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The growing threat of Naxalism

The growing threat of Naxalism

Author: Ranjit Singh Ghuman
Publication: The Tribune
Date: February 3, 2008
URL: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2008/20080203/edit.htm#5

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while addressing the chief ministers' meeting on internal security in New Delhi on December 20, 2007, underlined that left-wing extremism (Naxalism) is the single biggest challenge to the Indian state. He emphasised that "we need to cripple the hold of the Naxalite forces with all the means at our command" and urged the chief ministers that precise and actionable intelligence was the key to fight the Naxals.

On the same day, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal pointed out that militancy and extremism were socio-economic problems and not merely law and order issues. Widespread poverty, inequality and unemployment are the socio-economic reasons for the emerging militancy in various regions of the country.

The answer to this challenge would thus be in removing the conditions that bred lawlessness and militancy. As such, the tendency to use the police as the only instrument to curb such emerging movements was fundamentally flawed.

On the same day, speaking at the 102nd annual session of the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Editor-in-Chief of The Tribune, Mr H.K. Dua, attributed the appalling state of affairs to the failure of politics, the bureaucracy and the judiciary. Elaborating his point, he said that "we have not been governed properly by politicians and bureaucrats."

The judiciary has ceased to become the last resort of the people. The benefits of economic growth have not trickled down. Unemployment, illiteracy and the caste system still remain the basic problems of the people.

Each of them has diagnosed the problem from a different perspective. The biggest question, however, remains that: is the emerging Naxalism an illness or a symptom of some deep-rooted illness? To me, it seems that it is a symptom and not an illness. If it is so, then curing symptoms will not treat the illness and that too with a wrong prescription.

The roots of illness lie in social, economic and political disparities and deprivations at the intra- and inter-personal and at the intra-and inter-regional levels. Poverty, unemployment, inequality and illiteracy are the root cause of the disparities and deprivation.

A recent report on "conditions of work and promotion of livelihood in the unorganised sector" by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector highlighted that the per capita daily earnings of 77 per cent workers in the unorganized sector is below Rs 12. Such a level of earnings is below the poverty line.

In view of the fact that nearly 91 per cent of the workforce in India is in the unorganised sector, it is something very serious. It is disappointing to note that in a developed state like Punjab the per capita daily income of nearly 68 per cent agricultural labourers is less than Rs 10.

The rural-urban socio-economic divide is another serious problem. Education and the health services are going beyond the reach of most of the rural households. In Punjab 40 per cent of the rural households and 31 per cent of the urban households cannot afford to pay the fee of liberal college education, not to talk of engineering, medical and other professional education.

Out of the 66 per cent rural population in Punjab the share of rural students in its universities is just 4 per cent. About 69 per cent rural households and 91 per cent agricultural labour households in Punjab do not have even a single member with a qualification up to matric.

According to the National Farmers' Commission, about 1.5 lakh farmers have committed suicide during the last about one and a half decade. According to the National Sample Survey Organisation, about 48.6 per cent farmer-households in India are under debt.

The proportion is as high as 82 per cent in Andhra, 74.5 per cent in Tamil Nadu, 65.4 per cent in Punjab, 64.4 per cent in Kerala and 61.6 per cent in Karnataka. The per household outstanding loans range from Rs 18,000 to Rs 41,576.

It is significant to note that nearly 62 per cent operational holdings in India are less than 2.5 acres. Another about 19 per cent are between 2.5 and 5 acres. Their economic viability is under a question mark.

Employment opportunities in agriculture are shrinking. A very high proportion of cultivators and agricultural labourers is disguisedly employed. According to a recent NSSO report, 40 per cent Indian farmers have expressed their desire to opt out of agriculture but there is no alternative for them.

Any failure of the state to address the issues of the common man would lend strength to Naxalites and extremists. And in the absence of any redressal and a social movement, it may take a serious turn.

It is in this context that "left-wing extremism" is not simple a law and problem. Its legitimacy is deep-rooted in the socio-economic problems of people. As such the solution does not simply lie in curbing Naxalism with an iron-hand.

The Indian state would have to address the deepening socio-economic problems of the people. In the absence of that it would tantamount to cure illness with a wrong prescription. The state would have to set its priorities right.n

The writer is a Professor of Economics, Punjabi University, Patiala

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