The horrific attack on security forces by armed Maoist extremists in Chhattisgarh is yet another reminder that the government, both at the Centre and in the states, needs a more effective strategy to deal with what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has long dubbed India’s biggest national security threat. India’s major political parties must stop the blame game, must stop passing the buck and sit together and work out a joint strategy. A senior and experienced police officer like Mr K P S Gill has raised serious questions about the manner in which the state government was dealing with the situation on the ground. The questions he has raised must be addressed. It is clear, at one level, that the intensity of the battle has been heightened by increased desperation on the part of the Maoist groups precisely because the security forces have been on the offensive. But attacks like the one carried out this week can only demoralise an ill-equipped security force and inspire Maoist groups.
There is no doubt that Maoist extremism feeds predominantly on the disaffection and alienation of landless poor and tribal communities. It is concentrated in tribal homelands, which coincide with forests, water bodies and mineral wealth. That underground mineral wealth has not brought any prosperity or development to inhabitants above. Nor has forestry been beneficial for livelihood. Minerals and forests are state monopoly property, and the blame for this continued backwardness certainly lies with the state. Naxals thrive on such state failure. That said, the answer to the problems of a disaffected people cannot be the unleashing of violence against the security forces and government functionaries. No modern nation can condone such violence. Clearly, the government needs a political as well as an institutional response to meet this challenge. India needs better equipped and better organised security forces in dealing with both jihadi and Maoist extremism. The states with a better track record in dealing with such threats point to the direction in which the laggards must walk.
In the coming years, economic growth will come from stepped-up investment and infrastructure across the country. This will require exponential growth in steel, power, cement and metals, which in turn means an increase in coal, limestone, bauxite and iron ore mining. Most of this will be within or in proximity of Maoist activity. Many industrial groups are also planning pipelines or cable cars for the transport of ore, gas and such like. The security of these investments cannot be left to private armies. Nor can such mining and pipe-laying be done with old ways of complete abandon and disregard of tribal rights and welfare. An enlightened policy combining rehabilitation of the displaced, livelihood generation, increased and imposed corporate responsibility are all going to be part of the successful campaign against the Maoist violence. Governments must address the concerns of a disaffected people and ensure that they do not fall prey to the ideology and appeal of highly organised extremist and terrorist groups. The ideologies of such groups must be delegitimised if India has to survive as a liberal democracy.