There is legitimate place in a democracy for the politics of development, even if political parties often exploit this to promote partisan ends. But to justify militancy as a form of protest against lack of development is clearly untenable. Some partners of West Bengal’s ruling Left Front have argued that the murderous politics of the Kamtapur Liberation Organization and the People’s War group of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) is the result of the lack of development initiatives by the government. It is true that large parts of the state have yet to taste the fruits of development. After 25 years at Writers’ Buildings and despite land reforms and the panchayati raj, the leftists have failed to reach even basic amenities like drinking water, healthcare and electricity to these areas. Their failures have created new inequalities and regional imbalances in development. If the PWG chose to create its bases in the tribal-dominated forest villages in Midnapur, it did so because of the inaccessibility of these areas and the poor people’s anger at the lack of development. The KLO also recruited its cadre mostly from the Rajbongshi tribe in north Bengal, who remain the poorest in the region.
Nobody can, therefore, object to the suggestion made by the agriculture minister and Forward Bloc leader, Mr Kamal Guha, that the government look at the development angle in tackling the KLO threat. Some leaders of the Communist Party of India and the Revolutionary Socialist Party have said much the same thing about the strategy to fight the PWG. But it is doubtful if Mr Guha’s suggestion for holding cabinet meetings in the districts to discuss development issues is the right approach. Similar moves in the early Seventies by the former chief minister, Mr Siddhartha Shankar Ray, made little difference to the state’s overall economic development. Besides, the suggestion runs counter to the idea of decentralization of planning and development through municipalities and panchayats. But these arguments risk clouding the government’s judgment regarding militant outfits. It was reassuring that the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, reiterated his government’s resolve to firmly put down the KLO revolt. No government worth its salt could agree to talk to militants at gunpoint. Although the KLO has targeted the Marxists as its main political enemy, its violent methods pose a far greater threat. It can threaten peace and stability in an important area on India’s borders with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, where Pakistani intelligence agencies are known to fund and promote disruptive elements. Mr Bhattacharjee must not allow his administrative priorities to be derailed by devious development politics.