Ill-advised ban

The ban on the CPI-Maoist is ill-advised. For years India’s Maoists, who hew to Mao Zedong’s script for a peasant revolution, have fought a seemingly lost cause for so long that they were barely taken seriously beyond the country’s desperately waning forest belt. But not anymore. Today, the battle being fought in Lalgarh, as in a few other states, has nurtured quietly for a quarter-century, and looks increasingly like a civil war.

It is a conflict that has claimed more and more lives, hampered the industrial growth of a country hungry for coal, iron and other riches buried in these isolated realms bypassed by India’s economic boom.

Of the 13 states afflicted by Naxalism, the deadliest theatre of war is Chhattisgarh where government-aided vigilante groups have lately taken to hunting Maoists in the forests, dragging the region into ever more deadly conflict. Across these states, which the Naxalites have vowed to turn into a “compact revolutionary zone,” governments have largely been unable to stanch the insurrection backed by the indigenous people or adivasis. They bear some of the country’s worst rates of poverty, health and malnutrition. They epitomise the shaming gulf between wealth and want. Though indigenous to their regions, whose mineral riches the state and the private sector extract, the adivasis are at the bottom of the heap, relegated to the country’s periphery.
Last year, when Maoist violence reached its peak, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared it as the greatest internal security threat to the country. That threat, from the state’s perspective, had to be crushed by repression, not by economic development or instilling a sense of equity and fairness among the marginalised adivasis.

So outlawing the Maoists carries the danger of emboldening them. Lalgarh, a shameful example of state-against-nation, has signalled a backlash against not just West Bengal’s Left Front government,  but also against the state that has chosen to ignore and deprive the people of economic distribution and social justice. That has been the state’s singular failure. The Centre as well as the affected states have done scant little to provide economic succour to the inhabitants of the Naxal regions. Scores of districts in states stretching from West Bengal, which was the torch-bearer of Naxalism in the 60s, to Andhra Pradesh are seething in anger. Lalgarh or Dantewada are not law-and-order problems. They are in crying need of economic attention.

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