It is as simple as mathematics, and a 66-year-old former engineer, part of the thought leadership of the Naxalite movement, put it that way this summer as he sat in police custody.
“Forests mean minerals, minerals mean money, money means guns, guns mean power,” Sushil Roy, the highest ranking Naxalite leader in custody, told his interrogators in Jharkhand. Roy is a member of the Politburo, the core body of the rebels and a contemporary of Naxal movement founders like Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal.
Independent India’s biggest battle over valuable resources is the driving force behind the sweeping influence of the Naxalite movement in India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a war cry this week, exhorting the country’s chief ministers to find newer, more ruthless ways to deal with India’s biggest internal security threat of left-wing extremism.
"Left-wing extremism is probably (the) single biggest security challenge to the Indian state. It continues to be so and we cannot rest in peace until we have eliminated this virus,” Singh told the chief ministers on Thursday.
"They are certainly targeting all aspects of economic activity. They are targeting vital economic infrastructure so as to cripple transport and logistic capabilities and also slow down any development activity,” he said. "We need to cripple the hold of Naxalite forces with all the means at our command."
Its sweep is staggering. As the Hindustan Times found in its nine-part investigation “India Besieged” this summer (July 2-10, URL: http://www.hindustantimes.com/Fullcoverage/FullCoverage.aspx?Special=Indiawounded ), one in six Indian citizens – about 180 million people, thrice the population of the United Kingdom – lives under the shadow of insurgency. Naxal groups have an influence in at least a fifth of India’s 600-plus districts, and are at the heart of this spiralling crisis. In large areas, the Indian state simply does not exist.
But even as he declared a new war on Naxals, the prime minister got the mathematics wrong. Poor development gave rise to the Naxal movement, he said. But India’s administrators are yet to acknowledge a far deeper crisis: insurgency has become a convenient alibi for misgovernance in India.
HT’s investigation showed that out of the Rs 5,858 crores dispatched to insurgency affected districts in India last year for development schemes – including those to build roads, schools, primary health centres -- more than Rs 2,700 crores were not spent at all.
From Jharkhand to Chhattisgarh to Orissa, those are also the regions where development will propel India’s next wave of economic growth. But as of now, they are not dragging down the economy, analysts say.
"The concentration of these movements is essentially in the poorest parts of the country. None of this is on the centrestage of the growth story, which is essentially urban – but that is part of the problem,” said Subir Gokarn, executive director and chief economist at the leading economic research and advisory company CRISIL.
"It is a reflection of the way opportunities are created, and the way they are accessed by people. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation,” Gokarn said.
"The Naxalite movement is not yet an impediment to development. Corporate entities are making compromises with Naxal forces. But it is sapping government resources in additional security,” said Ramesh Saran, an economist at the Ranchi University who has closely studied the Naxalite movement.
The Naxal-affected regions have forests, water resources, coal, iron-ore, bauxite, diamonds – all of which being exploited by large corporate czars, with no gains for the local villagers.
“If you superimpose the map of India’s forests, its minerals, its watersheds, and its poorest people, you will get a map of the spread of India’s Naxalite movement,” said Sunita Narain, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment. “The poorest people of India live on our richest lands.”
And as the economy booms, the battle over land has only intensified. Over the weekend, Narain was in Orissa’s Kalinganagar area, where tribal villagers have been furiously opposing efforts to buy their land to set up steel plants. Many were labelled Naxalite sympathizers.
"I don’t see any Naxalites here," Narain said in a telephone interview. "I only see poor villagers trying to protect their land."
Out there across a dozen-odd states, in that hinterland of discontent, the growing-at-nine-percent India is invisible for the millions of people who have not seen the face of a school teacher or doctor in a decade, if ever.
The prime minister wants to pump in more guns, more intelligence officials, more policemen and more money to choke off the Naxal movement. That sounds like déjà vu to many observers.
"This is not a law and order problem. It is simply a question of governance," said Saran in Ranchi. "They are trying the mid-1960s formula of crushing farmers that sparked the Naxal movement – or what they tried in Punjab, to crush it by force."
He added: "It is like a strong headache. You will pop an aspirin, push it side and pretend it is gone. But it is there. And it will return."