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09 April, 2012

New tack in Maoist areas

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

More than 150 young people, including 40 women, all with good academic records, selected as Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellows, begin this week two months of training after which they will be deployed in 78 tribal districts worst affected by Maoist insurgency.

The fellows, aged between 22 and 30, include engineers, doctors, lawyers, computer personnel and journalists. They were picked from more than 8,500 applicants through a rigorous process in which their educational qualifications and performance in written tests, group discussions and personal interviews were taken into account.

Many of them are products of prestigious educational institutions and have opted out of well-paid jobs in the corporate sector to work for two years in backward areas, assisting district collectors in the implementation of welfare programmes. They will receive Rs 50,000 a month during training and Rs 65,000 a month thereafter.

The fellowship scheme, a brainchild of Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, has been drawn up in the belief that accelerated development of the areas will make it difficult for rebels to enlist the support of the poor villagers, most of them tribesmen. With insurgency reportedly on the decline following harsh police measures, the time is considered opportune for such an initiative.

Several groups swearing by the teachings of Mao Zedong have been active in India since the 1970s. The largest of them, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), formed in 2004 through the merger of three previous formations, is engaged in what it calls “people’s war”. In 2009, the government launched a coordinated anti-insurgency campaign, which is widely referred to as Operation Green Hunt, in five states along the Red Corridor.

The Home Ministry had reported in 2008 that 223 districts in 20 states were affected by the Maoist movement. Last year it brought down the number of affected districts to 182, although the number of affected states remained the same. Five of the 39 members of the CPI (Maoist) central committee were killed and 13 arrested during this period.

Among those killed were Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad and Molajula Koteswar Rao alias Kishenji.

Azad was killed while on his way to meet Swami Agnivesh, a social activist, who was trying to persuade the Maoists to talk to the government.

While the government also reported a drop in killings by the insurgents, they still retain the capacity to strike at targets. Blasts and attacks on security personnel reported from states as far apart as Maharashtra, Bihar and West Bengal in recent months are believed to be acts of reprisal for the killing of Azad and Kishenji.

A few weeks ago Maoists in Odisha (formerly Orissa) kidnapped an Italian tour operator and a legislator belonging to the ruling Biju Janata Dal. The state government, which has been in negotiations with them since then through intermediaries, last week expressed readiness to free some arrested persons to secure their release.

There are reports that Maoists have recently made inroads into the northeastern states. This is a cause for worry as the region has witnessed insurgency by local tribal groups for several decades. In the south, Maoists are also said to be trying to establish a base in the Kerala-Tamil Nadu-Karnataka tri-junction.

Jairam Ramesh attaches much importance to the fellowship scheme which represents the first attempt to induct professionals into government activity on a large scale. Each district coming under the scheme will get Rs 300 million for a special integrated action plan for road works, water supply, farm support, children’s welfare etc. The two fellows posted in the district are expected to coordinate and evaluate the implementation of schemes there.

The young people, imbued with ideals, have volunteered for service in the troubled interior, knowing they have to face violent elements. But they may have to be ready for rearguard action, too, since the bureaucracy does not take kindly to anything which may limit its freedom of action. Corrupt officials are sure to view them as obstacles in their way. It remains to be seen if the political leadership can ensure conditions in which the fellows can perform their functions well.

The government has to bring about a measure of clarity in its approach to the insurgency problem.  It may be unrealistic to expect it to forswear the use of force while threats from armed groups remain. But, then, it is equally unrealistic to expect a constructive effort like the fellowship scheme to succeed while Operation Green Hunt, which involves serious human rights violations, continues. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 9, 2012.

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