Maoist attacks reveal difficulties in undertaking development works
On April 20 this year, Rajat Kumar, Collector of Bijapur, Chhattisgarh, was travelling through his district when an improvised explosive device, planted by cadres of Communist Party of India (Maoist), exploded under his convoy. While Mr. Kumar's vehicle avoided the explosion, three people including a zilla panchayat member and the BJP's district vice president were killed. A day later, Maoist guerrillas abducted Alex Menon, Collector of the adjoining district of Sukma and killed his security guards.
Seen in the context of last year's abduction of Malkangiri's Collector, R. Vineel Krishna, the recent attacks by Maoists on civil administration officials have revealed the difficulties in the State and Central government strategy of prioritising development works in Maoist-affected districts.
“It is a Catch-22 situation,” said Mr. Kumar, Collector of Bijapur, explaining that “the only way to ensure that projects are completed is to have high-ranking officers conduct regular inspections on the ground; yet precisely such visits make it easier for them to be captured as their travel plans are broadcast to ensure that villagers have the opportunity to communicate directly with the district Collector. Presumably, the Maoists take advantage of such information to plan their attacks.”
“We can make our trips more random…but if we travel 100 km to an interior village without prior notice, there may be no villagers around to present their complaints,” Mr. Kumar said.
More security a problem
Prior to Mr. Menon's abduction on Saturday, security officials said that civil administration officials were wary of travelling with too much security as they felt that the Maoists would target the troops themselves.
“It is a real dilemma,” said Mr. Vineel Krishna, when asked why Collectors didn't travel with more security, “Mr. Rajat Kumar was travelling with full security when his convoy was targeted. The police had laid out a road opening party.”
Mr. Krishna, who was abducted by the Maoists last year, said the recent attacks appeared to be part of a deliberate strategy to target the civil administration. “After the 1987 case [in which 11 officers were kidnapped in Andhra Pradesh] they had stopped targeting the civil administration. I was able to travel freely in Malkangiri, thinking they would not attack me. Now it will be hard to motivate officers to enter these areas,” Mr. Krishna said.
“The Maoists are clearly threatened by bright young officers like Vineel, Alex and Rajat,” said Union Minister for Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh. In 2010-2011, the Union government allocated Rs. 30 crore of discretionary funding for 78 insurgency-affected districts under a 2-year Integrated Action Plan. The current attacks, Mr. Ramesh said, pointed to the need to begin a political process to accompany a surge in development and security-related projects.
Counter-insurgency experts however, question if development really is a way to tackle the Maoist insurgency. Stressing that he is a supporter of expanding infrastructure for education, health and nutrition in principle, Ajai Sahni of the Institute of Conflict Management is unconvinced by the premise of the current anti-Maoist strategy. “We do not have the manpower for a clear, hold and build strategy,” said Mr. Sahni, referring to a policy of deploying troops to provide security cover for development workers.
Noting that “it takes far less time to blow up a school than build one,” Mr. Sahni said that the government was also unable to safeguard projects that had already been completed. One option, he said, could be to empower security forces to undertake certain kinds of development works while the special forces were used in high-impact intelligence lead operations aimed at the Maoist leadership.
The Maoists could not be reached for comment in this specific instance. In a pamphlet last year, the Maoists had maintained that officials like Mr. Krishna were abducted not because of their individual attributes, but because they were symbols of a State structure that the guerrillas were committed to overthrow.