If anyone ever thought the internal threat to India’s security from Maoists wasn’t serious enough, the last week at Lalgarh, West Bengal, ought to have prompted some rethinking. It’s about time the Union government started some serious rethinking, too.
The Centre parades its national strategy to combat jihadi extremism, but so far it has demonstrated no such strategy against Maoism. As we’ve argued before, an every-state-for-itself approach leaves India weakened. This shows in Lalgarh: Where the Centre and other states have banned Maoists, West Bengal hasn’t. Little surprise then that Bengal attracts guerrilla fighters fleeing the law in other states.
What’s more, the poorly funded and poorly trained state police forces are seldom a match for ideologically motivated revolutionaries. Even now, at Lalgarh, it’s the presence of Central security forces that’s beginning to quell the violence.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
In the short term, these revolutionaries—who wreak havoc by challenging the very foundation of a state, its monopoly of force—have to be met by the same force. Having long given up democratic means to attain their ends, they aren’t the kind to be persuaded by reasoned debate or material incentives.
Yet, in the longer term, reforms hold the key. Maoist revolutionaries may be driven by a violent ultra-Leftist ideology, but their sympathizers in villages across the nation aren’t. Ordinary citizens turn to Maoists when the state not only abjures its responsibilities to provide ordinary services, but also affronts common dignities.
So, a woman who goes to the Chhattisgarh police station to report a rape, and is instead asked for sexual favours for filing the report, loses faith in the state. As do Jharkhand Adivasis, or tribals, who can’t get bureaucrats to fix their water problems —but are given relief when Maoists dig tube wells. The revolutionaries add fuel to the fire, goading small grievances and channelling them into their cause.
The counter-insurgency then becomes a reflection of all the reforms India desperately needs. Corrupt local administrations have to be brought to heel. Unless private jobs are created, villagers will remain dependent on the state’s largesse. Worse, they remain vulnerable to a bureaucrat’s wanton abuses of power.
True to form, India’s political class is now busy squabbling over Lalgarh’s political opportunities. Unless the government starts cracking down on revolutionaries and bringing much-needed reforms to the hinterland, the Maoists will draw even more sympathizers to their rallying cry of “class warfare”.
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