Byline by M J Akbar: The gap between promise and delivery
It was such a relief to learn, from no less an authority than home secretary G.K. Pillai, that Maoists aim to overthrow the Indian state by 2050. That gives us four decades during which the plus-40 bourgeois can die in their beds; those blessed with first jobs in 2010 can retire in comfort, and hope for a ringside view of the revolution; and those below 20 can worry — unless, of course, they have joined the revolution.
Frankly, if by 2050 we have not managed to eliminate poverty, there won’t be much of an Indian state left to overthrow.
The Government has a shorter timeframe: it believes it can eliminate Naxalites from the 34 districts where they are still impregnable, within seven to eight years. Pillai is a fine officer and an excellent home secretary, but the solution to the Maoist threat does not lie in his domain. Whether the Naxalites fortresses increase from 34 to 100, or dwindle to zero, will depend on whether the Government can make impoverished India part of the narrative of rising India. This will not happen if Government functions on the static principle of “business as usual”.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called Maoists an existentialist threat. So far, his Government is treating it as a law and order matter. It is a hunger and oppression problem: life subsists at near-starvation levels in the catchment areas of Maoism; and public protest is suppressed brutally by the police, who treat the tribal poor as a contemptible species. This brutality is hidden behind a thin veneer of lies, which we — the whole establishment, whether politicians, civil servants, businesspersons or media — condone through our silence.
There seems to be a curious, and incomprehensible, edge of helplessness in the Prime Minister’s statements, as if he is unable to escape the trap of ‘business as usual’. He told Parliament, for instance, that the government had been a failure on sugar prices. To begin with, it is his government that he is talking about. Second, he is publicly and directly accusing a senior colleague, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, of mismanagement. So what happens? Nothing. Mea culpa is meaningless if those who are culpable are not held accountable. But of course, to apply this dictum to only Pawar would be subjective. Dr Singh admitted in Parliament that minorities [code word for Muslims] were under-represented in government jobs. Admission is fine, but this government has been in power for six years: what has it done to resolve the problem? The Prime Minister did try, which is why the Ranganath Mishra commission was constituted; but he has not found the will to implement its recommendations. The Marxists in Bengal have done so, incidentally. Our democracy’s parameters have shifted from promise to delivery.
The gap between promise and delivery could also affect the principal thrust of the Prime Minister’s second term, progress in relations with Pakistan. Certainly, Dr Singh means well, but good intentions are, alas, not good enough. BBC News — not an Indian propaganda vehicle — has just sent out a story from Islamabad which says: “Since 2009 militant activity has been on the increase in the Kashmir region…Initially militant groups in Kashmir appeared to be operating on their own — but there is evidence to suggest that they are once again under the protection of Pakistan’s intelligence establishment. Training camps are once again being set up on the Pakistani-controlled side of Kashmir. Recruitment is also up in Pakistan’s Punjab province, which has provided most of the shaheeds or ‘martyrs’ for the militants. In fact, so emboldened have the militants become, that one militant alliance, the United Jihad Council (UJC), held a public meeting for militants in Muzaffarabad in mid-January 2010. The meeting was chaired by, among others, former ISI chief Lt Gen Hamid Gul. It called for a reinvigorated jihad [holy war] until Kashmir was free of ‘Indian occupation’.”
The resurgence of militancy coincides with Dr Singh’s efforts to revive the peace process, which began through second-track channels and led to the joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Cairo. Islamabad, in other words, read Delhi’s goodwill as weakness. It also believes that India will buckle under pressure from two prongs: escalation of terrorism, and American pressure on India to settle on Kashmir. Pakistan’s foreign secretary Salman Bashir nodded discreetly towards the international community during his press conference in Delhi, even as he thanked Dr Singh personally and profusely for reopening talks.
Delhi has to get real if it hopes to fend off impending crises. India will survive the Maoist insurgency by ending poverty, and in no other way. This is only possible through good governance, which is impossible without accountability. And peace with Pakistan is a welcome hope, which we applaud; but it is risky to shake hands with anyone holding a gun.