On structural and governance shortfalls in Central India
Nitin Pai opened the session by stating that successful counter-insurgency strategy has three distinct but overlapping stages: “Clear, Hold and Build”. The first involves military operations to clear territory of insurgents, the second calls for holding territory and protecting the population from insurgent attacks, and the third consolidates military successes by building functional institutions of state that in turn deliver effective governance.
While the security forces are equipped, trained and prepared to handle the Clear and Hold stages, they find themselves inadequate to take on the challenge of the third- the Build stage (more correctly, the Rebuild stage- after the destruction caused by the insurgents and collateral damage caused during counter-insurgency operations). By then, on the one hand, the local civil agencies would have atrophied and been left without substantive capacity to undertake development in a conflict-ravaged area. On the other, the media, public and political attention will move on to newer issues once the statistics of violence show a marked drop.
Mr Pai, speaking on structural and governance shortfalls, pointedly stated that there were more convergences than divergences in the previous day’s sessions, about what he believed in and what his fellow panelists spoke on. His view spanned three areas: how he viewed the Maoist issue, the fundamental errors made in addressing it, and what needed to be done.
He emphasised the problems and stated that the reason for the conflict was not merely limited to poverty, deprivation or lack of security – but essentially one of a governance deficit. People in many parts of India, especially towns and cities have a multi-dimensional engagement with the state. Their ability to access people running the government is easier – though often unsatisfactory. They thus have a more balanced perspective of the state. However, people in many other regions – like parts of Central India have limited interaction with the Indian state- usually through the police, forest guards and local officials. There is often rampant corruption and the public servants there have no sense of purpose in their job and duty. Maoists exploit this and convert the dissatisfaction and anger arising from unsatisfactory quotidian interactions with government officials into a rejection of and revolt against the Indian state.
He also saw it as necessary to distinguish between people who are angry because of the governance deficit and people who have an ideological agenda to violently overthrow the Indian state. There is also a difference between adherents and sympathisers of Communism and those who take up armed struggle. Policy and public discourse must recognise these differences and address each group accordingly.
Mr Pai then spoke about the fundamental errors in dealing with the issue in Central India. The first one is the attempt to make security forces deliver governance to people, because very often, they are the only ones with the capacity to do so. He cited the example of the BRO, where it is called upon to build roads in conflict areas. Such measures create and perpetuate a conflict economy, where everyone from the combatants to the ordinary citizens, develops an interest in keeping the conflict going. Another error he spoke of was the flawed economic reasoning by the government. It has tried to buy back weapons from militants, pay lumpsums on surrender and provide ex-militants with stipends. Such measures do not work because they can be easily manipulated both by militants and unscrupulous individuals.
Mr Pai then steered his case towards what needed to be done. Ideally a civil administration should take over once the security forces leave. But this transition from counter-insurgency to normalcy is not well thought out. Bringing back stability requires a process of governance that is decisively planned and executed.
It is necessary to create structures of governance while understanding that no existing organisation can do this task. Civil administrators are unlikely to want to work in post-insurgency areas. It is undesirable to let security forces deliver public services like law and order, water, roads, public transport, banking etc. It hence becomes necessary to create a new organisation with the capacity to handle the specific task of nursing a post-insurgency region back to health. Its purpose is to ensure the rights, privileges and guarantees given to the people of India. It must be created to deliver step-down care. For example, bank accounts, financial inclusion, roads, electricity, etc. must be delivered within a span of two years.
Such an organisation should ideally be comprised of civilian experts but be organised along military lines, and placed under the Home Ministry. It should, within a span of two years, be able to deliver governance and build transition into the post-conflict society. It should include all stakeholders, including the local politicians in the aim of facilitating a quick and smooth return to normalcy, without affecting development goals. Mr Pai stressed the example of medical personnel and their requirement to serve in rural areas.
In his concluding remarks, Mr Pai said that we have not learnt from our successes or failures and that there is still an urgent need to learn more about step-down care. Earlier this year, the Prime minister remarked, “Money does not grow on trees”. Similarly, Mr Pai argued that capacity too, does not grow on trees but is something that needs to be created. Such a set-up will not completely solve violent or non-violent conflicts- it would emphasise the fact that somewhere in between there exists a marginal person who would be less inclined to do anything off-track if the administrative set-up is supportive of his or her well being.
Extract from the Proceedings of the National Conference on “Central India: Towards conflict resolution”, Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Download the full proceedings.