Pragmatic | Decisions without data

The lack of quantitative analysis of Maoist violence

If you are looking for answers to the extent of Maoist violence in the country this year, here is one input:

This year, naxal violence has been reported in areas under 270 police stations in 64 districts in eight states. There have been around 850 incidents (1,025 last year), resulting in around 300 deaths (473 last year).[HT]

This is a good data set, right? No, wrong. This data is rather sketchy to give you a realistic idea about the width and depth of the spread of Maoist extremism in India. There could be an odd incident in some of these 64 districts — which means Maoist extremism is not too deep there — whereas some other districts could have many more incidents of violence. Those are the areas where Maoist violence is deeply rooted.

But incidents of Maoist violence are also not a fair indicator of the problem at hand. For two reasons. One, violence occurs where there are two sides contesting each other’s dominance. If the two contesting sides agree to live amicably together — popularly known as ‘live and let live’ philosophy — then there would be no violence. High rate of violence may indicate that Maoists have not been able to subdue the population and the security forces are contesting the Maoists. Lack of violence in such cases will be a false indicator of peace and normalcy.

Two, in areas classified as suffering from Maoist extremism, it is often canny for the police to blame all criminal cases on the Maoists. While some criminals do operate under the guise of Maoists, the police wants to create an impression that if it were not for the Maoists, there would be no violence at all in the areas under its jurisdiction. This is a direct outcome of the way crime data is used in India to judge the efficiency and effectiveness of a police force.

The bottom-line: there is insufficient data available (at least publicly) about the Maoist violence in this country to arrive at any definitive conclusions about the threat Maoists pose to the state. In the absence of such data — and its rigorous analysis — we have to depend on anecdotal evidence, media reports and impressions gathered from personal interactions. This is also reflected in the absence of any serious data-based academic study of the Maoist insurgency by in India.

Going by the way governments in India are formulating policies to confront the Maoist challenge, it is highly unlikely that they are making informed decisions. We may not be able to predict the future but we can certainly learn from the past. Can we at least make a start by studying the Maoist problem methodically? Can we have some quantitative analysis of Maoist violence from previous years to judge the outcome of government policy? Or are we destined to continue with more of the same — shooting blindfolded and hoping to strike lucky? The darkness that envelops us is of our own making. Let us remove the blindfold — by seeking, collecting, collating and rigorously analysing the data on Maoist violence.