Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon, is free after being held hostage by Maoist for twelve days.
On the face of it, the Maoists didn't get a good bargain and the State Government of Chattisgarh has done well-no hardcore Maoist cadres were released.
It takes about three and a half hours to travel the 106-kilometre-long road from Jagdalpur to Sukma to reach Menon's house in Sukma. Two years ago, at about this time of the year, when we were crossing this Jagdalpur-Sukma stretch moving on to Chintalnar to report on the killing of the 76 CRPF jawans, we did it in roughly two hours. This crucial road that ends at Sukma-the staging point for police operations and developmental action into the Maoist-controlled areas -- was bad in portions then; now there only small patches that are motorable. The rains have washed away most of the metal top and in stretches, the road has been dug up. The next landmine blast on this stretch will reveal where the landmines have been planted exactly. But for now, no one appears to be unduly bothered.
The CRPF and the Chattisgarh Police try to patrol once in a while. "We can only hope neither of us is travelling this stretch when they decide to blow up one of the mines," was the candid confession from the commander of a local detachment of troops.
In a way, this single-lane highway epitomizes and embodies our fight against Maoist menace-few achievements connected by unending potholes. Since 2005, there have been several initiatives to bring about development in the Maoist-affected areas. The number of schemes is growing by the day, and the list is unending.
For instance, there is the Integrated Action Plan whereby individual collectors and superintendents of police of the districts have been given more financial powers, the idea being to empower the cutting edge and visible faces of administration to expedite minor development work that will have immediate effect on lives of people in the area. Then, of course, there are several schemes of the Planning Commission. There are schemes run and monitored by Union Home Ministry, mainly related to police modernization and security. Several other schemes are run by Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the Ministry of Rural Development, not to mention the mammoth Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGA).
And despite all these numerous schemes, Kurami Yoga of Majipara village-the place from where Menon was abducted on 21st April-said not a doctor or a teacher had ever visited the village. Memon's visit was for the first time that a collector was visiting the village.
Perhaps the first and the biggest hurdle-both for New Delhi and the various states -in countering the Maoists effectively is the inability to counter them at an ideological level. The basic question of whether the current Maoist movement is owing to failure of the State failed to achieve development in the areas, or is it a political movement against democratic framework of India in favour of dictatorship hasn't yet been comprehensively answered. Clearly, both perspectives-failure of the State or a political movement-will involve separate responses and remedies.
In his initial days as the Home Minister, P Chidambaram's efforts to put the Maoists in the latter category were met with loud protests from within his own party. States, on the other hand, have used the Maoist issue variedly. They as at times used it as a political tool, for electoral benefits, as is now evident in West Bengal and some other states. At other times, the Maoist menace is an effective tool to secure more funds from the Centre. Until not very long ago, some of the Maoist-affected States used money doled out by the Centre for police modernization to pay salaries! A district collector in Odisha adjoining a Maoist-affect area confessed that he was pushing hard and lobbying with the state government for his district to be declared as Maoist-affected. "It would automatically mean for funds for the district," he reasoned. As a compromise, and also perhaps to evade the politically dangerous task of categorising the Maoist movement, the Centre has evolved a two-pronged strategy to deal with the situation-development and police action.
The Maoists, on their part, are using this confusion to their benefit. On one hand, they use the development deficit to portray themselves as the messiah of the people. The ground situation, however, tells a different story. They blow up schools, telephone towers, torch railway stations, and slaughter villagers for allegedly working for the police. And they have found support from several influential urban elites for filling in this 'development deficit'.
On the other hand, the Maoists actively broker deals with political parties for safe-havens where they can rest and train undeterred and demand rights to collect levies in exchange of electoral support during elections. Perhaps this explains why Lalu Prasad Yadav is on record saying that he has never known a Maoist having killed or harmed an innocent person. This cosy relationship is not limited to the politicans. Big corporations and small-time businesses benefit, too. A certain industrial house has its pipelines carrying iron-ore slurry laid through the Maoist heartland. No damage was done to the project and it is believed that Maoists were paid protection money for the same-a charge that is now being probed by the Chattisgarh police. These pipelines were a wonder of sorts for they never targeted by the Maoist when all other structures including school buildings, Panchayat buildings were dynamited. Surprisingly, two tribals, including a school teacher who worked in the liberated areas of Jagurgunda, were arrested and put behind bars for colluding with the Maoists. Last heard, they were still in jail. The represenatives of the company allegedly involved were arrested after the media raised a stink but were released on bail almost immediately.
At Sukma, there are more tell-tale signs of this flourishing nexus between the Maoist and bunsiness . A man wearing a Versace shirt, Louis Vuitton shoes and carrying a Samsung Galaxy notebook, offered me his newly set-up air-conditioned guest house to stay-in. He made sure I saw the Versace label on his shirt. "It isn't safe to travel back, you know, and my guest house is empty anyway, it's free for you and your team." The guest-house is next to one of the many saw mills he owns. Through the day, the electric saws chop huge trunks down to small planks, ready for transportation. A local journalist, who assists a few publications from Sukma, recounted how this particular businessman and his men never have had any problems with the Maoists when bringing back felled trees from the forest, or when transporting them to Andhra Pradesh by road. About 30 kilometres towards Dornapal - the virtual line of control where writ the state ends and that of Maoist begin - we meet 50 year old Markam in the outsikrits of Kankerlanka. He and his family, like their fore fathers, collect forest produce for a living. Off-late the going hasn't been good. Both the Maoist and forest officials, he said were making life difficult. "For everything there is a law, but not one that makes our life easy," he said in local Gondi.
On my way back to Raipur, one think was clear, the Maoist problem, no matter how violent and menacing, does benefit as well, which is why a fast resolution to the problem is almost impossible