Rising Maoism, declining growth and terror of political ambiguity - The New Indian Express

Rising Maoism, declining growth and terror of political ambiguity

Published: 02nd June 2013 07:47 AM

Last Updated: 21st January 2014 01:15 PM

Trauma makes a comeback this week. Indians are confronted with old phantoms: the threat to life and livelihood, terrorism in the cloak of Maoism and the perilous state of economic growth. Economic growth is at its worst in a decade. Maoists are successfully challenging the writ of a democratic state. It’s another grim reminder that the mere existence of a government does not make governance a given.

It could be tempting to interpret that Maoism and growth are the countervailing ends of the debate in democracy. It would be seductive to reason that this is an unavoidable milestone in the progress of a nation. The harsh truth is that India has been trapped at this intersection by the culture of electorally convenient political ambiguity.

Articulation is frequently devised to defy definitive positions, thus denying Indians a shot at a better future. In September 2012, the Prime Minister speaks about unleashing animal spirits to drive economic growth. Six months later, he says high growth cannot be an end in itself. The Economic Survey wails about pending investments and Finance Minister P Chidambaram campaigns for a National Investment Board. His colleagues in that warzone called the Cabinet stall clearances for projects. Economic growth is a necessary condition for employment, social stability and internal security. Yet, Congress prefers to posture that growth and poverty reduction are mutually exclusive.

I have written earlier about the deployment of public funds to derive political benefits and thus deny economic growth. It hasn’t been very different in the management of internal security. In April 2006, in a conference of chief ministers, the Prime Minister said, “It would not be an exaggeration to say that the problem of Naxalism is the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.” Between 2004 and 2013, the Prime Minister refers to the threat of Naxalism 57 times in his speeches. Yet, here is India, staring haplessly at two spectres: the rise of Maoism and the descent of growth.

Manmohan Singh, quoting his teacher Lord Nicholas Kaldor, soon after taking over as PM, said, “The progress of a country depends critically on the mindsets and motivation of those who are charged with the responsibility of making the critical decisions in the life of a nation.” And how have those charged with responsibility fared? The tribal people deserve empowerment, a new deal. Their real grievances are ignored. Take the response of the government on compensation against loss of land and livelihood to mining: both the Minerals Bill and the Land Acquisition Bill are ideas pending since 2006. There has been much discussion about focused programmes. There is a parade of acronyms—BDI, BRI, IAP, NREGA, IAY etc—and verbiage about schemes. But have they delivered? The outcomes, if any, thanks to the pathetic state of delivery, are foggy. 

In September 2006, the PM mooted an empowered group of ministers, including chief ministers from affected states, to counter the Naxal threat. In a regime infected with GoMs, little is known if this EGoM was ever formed. Meanwhile, Naxalism has thrived and now threatens to widen from the Pashupati-Tirupati red corridor to the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor. On Friday, India was informed that Pune is among urban targets. Naxalism is now embedded across nine states and 180 districts—that is, one in every four districts—with 80 districts defined as afflicted by “Left Wing extremism”. In Chhattisgarh, in Bastar, 10,000 sq km is called “a liberated zone”—an area that can fit three Goas, or six Delhis. Since 2006, there have been 12,300 incidents resulting in the death of over 5,000 persons. This is an average of four incidents every day and 60 deaths every month.

The problem is one of definition. Every description is devised for contextual convenience. When P Chidambaram as home minister emphasised direct action, for the state to assert its writ over the geography of India, his party colleagues called him “intellectually arrogant”, romanticised the movement and campaigned against police action. The word “hunt” was banned while they waxed eloquent on the need to bring the ‘misguided youth’ back into the fold even as these  ‘youth’ were blowing up schools, kidnapping villagers, extorting, using women and children as human shields, tying up with cross-border terror outfits and killing at will.

The attacks this week—the killing of politicians and policemen—decimate the alibis for denial. But nothing changes. After the Sukma massacre, Jairam Ramesh declared “Maoists are terrorists”. A day later, his colleagues rubbished the definition. The party is not agreeable either. Instead of targeting the Maoists, the Congress trains its guns on BJP’s Raman Singh and demands President’s rule. At North Block, Defence Minister A K Antony rejects suggestions for army intervention. The limp imputation is that armed forces cannot be deployed ‘against our own people’. Really? Why is the AFSPA in force in seven states? Maoists are terrorists masquerading as Robin Hoods under political cover. Historical or current injustices cannot be a justification for terrorism.

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln eloquently introduced American politicians to the politics of outcomes. “If we could first know where we are and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it.” It is a lesson Indian politicians—especially Congressmen—have successfully inverted. Ambiguity is deployed to shirk a stand so as to not reveal whither we are tending and leave the “what to and how to” open-ended to derive maximum electoral benefits. 


Shankkar Aiyar is the author of  Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change

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