Writing in Forbes, Megha Bahree has a hard-hitting article about the dirty war in India, where Maoist guerrillas are facing off against the government. The upshot: The state has been seizing villagers' land on behalf of well-connected companies, allowing the rebels to sell themselves as the protectors of the peasantry.
In principle there ought to be an economic answer to the economic question of whether a steel mill is a better use of land than a farm. If the mill is so valuable, why can't its owner offer the peasants an irresistible sum to leave? But here the market takes a back seat behind politics and thuggery.
It's no mystery why things have gotten worse. "India's boom period has coincided with maximum dissent and dissatisfaction in rural India," says Ajai Sahni, executive director for the Institute for Conflict Management, a New Delhi think tank. Over the last decade the Indian government has been trying by legal and other means to lock up the land for public projects like power plants and, more recently, for private enterprises like Tata. (Under the Indian constitution nontribal people are prohibited from directly acquiring land in certain parts of the country, so the government must obtain it on their behalf and sell it to the companies.) That trend has put the state more and more in conflict with the Maoist rebels, and it has ratcheted up paramilitary operations against them. The government has also squared off more frequently against those who have farmed the land for centuries, using various legal entitlements–and, villagers often claim, resorting to fraud or force–to gain possession of the property. Other times the state simply seizes the land, labeling any resistance rebel-inspired. Hundreds of thousands of people have been dispossessed and displaced. Many now live in what could become permanent refugee camps, where they are prey to both sides of the proxy war and easy converts to radicalism.