Intro : In a historic visit to the Bastar Division in Chhattisgarh, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has effectively changed the dynamics of a conflict that was long believed to be heading towards a strategic stalemate.
The Prime Minister’s visit had a message for the people and also for those indulging in terrorist violence. To the former, the Prime Minister gave an assurance of a return to normalcy and a promise to be a part of the India growth story. It was a message filled with hope for peace, development and prosperity. To the terrorists, the message delivered was clear and unambiguous. The Government would not compromise with any group which continued to follow the path of violence and that the path of violence they were following was not winnable and could only lead to their destruction. But to them too, he offered an opportunity to shun violence and join the political mainstream. Coming from the Prime Minister himself, such a message carried great credibility of the Governments intent to accommodate all shades of opinion within the democratic process, so long as force was not used to exercise the same.
The significance of a huge public rally being held at Dantewada could not have been lost on any one, least of all to the terrorists and their supporters. Chhattisgarh has the highest incidents of violence in all the states affected by Left Wing Terrorism, and within Chhattisgarh, Dantewada district is very seriously impacted. For the Prime Minister to hold a public rally and also travel by road to meet the people, in an area which the Maoists believe to be their stronghold, would have done wonders for the morale of the local inhabitants and the state administration and spelt gloom in the ranks of the terrorists and their sympathisers. The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) called for a boycott of the Prime Minister’s visit, its spokesperson, Gudsa Usendi exhorting the locals to intensify the “armed” struggle against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led governments at the State and the Centre. The visit, the statement said, was merely to sign certain MoUs in a bid to sell the natural resources of the state to big corporate companies, and appealed to the people to demonstrate against the state and block traffic. But the call of the Maoists went unheeded. The visit could hence be viewed as a significant political initiative and a huge step forward in the restoration of normalcy, to not only the people of Chhattisgarh, but to all states affected by Left Wing Extremism in the country.
The visit is strong on political imagery as Modi is the first Prime Minister to visit the region after Rajiv Gandhi. In this visit, several development schemes, worth Rs 24,000 crore have been initiated for the violence-hit Bastar region, including an ultra mega steel plant to come up at village Dilmili in Dantewada, the second phase of the Rowghat-Jagdalpur railway line, a slurry pipeline and a pellet plant. The steel plant itself would create 10,000 new jobs, and the 140 km rail-link between Rowghat and Jagdalpur, would connect Bastar with the state’s capital Raipur and with other important cities of the state such as Bilaspur and Durg and would also help in the transportation of iron-ore.The Dilimili plant will be a joint venture of the Steel Authority of India and the National Mineral Development Corporation.
The Prime Minister repeatedly stressed the need for growth and spread of education to counter the lack of development in the region. Job creation, he stressed, would be an antidote to violence, as the youth would have improved and multiple job opportunities and a chance to better their lives and the future of their children. This was the first time that such a strong economic initiative has been spelled out for the deprived regions of the state and it would most certainly have a positive impact on the local people. On Naxalism, the Prime Minister, while addressing a mass rally at Dantewada, made it clear that “the macabre drama of death will end” and that “only plough on shoulders, not the gun can bring development”. The Prime Minister repeatedly stated that development was the only road that could solve the problems of the people and he would bring it to them. “If Chhattisgarh is freed from the scourge of terrorism”, he said, “it has the potential to rise to be the number one state in India, not only changing the future of the youth here, but the future of India too”.
While the Prime Minister’s visit heralds an important political step taken to restore normalcy, a lot needs to be done at the ground level, to translate the economic initiatives into a viable and sustainable development model. The state administration would have to deliver on the assurances given by the Prime Minister; otherwise, it would lose credibility. It must be remembered that at the heart of the Naxal movement, the battle is an ideological one and can only be won if the people are presented with an alternate ideology. That alternate must be the idea of Indian democracy, and for that to be accepted by the people, it must be seen to give the people the benefits they so ardently seek. An understanding of the ideological content of the Maoist movement as well as the social base of its core constituents must therefore be an essential first step if Left Wing Extremism is to eradicated form India. A lack of such understanding is perhaps a primary cause for its continuance, despite brave proclamations made periodically, by political leaders and defence and social analysts that LWE is declining.
The economic initiatives announced by the Prime Minister are spread in an area of about 10,000 sq km, which are affected by Maoist violence. The task of development would hence be challenging. Neutralising the foot soldiers of the Maoists and eliminating their leadership would be essential to progress the development effort. For this, the Central Armed Police Forces would require a much higher degree of training and leadership if they are to succeed in their task. It must however be remembered that defeating the armed wing of the terrorists, though an essential step to enable development initiatives to flourish, is but a palliative. Like a bad penny, the movement will spring up again, and will continue to do so till the ideological and social characteristics of the movement are understood and addressed.
Finally, though economic development is important, but much more is required to regain the trust and loyalty of the local population. The Government must be seen to be responsive and imbued with empathy for the local population. The police and forest officials must conduct themselves with greater sensitivity to the local population. Justice delivery mechanisms must also deliver and be seen to be effective. Only through a holistic approach can the path breaking trip of the Prime Minister lead to peace and development. The road is long and arduous but hope beckons. The Prime Minister has shown the way. It is for the State Government now to build and deliver on what has been promised.
Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch (The writer is the Director of Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi)