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An India pushed under the carpet hits back

By B Raman
April 07, 2010 11:43 IST
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Unless and until we have a two-pronged approach to the problem -- better counter-insurgency to put down violence, and better governance and administration to remove the exploitation of tribals -- blood will continue to flow in the jungles and roads of the tribal homelands, says B Raman

There are two Indias.

The dazzling India which we see every day on our television channels, in the spins of our political leaders, and in the writings of our so-called strategic analysts. This is the India which, according to them, is moving rapidly forward to take up its position as a world power, and which is courted by the other nations of the world.

But there is another India which we rarely see or write about. This is the India of grinding poverty -- a victim of social exploitation of the worst kind, where the inhabitants, mainly tribals, are treated like chattel and domestic animals by the upper caste political leaders, landlords and forest contractors.

We rarely see the India of negative images because it has been sought to be pushed under the carpet by the dazzling India, which feels embarrassed to admit to the world that such an India exists 63 years after independence.

It is this India that is kept pushed under the carpet, which has managed to struggle its way out from under the carpet and is hitting out with ferocity at all its perceived exploiters -- whether in the government or in society.

It is this India from under the carpet which is flocking to the banners of the Maoist ideologues and taking to arms against the government and its social exploiters. For it, the government is not of the people, by the people and for the people, but of the exploiters, by the exploiters and for the exploiters.

Unless we have the moral courage to admit this harsh reality we are going to see more and more incidents of utter savagery as we saw on April 6, 2010, in the Dantewada district of Chattisgarh where a group of Maoists -- estimated at between 300 and 1000 -- ambushed and butchered about 75 members of the Central Reserve Police Force, who had gone into the jungles for counter-insurgency operations.

This is not the first incident of butchery of the security forces in the history of our counter-insurgency operations. This will  not be the last unless and until we realise that counter-insurgency is not only about putting down violence against the State and society, but also about making a resort to violence unnecessary by addressing the problems and grievances of tribals.

It would be very easy to dismiss Maoist insurgency as the political manipulation  of illiterate or semi-literate tribals by Maoist ideologues from cities to achieve political power through the barrel of the gun. Yes, there is an element of cynical political  manipulation of the tribals by many city-bred Maoist ideologues.

But the claim of political manipulation alone cannot explain how hundreds and hundreds of tribals are flocking to the banners of the Maoists. Intense anger over the failures of successive governments to recognise and address their problems is driving them to heed the call of the ideologues to massacre their perceived class enemies.

Unless and until we have a two-pronged approach to the problem -- better counter-insurgency to put down violence, and better governance and administration to remove the exploitation of tribals by non-tribals and improve their quality of life -- blood will continue to flow in the jungles and roads of the tribal homelands in Central India.

Tribal India had always posed law and order problems. The tribal homelands in the North-East did so when Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were prime ministers. They put down the Chinese and Pakistani supported tribal insurgency in the North-East with a firm hand. At the same time, they interacted vigorously with the tribal people and addressed their problems in an attempt to wean them away from violence. Nehru started a special service called the Indian Frontier Administration Service and inducted the best officers from other services into it to improve governance in the tribal areas, not only in the North-East but also in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. They were always ready for a dialogue with the tribal leaders -- even with those who had taken to arms against the State.

They addressed poverty and social injustice not only in the tribal areas, but also in the rest of the country. Indira Gandhi used to start her day by mingling with the poor and exploited people outside her residence and listening to their tales of woe. Her shoulders were always available to the poor and exploited to rest their head on and cry.

After Rajiv Gandhi, we have had a succession of prime ministers without a human touch in governance and administration in the tribal areas. They tend to look upon the tribal revolt in Central India as purely a law and order problem, and not also as a problem with human dimensions.

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is rarely seen or heard. He hardly ever mingles with the poor and downtrodden in the tribal belt of Central India. He deals with the tribal belt of Central India in the same way as the Pakistani leaders deal with the tribals of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas -- as mainly a problem to be tackled by the security forces, as if the political class has no responsibility for leadership.

There is hardly a medium and long-term strategy --- with a judicious mix of the law and order and hearts and minds dimensions. All new ideas on counter-insurgency coming up are about how to make the security forces more effective. It is important for them to be effective. But it is equally -- if not more -- important for the political leadership to be seen by the tribals as caring and sensitive to their anger and bitterness towards their exploiters.

The time has come for the prime minister to take in his hands the responsibility for working out a comprehensive political, operational and human strategy for dealing with the problems of the tribal homelands in Central India.

If we continue to dither as we are doing now, Mao Zedong may have his last laugh in India.

The writer is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail:
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B Raman