It now appears that the task of defeating Left-Wing extremism in the country has moved from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to the Ministry of Rural Development. An array of proposed developmental initiatives on behalf of the ministry now hog the limelight. Since his July 2011 elevation to the rank of a Cabinet minister in charge of the ministry, Jairam Ramesh has toured the Maoist-affected states, spoken to innumerable officials and people, held press briefings, addressed seminars and provided a ‘road map’ for defeating the Maoists. The home ministry, it appears, is only too happy to let the rural development minister have his fill. The country, however, is nowhere close to securing a victory over the extremists.
Top on the agenda of the rural development ministry is Saranda Action Plan comprising short-term as well as long-term measures for the development of Jharkhand’s Saranda forest area, liberated from the Maoists following a month-long operation in August this year. Maoists simply fled the area into the safety of Orissa and West Bengal. Eligible households among the 7,000 dwellings in this area will now receive Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards, housing and forest rights titles and youths would receive employment. Central projects like Indira Awas Yojana and National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) would be implemented with sincerity. Roads and bridges will connect remotest of hamlets with the main road network. Similar plans would be extended to West Bengal’s West Midnapore district and 59 other worst Maoist-affected districts in the country, block by clock.
Although security and development always formed the twin planks of the MHA’s anti-Maoist strategy, the latest initiatives of the rural development ministry marks a serious effort to recognise the tribal population as victims—“first of state apathy and discrimination and then of the Maoist agenda”. In a clear shift of priorities, the minister has announced that the “para-military and police action cannot and should not be the driving force. The driving force has necessarily to be development and addressing the daily concerns of the people”.
The key question, however, remains unanswered. How does the government develop areas it does not control? Although the proposed plan is to carry out development works with protection provided by the security forces, such a development model will always be fragile, subject to imminent disruptions by the extremists.
One does not have to travel very far from the rural development ministry’s headquarters in search for an example. One of the two IAS officers who now work as aides to Ramesh is R Vineel Krishna. In February 2011, Krishna, then district collector in the Maoist-infested Malkangiri district of Orissa, was abducted by the Maoists as he toured the interior areas pillion riding a motorbike. His reputation as a good administrator and his popularity among the local people served him well. Tribals rallied against the Maoists who set him free after nine days. Krishna, however, was shifted out of Malkangiri and went on to join Ramesh as private secretary. The abduction episode did play a role in the district losing the services of a committed officer. Incidents of this nature could turn the entire developmental initiative on its head.
Ramesh argues that there is no alternative to Centre-financed and executed projects, as the state efforts have been unsatisfactory and slow-paced. However, all that is Central may not be necessarily good and efficient. While the Saranda Action Plan may eventually be a success, given its limited purview, it is difficult to imagine that these forced doses of development would work in areas where Maoists are still active. Even if New Delhi is to succeed in implementing such programmes, it is not clear whether such isolated islands of success can be maintained amid a systemic and structural failure of governance all around.
The hype that the rural development ministry has generated over the past months can also be its undoing, making it almost obligatory on part of the Maoists to target its initiatives. In the early months of 2010, the MHA had initiated a much publicised Operation Green Hunt, seeking to neutralise the extremists through an ill-advised and badly-conceptualised nation-wide military manoeuvre. Over 70 battalions of forces were amassed. Within few months, however, the forces drawn from various para-military organisations and with little understanding of the task at hand, took several hits from the extremists. The operation now stands abandoned. One hopes that the rural development ministry does not take a similar beating.
Ramesh’s initiatives are honest efforts from a well-meaning man. However, all well-meaning efforts do not necessarily end up on the winning side.
This article appeared at http://expressbuzz.com/voices/you-can%E2%80%99t-develop-areas-you-dont-control/329594.html