One of the most formidable challenges being faced by New Delhi’s national security administration in recent times is to effectively counter-attack the range of Maoist depredations in India’s tribal belt. The abductions of Italian tourists and an MLA in Odisha and the district collector of Sukuma in Chhattisgarh have given a new dimension to the challenge.
While exposing the vulnerability of extant preventative policing norms, a positive in definitive terms, gradually emanating from the rut of insecurity, revolves around a visible attitudinal transformation among the young officers overseeing the twin tasks of development and law and order enforcement in the violence-prone districts. That they would yield no quarters to anybody, including the marauders of Maoist violence, has been made amply clear on ground. The CRPF, too, has displayed true grit and a steely resolve to combat the Maoists, notwithstanding the earlier reverses and a transitory loss of morale in the wake of major ambushes against large patrolling contingents, causing heavy losses.
The deployment of the armed might of the state is but one part of a multi-dimensional challenge the Maoists pose. Integrally linked to it are a series of deprivations in the rural domains, largely untouched by winds of change which have disproportionately benefitted India’s urbane segments.
There are too many marked or indeed remarkable divergences that can be flagged. While the privileged metropolitan centres of India possess the felicity of intra-city and inter-city connectivity and transport, the rural hinterlands of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are clearly not so empowered. While Mumbai possesses a globally admired Sea Link, and Delhi and parts of the NCR, a high-grade rapid transport system on tracks, innumerable cities of the red-belt states have but abominable public transport modules, if at all. If we take access to education and health facilities, the contrast is even more daunting with hardly any areas of convergence today or ever likely in the future. Clearly, such glaring inequity in public expenditure between under-resourced rural India and privileged urban constituent space is the result of a flawed decision-making.
India’s decision-making universe is Delhi, in ultimate reality, the colonially contexted Lutyen’s Delhi. The contradictions and pressures inherent in the process of taking decisions started from Nehruvian times. Major decisions, such as strategic choices between free market modes or socialist planning, post-Partition links with Commonwealth as well as how precisely to countenance a Chinese military ingress were not always rationally or systemically exercised. This was so despite the fact that the first elected Parliament was a Congress-centric one, and the government invariably stood sternly behind Pandit Nehru on all major issues. Political culture in New Delhi was thus internally of a kind that decision-making became a complicated art of the possible and any major decision from Delhi potentially had seamless or even timeless impact. In the absence of any strategic adviser in his proximity after the 1965 Indo-Pak war, Pandit Nehru’s successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, initiated the Tashkent Agreement without considering the pros and cons, with the result that the entailing stress and the weight of impact of that major choice led to his death in Tashkent itself.
Admittedly, the choices to be factored and made at a country-level, even with the luxury of national strategy advice system structured and functional, remain intricate and rather uncertain of impact. But, often with layers upon layers entering a process-driven system, entailing clearances from Cabinet and Parliamentary committees, the end result could often be a variant of the original version of a given advisory.
In working out a response to the Maoist challenge, India can take a leaf from China, a Marxist statal enterprise bereft of violent Maoists. Massive rural investment programmes under joint initiative of the Centre and the concerned states must be worked out and acted upon. The corporate can be roped in to create new communication alleys, which can be termed Peace Highways, an inclusive instrument of all people, including those who voluntarily return to the social mainstream. Peace Highways could eventually be linked to port facilities, majorly along India’s east coast, and Mumbai as well. Non-ambivalent decision structures at different levels and credible financial plans to meet operational deadlines are imperatives for this critical delivery.
Both the Centre and the concerned states must give up their ambivalence on combating the Maoist challenge. The entailing political processes binding the Centre and states need to be harmoniously envisaged and acted upon. Without bureaucratic delays, the people awaiting redressal for life-impacting issues should be provided basic security of life and access to education and livelihood means, so that they are free from the fear of being kidnapped or being influenced against their will.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own