Battles against Maoist rebels in different parts of India have often been horribly sloppy. So the competence that the Odisha police displayed during an encounter with the rebels in Malkangiri last week was somewhat surprising. The success of the offensive may well be an object lesson for other states. It showed that precise and firm strategies are so much better than vague political rhetoric and administrative half-measures. The police action in Malkangiri followed a clear warning from Odisha’s police chief to the Maoists to ‘leave the state or face the consequences’. Obviously, a lot of hard work on intelligence-gathering and careful planning of the offensive ensured its success. True, victory in one battle is not the same thing as winning the war against the Maoists. The rebels, for whom it is a protracted war, will almost certainly try to strike back. But the battle in Malkangiri suggests that the State can meet the challenge only if its political resolve is supported by administrative competence. The poverty of the people living in the area is not the only reason why the rebels have long been based in Malkangiri. The forests in the region on Odisha’s border with Chhattisgarh have long remained too far for the administration in Bhubaneswar. Its fight against the Maoists will be easier if the government reaches out to the poor people living in the hills and forests in the area.
However, there is a more important dimension to Odisha’s battle against the Maoists. It is only recently that the state’s economic potential has begun to be exploited. Its rich mineral reserves have held out a new economic promise after the Centre opened up the mining sector for domestic and foreign entrepreneurs. The data on foreign direct investment recently released by the Reserve Bank of India present Odisha as the first choice among the states for foreign investors. The state’s share of FDI during 2012-13 was higher than that of all other states, including Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. But this is still a promise and its realization will depend on the state’s social and political stability. Its mineral riches may be the immediate attraction for most investors at the moment. But many other areas such as infrastructure and telecommunications hold out larger economic promises for Odisha. The fight against the Maoists is ultimately linked to bigger issues of the state’s economic and social future.