In the first week of this month, Maoists attacked a Central Reserve Police Force contingent in southern Chhattisgarh and killed 14 troopers. The response to this attack from the political class was along predictable lines: Home minister Rajnath Singh called the attack an “act of cowardice”, and announced compensation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that the attack was “brutal” and “inhuman”, and conducted by “anti-national elements”. Mr Singh’s deputy Kiren Rijju added that the central government was working on an “effective strategy to counter terror”.
According to an exclusive report published in Hindustan Times on the new plan, the government along with pushing in security forces into the dense jungles of Chhattisgarh to flush out the Red Army from its trenches is also making a bid to win the hearts and minds of tribal communities, who hold the key if the State has to win back some lost ground in the Maoist-affected regions.
The Centre’s grand plan includes several sops to the tribals, who have been a collateral damage in this long-drawn fight between the government and the Maoists.
It plans to give due recognition to tribal icons and leaders by celebrating their anniversaries and naming airports and buildings or roads after them, better distribution of pattas or rights of their homes under the Forest Rights Act and minimum support price for minor forest produce and making tendu patta a good source of income for locals.
The State will also highlight atrocities committed by Maoists and destruction of development infrastructure by them. While these steps are commendable, they are not new.
The UPA also tried a mix of security and development tactics to win this battle. In fact, over the years, there has been a tussle between the security versus development approach in tackling Maoists. While in the security circles, the preferred approach has been to clear-hold-build, many other experts (some even within the government) felt that the development-first approach is the way to go forward. This approach also has its own share of challenges because Maoists have more often than not destroyed schools, roads and hospitals.
For all those following the Centre’s (irrespective of who is in power) anti-Maoist policy over the years, this ‘new’ plan is old wine in a new bottle.
The Maoists could gain so much ground because of the absence of the State in these areas. And that ground cannot be retaken without giving real development: Along with naming airports and roads after tribal icons, the State must ensure that rights-based laws like the Forest Rights Act and the MGNREGA are implemented in letter and spirit in these poverty-stricken tribal areas.