On Tuesday, Maoists mowed down 75 members of a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) squad close to Tadmetla in Chhattisgarh. In the medley of voices and opinion after the slaughter, there was one, distinct, set of voices: underdevelopment is to be blamed for pushing central and east central India in the vortex of violence.

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint

One could not agree more that underdevelopment has an important role to play in pushing citizens in that part of the country on the path of violence, both as victims and as perpetrators. But that’s about the extent of agreement.

The “underdevelopment leads to violence" (ULV) view has impressive pedigree, going back all the way to Karl Marx, if not earlier. But in India, ULV has undergone curious mutations to the point of irrelevance.

From 1947 to about 2004, ULV 1.0 prevailed. The emphasis was on investing in tribal-dominated areas, building infrastructure there and providing very basic civic facilities. It was a laudable effort that largely came to naught. India’s capacity to implement these far-reaching changes was limited and an indifferent, and at times corrupt, officialdom rounded off the possibilities of meaningful action.

Come 2004, ULV 2.0 kicked in with a vengeance. The belief now is that one can simply buy one’s way into peace and out of guilt by spending huge amounts of money on social sector programmes. There are two core ideas in ULV 2.0: Inequalities spell doom for India and hence redistributing money, even if what every poor citizen gets is a pittance, will make a difference. The second idea is that of guilt: well-educated, urbane, middle-class “intellectuals" are consumed with guilt about inequalities in India. The important point is that this guilt has come about just at the time that India has seen 8%-plus economic growth.

Both ideas are ill-informed, if not wrong. Economic inequality is a feature of rapid economic growth in a country. The Nobel Prize winning economist Simon Kuznets highlighted this in the famous curve named after him. After decades of weak growth, inequality in the wake of accelerated growth since the mid-1990s was bound to happen. To push for equality in the face of rapid growth goes against economic experience anywhere save perhaps the failed communist states.

Today all that has been given up. Guilt is the operative theme for our leading intellectuals who are pushing for plain consumption at the cost of growth. This is unsustainable and will certainly not win over the Maoists. The 75 dead securitymen should tell us that Maoists will only get bold.

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