The focus of the Naxal strategy in India is now economic. They blasted high-tension power lines in Bastar on 31 May and 2 June, leading six districts to go without electricity for the next 11 days affecting mining operations and movement of ore from the Bailadilla mines. This is in line with the many attempts at disrupting electricity supply to various major projects including that of the National Mineral Development Corporation in Chattisgarh. The two day economic blockade on 26 and 27 June was also designed to contain the spread of prosperity in the region. This was followed by a ban on farming imposed in Bastar district. Policies such as Special Economic Zones which are seemingly taking away land from farmers are also being exploited by the Naxalite to advantage.
There were indications of Maoist likely to focus on economic targets given the upsurge in investment in the mineral rich states of Chattisgarh and Jharkhand. It is reported by government sources that Chattisgarh had succeeded in garnering Rs 1, 07,899 Crore of new investment. (Media Release by Chattisgarh Government in Hindustan Times 27 June). It is apparent that Maoists want to target this investment particularly in keeping with the local aspirations which will not be fully satiated given that the development is taking place only in terms of extraction of iron ore and other minerals.
The February Congress of the Maoists had very clearly identified economic targets as the main focus of the organization in the days ahead. This was evident when reports of involvement of Naxal over ground workers were noticed in rioting in West Bengal's SEZ agitation. The general mobilization of the group is now likely to intensify and it is understood to be making inroads into urban areas as well. The Naxals had tried to justify their opposition to SEZs terming the very concept of economic zone as a modern version of the old 'zamindari' system. The minutes of the meeting show the Maoists' plan to arm locals where SEZs are proposed. They have subsequently worked on it to transform their current 'guerrilla' units into 'mobile wings' which can strike in various parts of the country and then disappear. These units had, in fact, also looked for new recruits among debt-ridden farmers in Maharashtra and Punjab during the last three months.
According to the Maoists' list of targets, the projects, which the Naxals have identified on their hit-list, also include the bauxite mining project of the Jindals in Visakhapatnam, the Polavaram irrigation project, steel plants proposed by Tatas, Essar and Jindals in Chattisgarh, the Centre's proposed railway line in the Rajhara-Raighat-Jagdalpur sector, Posco's steel plants (under construction) in Orissa, power plants proposed by Reliance in Uttar Pradesh and the Kosi irrigation project in northern Bihar.
The successful conduct of the bandh on 26 and 27 June enabled the Maoists to prove their hold over economic activity structure in the mineral rich central Indian provinces of Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. This is just the beginning of a new strategy which will have larger ramifications, as it may strangulate a number of industries in the country dependent on coal and iron ore from the two states. The ineffectiveness of the state machinery is evident with lack of grass roots policing restricting the reach of the police. Major review of policing techniques and commitment of the khaki at the grass roots level will see some improvement in the situation else the national economy is likely to be held to ransom in the days ahead. Apart from counter Naxal operations, better management of land acquisition in SEZs to prevent exploitation of the issue by Maoists is essential.
The overall Naxal situation continues to be grim even as the government has succeeded in ensuring peaceful passage of the economic blockade. The key issue is the resolve of the Naxals to attack development with the India growth story making the headlines. Counter Naxal measures being undertaken at present through a revamp of the police and intelligence infrastructure in the states were long overdue. The reach of these is likely to be limited over the next few years till the organisation stabilizes and produces effective results. A sustained pressure to evolve and implement a coordinated strategy will attain success. Meanwhile the influx of IB officers in Chattisgarh including the governor indicates predominance of a policing approach as well as control by the Centre in the state which has a government under the opposition Bhartiya Janata Party. Simultaneously a development approach rather than purely policing measures would provide better response. A well balanced strategy to enhance the reach of the state in all respects from policing to development sustained over a period of 5 to 10 years alone will show results in the long run.