Intro: After a long any Prime Minister has visited Bastar. The visit of PM Narendra Modi to Naxal affected Dantewada on May 09 is be a red letter day for the people of Bastar.
Bastar, where silence speaks volumes, life begins with hunger, the indigenous people are cursed to keep the wolf from the door and demise lie in wait. In such chronic conditions, the visit of PM Narendra Modi to Dantewada, a district of Chhattisgarh, is a landmark for the region. In his visit, four major development projects have been announced for destitute region of south Chhattisgarh which has potential to change the narrative of development for the region.
Bastar, indeed, is rich in natural resources but poverty-stricken region. As a researcher scholar, I had a chance to visit the region more than one time. The picture was clearly calling for government to start some mega projects here to engage the local people with some employment opportunities. While the Bailadila iron ore plant, in Bacheli, is working but not good enough to provide jobs in massive numbers. After three decades of isolation, Bastar received attention and PM announced four mega projects for development of the region. One mega steel plant announced, for village Dilimili in Dantewada, will fulfil the need of jobs at local level. It will provide economic freedom to the vanvasis and curb the mass migration to the urban centres during the off season. The lack of irrigation facilities has increased the dependence on monsoon. In case of water crisis, migration to neighbouring states or to be part of so called revolutionary movement were the only options available to them. Dilimili steel plant is set to change this scenario. It will be a joint venture of the Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) and National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC).
Second project is the extension of the 140 Kms Rowghat-Jagdalpur railway lines. For this project a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is signed between Govt Of Chhattisgarh, NMDC, Indian Railway Construction Company Limited (IRCON), a government company incorporated by central government (Ministry of Railways) and SAIL. This will address another critical problem of Bastar that is road and rail communication. Obstacles created by Maoists will be a challenge in executing this project.
Two other MoUs are also signed for development projects. One is between Govt of Chhattisgarh and NMDC for Slurry pipeline and 2 million ton per annum (MTPA) Pellet plant at Nagarnar in Bastar District and second is between Govt. of Chhattisgarh and SAIL for setting up 1MTPA Pellet plant at Dalli-Rajhara, Balod District.
One thing is noteworthy about all these projects are- the plants will run by the government and not by the private sector. It is expected that these projects will create more than 10,000 direct and indirect job opportunities.
By the releasing a pamphlet, Maoists called for the boycott of the PM’s visit to Bastar, which is sign of frustration for the shrinking violent group. With their anti-development plank they want to keep exploit poverty of Vanvasis for the political objective. Few days back, in interviews, local people told me that, ‘Maoists want their issues to remain alive and therefore, we are unable to access the welfare schemes of governments’.
Underpinnings of the Visit
In this context, the PM visiting the region has multiple meanings. Firstly, by this visit PM Modi has given a message inclusive development to the Vanvasis. Secondly, this visit will break the political isolation of Bastar from Delhi. PM addressed a public rally in Dantewada and told that the land of Bastar has shown a way of life to the world. Thirdly, after the Jhiram Ghati incident, moral of the Maoists has been high. This visit is strong signal to the outfit on behalf of the State. Fourthly, this visit will open the door for other mining projects in Bastar division. Lastly, in the last month four Maoists attack had happened, killing 7 Special Task Force (STF) and one BSF personnel. This visit has certainly boost the morale of security forces.
The Road Ahead
If the state of Chhattisgarh decides to encash on this visit, the message and fruits of development should reach to the Vanvasis through education, health and skill development schems. Only the process of development can ensure the ending of violence. Big projects are necessary for development. Only development can bring change and prosperity in country. Maoists are putting a spoke in wheel. This visit can be a game changer in this direction and bring new hope for Bastar.
Ambikesh Kumar Tripathi (The writer is Research Scholar, Department of Political Science, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi)