By the standards of normal politics—indiscriminate criticism by the Opposition and reckless defence by one’s own party—Union home minister P. Chidambaram deserves a medal.
The main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has publicly supported him. This support was evident after the first attack on security forces in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh in early April. Support by the Opposition in Indian politics is qualified at the best of times. When it is given without any rider, one can safely say there is a crisis at hand for the country.
This is something of a role reversal. Chidambaram has been subjected to attacks by his own party men. These range from accusations of “intellectual arrogance” (Digvijay Singh) to “paranoia” (Jairam Ramesh) to ignoring the role of development in combating ultra-Left violence (Mani Shankar Aiyar). Much of the criticism is off the mark and betrays a lack of awareness about realities in the countryside.
Consider the “butter, not guns” argument against the current strategy of combating Maoists. The proponents of the course correction say that in the absence of development, citizens of tribal origin will continue to be alienated. This alienated section provides a steady source of recruits for the Maoists. If development is ushered into the more remote parts of India where such deprived citizens live, it will end the basis of support for Maoists.
No one in his right senses can argue with this logic. In the half century since independence, vast amounts of money have been spent on tribal “development” programmes. It’s another matter that this money never reached those whom it was meant for. In the list of governance disasters that befell India, this one ranks ahead of the statist socialist policies that hobbled economic growth.
Pious intent seldom makes good policy. Butter-not-guns, too, is a dead-end idea. If rudimentary amenities such as healthcare and schooling are to reach backward areas, that need basic infrastructure. Roads, electricity lines and buildings are required to move ahead. The aim of the Maoists is to prevent the creation of these assets. They know that once this happens, their support among tribals will evaporate.
So it is meaningless to say that development and counter-insurgency should go hand in hand. They can’t. The real test of the development idea will come when these areas are pacified. It will be interesting to see how many politicians then go to the tribals and promise development. Political score-settling has its logic and limitations. It should not gain primacy over national interest.
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