Archive for June 2009
For once, the Naxalites have been garnering the media attention which they deserve. Both the Indian and the international media (in particular the BBC) have had extensive coverage of the Maoist takeover of Lalgarh in West Bengal. This is largely a consequence of the significance of this weeks brazen show of strength by the rebels. Within a matter of days, the Naxalites were able to completely seize control of a large district in one of India’s most populous and important states.
Not that it wasn’t predicted. As I wrote back in April, the Maoists have successfully been exploiting the seething resentments against West Bengal’s communist government and have steadily been increasing their influence in the state.
While it seems that the state security forces, primarily composed of the CRPF, have re-taken much of the self-declared ‘Liberated Zone’ , the story is far from over. The Naxalites have demonstrated their power and their ability to out-think and out-fight the state. In spite of all of the warnings that the Maoists were moving to support adivasi unrest in the state, the government did little. And once the governmen was forced to act, the Maoists proved that they could more than hold their own in direct confrontations with the paramilitary police. By all accounts, the CRPF has sustained more casualties than have the Naxalites.
And finally, perhaps most importantly, they have also demonstrated their tactical sophistication. The declaration of a liberated zone was a brazen act of defiance. But it was not reckless. The government has not encircled the insurgents. They will simply be able to melt back into the jungles of West Bengal and Orissa having made their point.
Banning the CPI (Maoist) simply revelealed the divisions within the various levels of the Indian state. While it’s still early days, the Maoists have just scored a major coup against the government. They are forcing the state to react to them. They are setting the rules.
Another big attack. 11 CRPF members were killed by a large IED.
This seems significant. The Indian army has unveiled plans to establish a local command structure in Chhattisgarh tasked with gathering intelligence on the Maoists and training the state police. The army claims that this does not constitute the beginning of active involvement by its forces in counter-insurgency operations:
This is the army’s first move to create a structured body to deal specifically with Naxalite activity. But army headquarters and the defence ministry do not equate this with a deployment of armed forces against the Maoist insurgency.
This is not the army’s first foray into the Maoist insurgency (they have responsibility for running Chhattisgarh’s counter-terrorism and jungle warfare centre), it is, however, the most direct. The army will now be permanently stationed in the war zone with an explicit anti-Naxalite mandate. It may be the beginning of increased army involvement in the fight or, more likely, be indicative of a smarter, more unified and flexible counter-insurgency approach being formed in Delhi.
In either case, I’m not at all sure that a militarisation of the conflict would be all bad. State police forces and many of the national para-police agencies have proven to be unprepared, ill-equipped and, at times, ill-disciplined. The Indian army is a widely respected and well-trained force. And, simply because the army is not fighting the insurgency, doesn’t mean that the conflict isn’t a virtual civil war.
I’d be curious what my reader’s views might be.
Heated rhetoric is nothing new in Nepalese politics. The deep divisions in the country and the extreme political polarisation has generated an all-or-nothing attitude amongst many participants. Nepal is still peering over a precipice. There has been some violence between cadre and activists of both the UCPN (Maoist) and the UML, resulting in a few deaths. Senior Maoists leaders are continuing to direct verbal salvos against both the new government and the so-called Indian expansionists.
The Maoist boycott of parliament continues and the always seething Terai has experienced a number of enforced Maoist bandhs.
There is, however hope that the rhetoric and the violence are tactically calculated bargaining strategies unleashed by the Maoists as a means to strengthen their hand in negotiations with the government. The fact that they are engaged in talks with the governing UML indicated that, perhaps, war is not inevitable. Hopefully recent events are only the latest example of Nepal’s no-holds barred politicking.
(Image: Reuters Shruti Shrestha)