Wake up call

Less than three weeks after they ambushed and killed around 30 people who were part of a convoy of Congress politicians in the forests of Chhattisgarh, the Maoists have struck again.

Their target this time was the Dhanbad-Patna Inter-city Express.  It was reportedly aimed at looting the weapons of  security personnel on board the train. However, the large number of the Maoists deployed in the operation – between 100 and 150  – suggests larger goals including hijacking of the train. Even if the Maoists goals were limited, the fact that they were able to assemble such a large number of fighters at the attack site without alerting the police signals that the military capacity of the Maoists remains intact despite ongoing efforts by the government to demolish it. It lays bare the failure of intelligence agencies to sniff out information about the planned attack. 

In the wake of the recent attacks, the clamour for deployment of the army and stepping up of military operations against the rebels has grown. Political parties and politicians are outdoing each other demanding a “tough anti-Maoist strategy.”  They need to pause and draw the right lessons from the attacks. They need to recognise that the state’s military-development approach towards the Maoist problem is responsible for the recent surge in violence. Far from quelling the insurgency, this approach is fuelling it.

 While the military operations have resulted in the death or disappearance of hundreds of innocent tribals, the development model adopted by the state – it is based on encouraging mining, building of roads etc  has not benefited the tribals. Rather it has impoverished them as they continue to lose land to greedy mining companies, contractors and mafias. A development model that feeds on impoverishing tribals is not the way to fight the Maoists as it deepens the alienation of the local population from the state. Tribal affairs minister V Kishore Chandra Deo is right; labelling the Maoists terrorists is not the solution to the problem as it only enables the government to persist with its violent strategy.

The government must adopt an inclusive model of development instead, one that benefits the tribals primarily. Tribals need schools, hospitals and jobs, not liquor shops. Alongside inclusive development, the government needs to engage the Maoists in genuine dialogue.  Unless the government changes its approach towards the Maoists immediately, their attacks on ‘soft targets’ will continue.  It is innocent civilians who will end up suffering for the blunders of the government.

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