Cart before the horse

Exactly two years ago, Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, in his Independence day address, had labeled Maoists as the gravest internal security threat faced by India. But it is only now, two years later, that the government is taking the threat seriously. In the recent session of Parliament, Home Minister P. Chidambaram admitted that the national security threat posed by the Maoists has been underestimated for the last few years. His ministry has also recently circulated a draft note for the union cabinet — 'Meeting developmental & security challenges in the extremist affected areas' — to key departments of the government.

While the armed response to the Maoist challenge has received much media attention, what has largely passed unnoticed is the attached "development" package: huge volumes of central assistance provided to the Maoist-affected states in the implicit belief that Maoism is essentially a socio-economic problem — not ordinary terrorism or insurgency — and can be defeated by improving the means of livelihood and winning the "hearts and minds" of the affected populace. There is no military solution to Maoism, so goes the conventional thinking.

Prima facie, it is an approach which is hard to fault. Maoism thrives on persecution — both real and perceived — and it is no surprise that it is rampant in some of India's most impoverished states. Indubitably, winning internal security battles requires a multi-faceted strategy which includes establishing the rule of law, development and rehabilitation of the reformed rebels.

Unfortunately, because it treats Maoism as qualitatively different from terror groups operating in Kashmir and the North East, this approach subtly de-emphasises the security angle; arguing, in essence, that security can be ensured by promising development. No doubt, people of Maoist-affected areas have genuine grievances against the Indian state, but Maoists, just like the terrorists in Kashmir or North East, have cynically exploited them for their own larger ideological goals: establishment of an internationalist "people's democracy" — euphemism for a one party communist state. The Maoists seek the dismemberment of the Indian state —at least its current structure — and it is naive to hope for reconciliation between them and the Indian state at this stage. It is fatal to look at Maoists as a few misguided youth fighting for the oppressed and poor; whereas in their approach towards their political opponents and the police — large numbers of whom have been mercilessly massacred — Maoists have shown themselves as ruthless and despotic outlaws. The nature of the beast does not change merely because the context is local and the idiom is communism, and not religion.

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