In yet another onslaught against Left Wing Extremism (LWE), the Modi government has extended air connectivity to the Naxal stronghold, Bastar in Chhattisgarh. This seems to be part of the government’s strategy of using development to alienate the Naxals. It has worked wonders for the government and the security forces till now and this might just be the final nail in the coffin as far as Naxal influence is concerned.
An Air Odisha plane passed through celebratory water canon salute in Jagdalpur, prime minister Modi waived a green flag in Bhilai in a gesture indicating the beginning of commercial flights linking Bastar under the UDAAN regional air connectivity scheme. The mood in what was once seen as a conflict-ridden region seems to be jubilant after this historic event.
The airport constructed at a cost of around Rs. 40 crores has reduced travel time between the state capital Raipur to Bastar to a mere 40 minutes from a 6 hour drive by road. Prime minister Modi reiterated, “For many years in India, all the talk about Bastar was about bombs, guns, pistols and violence. Today, the talk about Bastar is linked to the airport in Jagdalpur.” This shows how the Naxal hit district and Chhatisgarh itself are witnessing the rise of a new, bright era.
Rajat Kumar, Special Secretary (Civil Aviation), Chhattisgarh stated that the airport is critical to Bastar. He stated that this will help in shedding the image that it is “an island”. Bastar is now connected to the mainstream and no longer susceptible to Naxal influence anymore. He further stated that there will definitely be economic benefits with the aid of this airport. Tourism with all the opportunities that Bastar has to offer will get an impetus. Apart from this, the lives of locals in and around Bastar are also bound to improve with this historic event. This virtually opens up Bastar to the rest of the world and a sea of opportunities.
Three other airports- Bilaspur, Ambikapur and Raigarh- are going to be given similar services under the UDAAN scheme in Chhattisgarh. The government is looking to open the Bilaspur and Ambikapur airports within 45 days. However, Raigarh airport is going to take a little more time. The government has looked forward to keeping the prices subsidised in order to make air services affordable in the region. Out of 18 seats, nine have been be priced between Rs 1,600 and Rs 1,700. Thus, the services are going to benefit local businesses, service providers and other common citizens in a very big way.
For a long time, Bastar has been considered a conflict-ridden region and investors could not even think of investing in the region due to massive Naxal influence. However, with the opening of the Jagdalpur airport, investors will be able to infer that things are changing for the better in the Naxal-hit district. Once, they are satisfied that parts of the district are becoming normal, investment will also start flowing in.
Naxalism is already on the verge of extinction on account of ‘zero tolerance’ policy adopted by the government against Naxals. Apart from targeting top Naxal commanders and precise intelligence, the local governments as well as the Centre have sped up development process in Naxal-infested regions. There has been a conscious attempt to end the state of wilderness in the most severely affected Naxal-hit areas. Road construction, installation of mobile towers and setting up of police stations in isolated areas was earlier seen as breaking the back of Naxals in the affected regions. However, with the opening of airports right in the backyard of Naxals, it is clear that the Modi government is taking things onto just another level. Naxals are already shrinking in terms of area under their control and the government as well as the security forces are cornering them from all sides even where they are active. To the sorrow of many, Naxalism in India is bound to become a thing of the past.