By: Subrata K. Mitra
The gruesome sight of bodies of paramilitary troops stacked on the ground in front of a police station, killed by Maoists in a daylight attack in Chhattisgarh in eastern India, is a grim reminder of the violence that marks the campaign, now in full swing. The coincidence of the killing and announcement of the elections is not accidental.
Taking on the security forces is the most effective way for the Maoists to assert their local control. Such attacks are well-calculated — meant as much to loot weapons and assert their influence, as to show determination to enforce the poll boycott that the Maoists have already announced. In view of these violent threats, polling is spread out over nine phases, which is necessary for the deployment and movement of troops to protect polling. The presence of paramilitary forces is imperative not just for “disturbed areas” such as Kashmir or the Northeast, but for the country as a whole. Paradoxically, the world’s largest democracy can generate consent only under military protection.
The rise of law and order as a major election issue would probably give an edge to the electoral campaign of Narendra Modi, the star campaigner of the NDA, who has recently claimed that there have been no Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat during the past 10 years, in sharp contrast to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, states led by his main critics. But the hope that “Modi will fix it” is a dangerous delusion.
The Modi mantra that sums up governance in terms of seven core issues — “family-based value system”, agriculture and villages, women’s empowerment, protection of “jal, jungle aur jameen”, youth, democracy and knowledge — does not make any special mention of law and order, which could be a tactical move to hold critics of his leadership style at bay. The fact remains, however, that even in the event of an NDA victory in the forthcoming polls, law and order, as stipulated by the Constitution of India, will still remain the primary responsibility of the state government.
That is where the buck stops. When it comes to orderly rule, the Central government can prod or hinder, but the primary responsibility to combine order, welfare and identity that alone can deliver governance still remains with India’s federal states.
The Central government can neither take over policing (short of an Emergency) nor deploy the Indian army in anti-Naxalite operations, for the reluctance of the army high command to engage in civilian warfare is well-known. Incidents like the recent Maoist attack, where local police had failed to follow proper operational procedures, need to be controlled locally. Though the NDA is currently ahead of the UPA in opinion polls, the chances are that it might fall continued…