Just how serious is the Naxalite threat?

The Indian home minister doesn’t understand the nature of the problem

Just how does Shivraj Patil justify his government’s underperformance over handling the Naxalite insurgency? Well, by understating the threat. Don’t look at 10 states and 180 districts that form the ‘red corridor’, he told parliament. For only 300 of the 14,000 police stations in the country are affected, and the Naxalites were responsible for a mere 700 incidents of violence, constituting a mere 1.1% of the total insurgency and terrorist related incidents in the country. “The Naxalite threat should not be exaggerated to create fear psychosis among people”, Mr Patil told the Rajya Sabha.

Let’s not even ask Mr Patil whether 14,000 police stations are enough to serve a billion people, and whether there are enough of them in the areas where Naxalites are holding sway. Let’s not ask how they arrived at the figure of “700” attacks. But to downplay a threat merely because it can be made too look small in numbers is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the risk it poses. For instance, Pakistan has only 0.3% of the world’s nuclear warheads, or only 0.02% of the total megatonnage. So is the risk from Pakistan exaggerated? It is not numbers and percentages, but a subjective assessment of what the numbers mean that determines how we should assess a threat.

For a start, 700 incidents are 700 too many. Second, as Shlok Vaidya describes it, the Naxalites’ strategy involves “hollowing out the state instead of offering an existential threat”. In other words, unlike terrorists, they control the rate of escalation of violence to ensure that it remains subliminal. The fact that Naxalites plan to overthrow the state over decades rather than overnight should not make the risk any less serious.

If Mr Patil had argued that countering Naxalites does not need the same kind of urgency as fighting terrorists, he would perhaps have a reasonable point. But downplaying a threat—and telling citizens they suffer from a fear psychosis—can only be interpreted as an attempt to unapologetically cover-up sheer incompetence.

The good citizens of India should have reason to worry about the confusion plaguing the top leadership of the UPA government: one the one hand Prime Minister Manmohan Singh describes Left-wing extremism as the most serious internal security threat, and on the other, his home minister declares that it should not be exaggerated lest it scare the people.

President Patil of Saudi Arabia

No Pratibha

Pratibha Patil appears to have forgotten that she is the head of state of the Indian republic, not the Saudi kingdom. For what else could she mean by calling for a girls only IIT to be set up in her former Lok Sabha constituency? Forget being apolitical, Mrs Patil is demonstrating both narrow-mindedness and insert-polite-synonym-for-stupidity. (link via Atanu Dey)

Narrow-minded because it plays to a particular mindset that sees women as protection through physical seclusion. And also pointless, because young women who can meet the IITs exacting admission requirements don’t really a need separate institution. It is tragic that the first woman to be elected head of state cannot stop condescending towards Indian women.

Shame on you Madam President!

Right said Sainath

The UPA reserves its unkindest cut for the Vidarbha farmer

It is not common to see this blog cite a P Sainath article in approving terms. He continues to cast the issue of agrarian suicides in divisive terms, but gets one thing right in this op-ed about the UPA government’s 60,000 crore loan waiver for small farmers.

One funny outcome of the budget is that the media are now talking about farmers. Of course, the ‘analysis’ of what is ‘pro-farmer’ comes from the elite. From CEOs, stockbrokers, business editors, corporate lobbyists and touts in three-piece suits…

For three years, while the misery and suicides mounted in Vidharbha, there was not even the admission that a loan waiver was possible. Indeed, it was shot down by those now taking out full page ads claiming credit for it. As they complain in Vidharbha, this is not about karza maafi. It is about seeking voter maafi (voters’ forgiveness) in election year. [The Hindu]

Now a little analysis tells you that the loan waiver does not provide relief to the farmers in greatest distress. But it does allow the Congress Party to go to anyone who does not do the little bit of analysis—including famous columnists (linkthanks Amit Varma)—and claim that it has done a great good job for the poor farmer.

So why is this the unkindest cut? Well, because now the middle class millions will really believe something is being done about those farmers, and people like P Sainath will get less of a sympathetic hearing, because—as the Congress Party says—aren’t we spending 1.5% of the GDP on bailing out distressed farmers?

Economic analysts have tended to focus on moral hazards, lurking fiscal deficits and the impact on the banking sector. Those are serious issues. Now it is not uncommon for politicians to bail out distressed constituents. What is unpardonable in the UPA’s case is that the loan waiver doesn’t bail out those it claims to bail out.