The interminable cycle of violence which has wracked the country over the past few months has raised many qualms. What is shocking is the depths of brutalization of society, evident in the plight of the hapless Adivasi girl in Guwahati, where a majority chose to seek voyeuristic pleasure by clicking their mobile phone cameras rather than rescue the poor women in extreme distress. The roots of this political and social violence can be traced to three basic trends. Two of these, steady macro economic growth and information and media revolution are positive factors ironically contributing to societal conflict, while failed governance is a negative yet most dominant feature.
A sound 8 percent plus economic growth over the past few years and a stock exchange touching dizzying heights has been the bench mark of the India rising story touted in many political and economic forums in the country and abroad. The stark reality of the Human Development Report 2007 of the UNDP highlights the imbalance in growth. Year and year India has slid two places to 128 in a ranking which includes 177 countries, ironically maintaining the same position it did at the turn of the century in 2000. So much for the India growth story.
What is more alarming is the large block of population which continues to live below the poverty line, 320 million at 28 percent with three fourths of this in rural areas. The wide growth divide resulting from differential in rural and urban or industry and service sector and agricultural growth has created a large mass of disempowered people most of whom are living in a swathe of territory extending from UP to Assam on one side and towards Telengana in the south. This area is also geographically congruent with that impacted by naxalism, tribalism, ethnic or state nationalism.
On the other hand the demand on resources both in terms of minerals and territory has led to denial of people in this region their basic equity, land or forests from which they could eke out their daily existence. They are ideal targets for Naxals and other extremists who promise them utopia through the barrel of the gun.
The information and media revolution on the other hand has created another large slab whose awareness of advantages that differential of status in society can provide has risen over the past few years. Thus the Gujjars, adivasis, Rajbanghsis and other marginalized janjatis see in the SC, ST quota an opportunity to rise from their destitution within a generation. Their dreams have been aroused as much by the ambitions of their political leaders as the accelerated growth they see in their better endowed neighbors. No state has the capacity to meet aspirations of such a large mass of people, thus recourse to agitation remains their only path.
This trajectory of largely positive ambition has also seen greater urbanization, movement of large numbers away from social security provided by their community into the jungle of towns and cities, where identities are anonymous and personal gratification is prioritized over survival needs of fellow citizens. Thus the death of over 100 people crushed in Blueline buses in the national capital has hardly moved the government or the citizens into action, while the plight of a poor adivasi woman only arouses animal instincts of her male fellow beings.
Such conditions can be controlled provided the state entrusted with the onerous task of proactively securing lives and livelihood of citizens enforces its writ with equity and resoluteness. In India the state and particularly the local administration has retreated into bureaucratic isolation. Thus district authorities permit rallies without assessing the impact on law and order and undertaking adequate precautionary measures. Many administrators at the district and state level can be compared to Nero watching Guwahati or Nandigram burn on their television screens. In Naxal hit states there is a problem of finding district magistrates and police inspectors to serve in areas as Giridih in Jharkhand or Bastar in Chattisgarh. The vacuum created by the state has been filled by Maoists or cadres of political parties who collect taxes, seemingly maintain order and dispense justice without having to cater for the primary needs of health care or education of the population.
Given the lack of resolve in the political class to set things right and limited reach of civil society into rural areas social conflict in many hues will be the greatest challenge to India's growth in the years ahead. One shudders to imagine that our ranking in the HDI in 2015 may well remain the same today, 128. Ironically the solution is simple to ideate, effective governance reaching the grass roots but given the apathy of the state has become difficult to implement.