A classless enemy

Published: Saturday 15 March 2008

the Naxalite attack at Orissa's Nayagarh town is not a wake-up call for the state. It is a big slap on its face. The busy township, hardly 100 kilometres from the state capital, is not a usual target for Naxalites. It could not be dismissed as a stray incident as conveniently as the past attacks in remote districts of Koraput and Malkangir. Nor could the government so easily blame the spread of Naxal terror on numerous 'anti-development' groups, mostly fighting against land acquisition by industries and for settlement of forest rights, as is its habit. It even said that such anti-development groups had hampered tribal development. The government always claimed that the 'middle-class' was with it in its development agenda. The attack on Nayagarh is an anti-thesis of this. The town is primarily middle-class, with no sustained protests or pronounced grievances that could invite Naxals to mount such a high-profile attack.

So what does this attack signify? First, the Naxal terror has reached urban areas. Immediately after this attack, the first thing the government did was to increase police presence in nearby Jagatsinghpur district, which is primarily urban with a sizeable middle-class population. The Korean company, posco, proposes to build a steel plant there, and local people are fighting against land acquisition by the company. The government now says the protests could be due to Naxal presence in the area.

Second, the government has laid a trap for itself by constantly ignoring local grievances as development roadblocks. Both the tribal population and the middle-class urban population are now on the same side: fighting mindless development that threatens their land and other resources. Till sometime ago, the urban population blamed the Naxalites for backwardness of tribal districts. For the Naxalites were against the takeover of tribal land for setting up industries that could benefit the educated middle class. As industries now sprout in districts like Jagatsinghpur, the urban middle class also faces the government ruthlessness in land acquisition. The truth is both the classes oppose takeover of their land. Suddenly, government has become a greater common enemy. Naxalites have just exploited this situation to make mindless industrialization a classless enemy.

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