Last week, the UPA Government took a strategic step in the fight against the spread of extremist (Maoist) violence when the Cabinet Committee on Security enunciated its "clear-dominate-hold" line in areas where the menace has reached serious proportions.
Reports on the new line say that the Centre "with the full and active cooperation of the States, would seek to flush out the Maoists from these areas, and then ensure the control of civil administration so as to prevent the possibility of the creation of any such atmosphere which leads to the regrouping of such elements".
In the context of Maoist violence , what precisely does "control of civil administration" mean because, simply put, it is this single item that probably forms the crux of the battle against extremist violence in this country - and elsewhere?
On the face of it, "control" would mean extension of the law-and-order regime, which is what average citizens of the Indian Republic would want their Government to enforce in every nook and corner of the land. Absence of such "control" would mean the negation of civil society, a regime in which extremism would automatically flourish.
However, even if law-and-order prevails, does the absence of economic and social development lead to extremists gaining the support of the populace in the affected areas - support which is critical to the success of those who fight the State by taking cover among the people themselves?
When the Prime Minister says that naxalism is "a socio-economic problem and not a law-and-order issue", this is precisely what he means, the inference being that the remedy lies not merely in "control of civil administration" but using it to promote economic and social development.
Clearly, the Maoists, in responding to the hardening of the official line, have thrown down the gauntlet by momentarily intensifying the violence against the civil administration. Whether this is to be expected or not is beside the point.
What is much more important is to fight successfully the social and economic battle in the areas affected by the Maoist menace, a campaign which is going to take at least a year if not more just to start making a lasting impact on the poverty-stricken citizens concerned - people who, on the one hand, are cowering in fear vis- -vis the extremists who will not hesitate to kill to get opponents out of the way and who, on the other hand, are tired of the corrupt "sarkar" which has become totally insensitive to meeting their basic needs.
Training to fight
There are reports on the Centre training people specially to fight the extremists in their lair, which is commendable. This is the law-and-order aspect of the problem, the gun answering the gun in the contest to impose the writ of the republic on every inch of its territory.
But this is just a quarter of the campaign. The remaining three-fourths has to be fought in the minds of the civil populace affected by the Maoist menace, which is a far more difficult campaign because it involves the drawing up of, and implementing effectively, development plans in remote areas of the country, the sole objective of which is to improve the quality of life of the people concerned.
The question suggests itself: Is there a need to set up a specially trained civil-service cadre to undertake such a job, comprising people who are full of idealism, socially committed and fearless in braving any odds to attain their objective in the remotest of areas?
Essentially, the Maoists are gun-toting, ideologically-geared opportunists. Clearly then, why give them the opportunity to operate at all?
RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY