It is part of Naxal strategy to show now and again that they can strike at will against the government forces despite official assertions to the contrary. Sunday’s devastating attack on a boat carrying an elite anti-Naxal force, killing at least 36 personnel, is an example of this. Firing from the hills surrounding a reservoir on the Orissa-Andhra border, the militants had the advantage both of geography and timing.
The kneejerk reaction, predictably, will be to crack down on Naxal-infested areas for a few days. Barring dire pronouncements that the Naxal menace is spreading from disaffected rural areas to urban centres, the home ministry that is responsible for internal security has done little to address the reasons why people are attracted in droves to these anti-State movements. It is simply because the state has abdicated its responsibility in vast swathes of territory, unable or unwilling to accept that it has failed in providing even basic amenities to people. It is nobody’s case that the state lets down its guard and focuses only on development work, but surely security measures will not hamper efforts to give people their rights like health and education.
Instead, the state has sought to wash its hands of the problem and arm villagers to take care of their own security needs. This has created another security challenge with some of these militia-like outfits becoming a law unto themselves.
The task of bringing development to remote areas where Naxalism has gained a foothold is easier said than done. For this, the state cannot impose development models from afar but needs to engage people in the process. This will yield dividends in more ways than one. It will take the sting out of people’s longstanding grievances that the Naxals have been able to cash in on and also encourage human intelligence that can benefit the state in its fight against the militants. It will be a long haul, but it is a challenge that the state cannot afford to falter over if it is to preserve the idea of India.