On May 28, an attack by Taleban faction on mosque in Pakistan killed 80 people. On the same day one deliberate act of train derailment by Naxalites in India killed about the same number of people.
The two movements have different objective and have followed different paths and trajectories. Yet there is something similar about them.
– Both have originated in tribal areas. These areas neglected by the urban centered administration.
– Both movements had political blessings in their early years. In Pakistan, the blessing was far more obvious as the Taleban were used by CIA as a tool against Soviets. In India the blessing for Naxalites came from Communist Party of India which hoped one day Naxalites would be under their control.
– Both these movements have expanded their activities in urban areas after continuing their activities in tribal areas unchecked for decades.
– In both countries, there is a lack of formal security framework to deal with a serious internal threat. Pakistan has recently used its military to counter the threat, after years of failed attempts to address it using local police. India has so far used paramilitary forces which have not received adequate training or do not have adequate equipment.
– Both countries are former British colonies.
The last factor might surprise you. But that is the most interesting factor here. The perpetual tribal neglect, the most dominant driving factor behind both these movements has its roots in the faulty model of administration adopted from British raj. After conquering the biggest kingdoms in India by early 19th century, British rulers created an administration structure that was conducive to resource exploitation. With one stroke of ink, the acts like Indian Forest Act were passed. These acts transferred the ownership of forests to the British empire. It came in handy when Britain was engaged in wars. They could count on endless supply of wood for their boats and iron for their guns from the forests and mines in rural India.
It only got worse with railways and road construction. The land where tribal people resided for centuries was suddenly no more their property. Many people site the story of railway network construction as something positive the British did for India. What people rarely know is that the wooden slippers, the rails and the engines were imported from Britain at thrice the cost of what was available locally. Companies founded by many lords in Britain profited handsomely in this trade. All the money was raised by increased tax on Indians. At the end, millions of pounds were transferred to British monarch’s treasure as “fees” or “royalty” for this service.
But that unfair trade was one time thing. The worse was that the administration model remained in place. “Indian Civil Services” were created to carry out the administrative tasks for the empire. It completedly took away power from the hands of local people and centralized it in hands of officers far away. This far away person was least interested in tribal people’s welfare and had no clue what these people wanted or needed. Layers and layers of beauracracy were introduced and people lost control over their resoures, their laws, or in short, their own destiny. Corruption became rampant. The tribal person could not cut one tree for their own use. But the forest department could cut hundreds.
British left in 1947, but the centralized administration model remained. The following governments showed least concern to address the root issues. Huge share of blame falls on the post-British political leadership for completely lacking innovation and for perpetuating the administration structure and last but not the least, for exploiting the problem for their own political gains.
The situation is not peculiar to the subcontinent. In several other parts of the world, the root cause of many local insurgent moments can be traced to the “urban governance of tribal affairs” problem.
Sixty years after Indian independence, we have a grim reminder. A grim reminder that this centralized model of administration does not work. And that the people must be given the power to control their own lives, no matter whether they live in cities or jungles.