India Looks to Mega-Projects to Counter Maoists

By Masuma Parveen
150514-IN-modi-620.jpg Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh (left) and Gov. Balram Ji Das Tandon (center) welcome Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Jagdalpur Airport, May 9, 2015.
Prime Minister's Office

Indian analysts are responding cautiously to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s newly launched mega-projects that aim to bring jobs to the state of Chhattisgarh, which lies in the heart of a decades-old Maoist insurgency gripping much of eastern India.

“While it is true that poverty forced people to pick up guns for the Maoists, announcing big projects may not be the magic wand,” Tarun Kumar, operations chief of Bailadila Headway Organization for Rural Seva Samiti, a local NGO, told BenarNews.

“Whether the projects can create enough jobs to keep people away from extremist activities is yet to be seen,” he added.

No Indian prime minister had visited Chhattisgarh in nearly three decades, until Modi went there on Saturday to kick-off two projects valued at 240 billion rupees (U.S. $3.8 billion): a steel plant and construction of the second phase of the Rowghat-Jagdalpur railway line.

Modi gave speeches in Chhattisgarh in which he said that the central government was sincere about wanting to transform the impoverished region by creating jobs through massive investment, so that local people would not be lured into the Maoist ranks.

“You can ask anyone what he or she wants and the answer you will get is employment for his/her child,” Modi said.

Modi also sent a message to the Maoists, telling them that there was no future through violence. The plow – not a gun on the shoulder – was the way forward, he said, calling on the rebels to “sit together” with the government.

“If Chhattisgarh is freed from this problem, it has the potential to rise to the number one state in India. It can change the future of the youth here and the future of India,” he added.

While traveling a 16-km (10-mile) stretch of road between the towns of Geedam and Dantewada – an area vulnerable to rebel attacks – the prime minister refused to wear a bullet-proof vest. On the eve of his visit, Maoists had taken hundreds of villagers hostage in Sukma district, southeast of Dantewada, but the rebels released them the following night mostly unharmed, according to news reports.

Chhattisgarh is one of several Indian states grappling with the Maoist – or Naxalite – insurgency.

The Maoists say they are fighting to establish a classless society across India’s eastern flank.

Maoist guerrilla factions have been fighting the central government for the past three decades. In 2004, they merged into the Communist Party of India (Maoist), an outlawed group.

The Maoists say they are upholding the rights of poor farmers and landless laborers.

Land: central to the problem

Other observers were even more skeptical about Modi’s visit to Chhattisgarh.

"The announcement by Mr. Modi reminds me of the set of events that led to flare-up of violence between Maoists and state security forces (along with vigilantes) 10 years ago," said Debarshi Das, an expert on left-wing extremist politics and a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Guwahati.

"At the center of it was the encroachment of forest land, tribal land, by the government,” he told BenarNews, recalling events in the region around 2004-05.

During that time, Tata and Essar, the two conglomerates that had major investments there, were funding the formation of the Salwa Judum (hunt for purification) militia group, which was created to eliminate any resistance to land acquisition.

"The resulting conflict saw displacement of [hundreds of thousands] of tribal [people] and ordinary villagers, until the Supreme Court disbanded the militia in 2011,” he added.  

“As plan B, the government launched Operation Green Hunt in 2009-10, which, to an extent, succeeded in containing the Maoists. But that does not mean that forcible acquisition of land and forest wealth can now go un-resisted."

Ananya Chatterjee, a sociologist based in Kolkata, echoed this sentiment.

"Maoists are sure to make their protest noticed. There was a call for a general strike in Dantewada region on the day of the PM's visit, and it was successful. They kidnapped some 300-odd people and released them, barring one, who was killed later. The violence is not likely to cease soon."

Chatterjee added: "It's a people's protest. Maoists are only a part of it. It is unlikely that these mining and industrial initiatives will translate into meaningful democratic and economic gain. Hence it is unlikely that the resistance by the people will subside.”


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