India is divided in many ways: by caste, religion, language, and region. But recently it has become to look as though the most visible divide in the days ahead will be marked by the Maoists movement, which according to media reports, has spread to nearly 40% of the country’s geographical area and is a major political force in poor tribal states such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkand and Orissa.
Maoistâ€™s violence in India, never far from the surface, has taken on a sinister new aspect: the magnitude and the frequency of the Maoist attacks are growing.
Maoist rebels or “Naxalitesâ€� killed an estimated 55 people in an attack on a police camp in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh on March 15th. And history of the past decades or so makes it difficult to be optimistic that there will be swift resolution of the Maoists problems that erupted in 1967 in Naxalbari, a town in West Bengal in India.
The insurgency is gaining momentum to the dismay of the India, who is riding on the high waters of the economy, and analysts say, the Indian government is concerned over the possible spillover of Maoist problem in contagious states like UP, Bihar, Uttaranchal and Assam.
In practice, the 40-year-old insurgency is thought to have a presence in as many as half of India’s 28 states and to make the matter worse, the movement also benefits some support in rural villages, making curbing its activities difficult for the Indian government.
So far Maoists has been gaining upper hands in India and this is a recognized fact. In many of their rural strong holds, the Naxalites are acting as the state ? a government within the government.Meanwhile, analysts say, it is especially alarming for the Indian government to curb the Maoists in time as the effect is spreading geographically as well as socially.
â€œNaxalites control 92,000 square kilometers of the country, and the “red corridor” runs along some of India’s poorest parts and through areas inhabited mainly by tribal peoples,â€� according to the media sources. Considering this, analysts have suggested that the army should take over security in some of the Maoists affected regions before it spills over other regions. That might make military sense. But there is a political snag.
The government believes that the heart of the Naxalites problem lies in many of the same issues -poverty, lack of employment and poor public services. But experts say the Maoist insurgency is not just a law-and-order issue: it also has implications for the energy and minerals sectors, as the insurgency brings into the limelight, the dilemmas inherent in the central government’s move to shelter the rural poor under the umbrella of economic development.
And moreover, who could forget the East verses the West hostilities. There is no doubt that the east has trailed behind the west for decades. Its problems stem from its natural wealth: since it was rich in iron and coal, the government set up heavy, state owned industries there.
The West, with its lighter industries, became the home of private enterprise. Despite subsidies, the state sector stagnated. These days the west is richer and more literate, and has more roads, electricity, telephones and almost anything that can be taken as an indicator of development.
Experts argue that the liberalization is sharpening this divide. They say, â€œNow that most government controls on private sector investment has gone, businessmen can choose where to put their factories; they generally choose to go where they can find roads, electricity and markets.â€� And I think they are right.
The key fact is this: The West therefore is benefiting from the current revival of manufacturing. And since the government is cutting its subsidies to public- sector industry and its assistance to the poor states, the east looks like falling further behind.
Meanwhile, no doubt, the vicinities in which the Naxalites operate are in dire need of economic development and rural elevation, but past experience has exemplified that sound investment in infrastructure requires care to avoid the perception that is just perpetuating the very exploitation it is intended to address.
â€œVillagers are often suspicious, not without reason, that new projects will not provide as many local jobs as promised or are simply an excuse for rapacious developers to seize land from farmers without adequate compensation,â€� as reported by the Economist.
What is most disturbing is the government’s handling of the Naxalite rebellion which has implications for India’s energy security. â€œThe rebellion is strongest in states that have reserves of the natural resources, especially coal, that are required to fuel India’s industrial boom,â€� according to the media reports.
â€œ Indiaâ€™s electricity generation is predominantly coal- based and the five states in which the movement is strongest account for 85% of India’s coal deposits,â€� as reported by the media. And this in itself is posing problems for India, who is competing with China to win the global economic race of the 21st century.
Nonetheless, regardless of these numerous facts, much can be done and solve the Naxalite problem, but is there the will? When it comes to consensus, prevention is a lot less costly than cure, and small investments in Naxalites understanding can buy a lot more security.
Economists say, if poverty aspects are not addressed in a timely way, the poor could undermine social stability, and extremists may find niches for social and political fragmentation in the country. But this is a paradox in itself because holding sway over a vast area of India are Naxalites, who see industrialization as an unwanted invasion. So what should India do?
Patience is certainly required. The Naxalites may not be heavily armed or sophisticated, but it has been known all along that they would be hard to find, let alone defeat, in Indiaâ€™s difficult terrain. India needs no deal with the Maoists with a sensible head, or most probably through the United Nations as successfully implemented by the Nepalese government.
But India is not willing to negotiate with the Maoists through the United Nation because India thinks, the problem created by the armed communist insurgents in India is an internal problem and India believes that it can be dealt with effectively by the government of India. Hence, in some ways, it is argued, these policies may have become self-defeating for India.
Nonetheless, a critical question at this juncture of time, however, is what action in India by the Indian government towards the Naxalites may mean for the rest of the world and especially Nepal, where the Maoists after a decade finally walked into the parliament on 15th January 2007.