On Jairam Ramesh’s views about the Maoist issue

Union Minister for Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh delivered the Sardar Patel Memorial Lecture today. The subject on which he spoke was interesting and pertinent to today’s times — From Tirupati to Pashupati: Some Reflections on the Maoist Issue. Here is the transcript of his lecture.

Jairam Ramesh is an erudite minister and his lecture does reflect his thinking on the subject. Thus it was very odd to see him base his analysis of the Maoist problem by studying the 60 districts, where the Integrated Action Plan (IAP) for Selected Tribal and Backward Districts is being implemented by the government. He fallaciously peddles the myth that these 60 districts are the 60 districts worst affected by Maoism in India. He perhaps forgets that the IAP was supposed to be a focused development plan for 33 or 34 Maoist affected districts but was expanded to include other backward districts, not affected by Maoism, under political pressure. In fact, 12 out of the 60 districts covered under the IAP even do not qualify for reimbursement of security related expenditure (SRE) by the central government. The SRE list has 83 districts which are worst affected by Maoist violence and the centre reimburses the state governments for the security expenditure incurred there. Read this blogpost (here) to understand how the list of 33 Maoist-affected districts was expanded to 60 districts to be covered under the IAP.

Any analysis based on erroneous facts is bound to lead to wrong conclusions. It would be no different in Mr Ramesh’s case but he avoids that by safely pushing the popularly accepted mantra that development work and security operations can go simultaneously in the Maoist-affected areas. His argument is simple: while the security operations have to be targeted at the Maoist leadership, the development work is meant to help out the tribals and the locals. But these things don’t work in such neat compartments in real life. What we have instead is the development work which ends up helping the Maoists by filling their coffers, while the security forces end up harassing the tribals and the locals.

Mr Ramesh himself gives an example of the 1 km Gurupriya bridge—that is crucial to fighting Naxalism in Malkangiri district in Orissa —  which the Maoists have prevented from being constructed for the last three decades. No amount of good intentions or developmental aid is going to solve that problem. The basic counterinsurgency doctrine of “Clear, Hold and Build” will need to be followed. First and foremost, an area needs to be cleared of the Maoists, then the security forces should be able to hold the cleared area before they move on to the build phase, where development work can start. Try doing it any other way and you will be placing the cart before the horse.

Notwithstanding the above, Mr Ramesh’s lecture is worthy of a read. It can be the starting point for a reasoned debate on the Maoist issue. That remains our best hope to rejuvenate, rather formulate, our action plan to tackle the Maoist problem. Else, we will continue to prescribe Sardar Patel’s mocking Gandhian solution for all intractable problems: soda dalo na.

Making fun of Gandhi’s preference for using baking soda in almost every drink, Sardar Patel would offer a solution to a difficult problem with the humourous remark– soda dalo na.[PIB]

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.