the first priority. This is the ‘Daana’ aspect within the Saama (reason), Daana (provision), Danda (penal action) and Bheda (divide) quartet of policy options. Without this Daana, no amount of Saama or reasoning with the affected tribal and village people is useful. ‘Bheda’ or fall-out from the terrorist groups will occur automatically, once the tribals/villagers and the government see the same reason.

It is easy to outwardly talk tough to the terror groups in Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand, but it takes concerted efforts to bring real development to these places. It is relatively easy to post a few thousand armed forces or police personnel in the tribal districts of Madhya Pradesh or Odisha. But, it takes a long term commitment by the Central and state governments to improve the economic and social aspects of these people.

Once these aspects improve, the political aspect will take care of itself. Everyone wants a better life. In fact, the terror groups need armed action for their very survival and fear any action to improve the socio-economic condition of the local populace. If we rely mainly on armed action by our security forces, the prognosis of such a myopic policy is quite calamitous.

(The writer is a former professor at IIM, Bangalore)

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