Development Impossible Without Defeating Naxalites

Cart before the horse
Rohit Pradhan, Sushant K. Singh
Date: August 15, 2009

URL: http://www.indianex press.com/ news/cart- before-the- horse/502351/ 0

Introduction: PM’s address must take it clear that development is
impossible without first defeating Naxalites

Exactly two years ago, Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, in
his Independence day address, had labeled Maoists as the gravest
internal security threat faced by India. But it is only now, two years
later, that the government is taking the threat seriously. In the recent
session of Parliament, Home Minister P. Chidambaram admitted that the
national security threat posed by the Maoists has been underestimated
for the last few years. His ministry has also recently circulated a
draft note for the union cabinet – ‘Meeting developmental & security
challenges in the extremist affected areas’ – to key departments of the
government.

While the armed response to the Maoist challenge has received much media
attention, what has largely passed unnoticed is the attached
“development” package: huge volumes of central assistance provided to
the Maoist-affected states in the implicit belief that Maoism is
essentially a socio-economic problem – not ordinary terrorism or
insurgency – and can be defeated by improving the means of livelihood
and winning the “hearts and minds” of the affected populace. There is no
military solution to Maoism, so goes the conventional thinking.

Prima facie, it is an approach which is hard to fault. Maoism thrives on
persecution – both real and perceived – and it is no surprise that it is
rampant in some of India’s most impoverished states. Indubitably,
winning internal security battles requires a multi-faceted strategy
which includes establishing the rule of law, development and
rehabilitation of the reformed rebels.

Unfortunately, because it treats Maoism as qualitatively different from
terror groups operating in Kashmir and the North East, this approach
subtly de-emphasises the security angle; arguing, in essence, that
security can be ensured by promising development. No doubt, people of
Maoist-affected areas have genuine grievances against the Indian state,
but Maoists, just like the terrorists in Kashmir or North East, have
cynically exploited them for their own larger ideological goals:
establishment of an internationalist “people’s democracy” – euphemism
for a one party communist state. The Maoists seek the dismemberment of
the Indian state -at least its current structure – and it is naive to
hope for reconciliation between them and the Indian state at this stage.
It is fatal to look at Maoists as a few misguided youth fighting for the
oppressed and poor; whereas in their approach towards their political
opponents and the police – large numbers of whom have been mercilessly
massacred – Maoists have shown themselves as ruthless and despotic
outlaws. The nature of the beast does not change merely because the
context is local and the idiom is communism, and not religion.

This is not a mere pedantic argument: the latent belief that Maoism is
“different” has willy-nilly facilitated the establishment of a virtual
“red corridor” where the authority of the state has been severely
corroded. Maoists have been allowed to erect a parallel structure of
governance with all its trappings: taxation, policing and dispute
resolution. Without re-establishment of the state’s authority, which, in
turn, rests on the removal or reduction of the competing authority of
the Maoists, no developmental approach is likely to succeed. Therefore,
attention has to be focused on the security which must necessarily
involve a well directed and purposeful offensive against the Maoists.
History teaches us that while all successful counter-insurgencie s are 80
per cent political, it can only work once the 20 per cent military
component has been effected first.

In states where even policemen are shying away from serving in Maoist
zones, is it reasonable to believe that the local population would risk
their lives by challenging Maoist authority because they have – or are
promised – more electricity or cleaner water by the government? Indeed,
Maoists – wary of even the slightest challenge to their authority in
areas they control – are selectively targeting contractors, civil
agencies and NGOs. Genuine progress in reconstruction and economic
development rests on adequate security. Unless security is established
first, any “hearts and minds” approach is destined to fail, fuelling
even more discontent among the local population and providing further
ammunition to the Maoist propaganda machinery.

Similarly, the ‘rewards for surrender’ scheme can deliver results only
when the core groups of Maoists have been neutralised. With Maoists
running a lucrative extortion racket in the “red corridor”, there are no
incentives for even the ideologically uncommitted cadres to surrender.

Indeed, numerous examples show that insurgents never negotiate from a
position of strength but only when the state has broken their back. The
political solution to Maoism must follow their removal from their areas
of influence and reclaiming of the authority of the state: it can
neither precede it nor can it run concomitantly. Ample academic research
(such as James Dobbins & Seth Jones’ The Beginner’s Guide to
Nation-Building) suggest that ending war is a critical pre-condition of
economic progress, and not the other way around.

So today, as the prime minister outlines the nation’s priorities atop
the red fort, he must make it clear that Maoists must go. Only then will
development be possible.

– Sushant K. Singh is the contributing editor and Rohit Pradhan is
associated with ‘Pragati – The Indian National Interest Review’

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