Archive for February 2010
I’ve long argued that one of the strengths of the Naxalites has been their ability to associate themselves with the myriad struggles against injustice occurring across India. This has made them a decentralised, networked rebel movement. Failure in one part of the country does not necessarily translate into failure elsewhere.
Recently, I took flak for implying that the movement for a separate Telangana state would objectively benefit the Naxalites. At the risk of again inserting myself into an impassioned debate, there have been (unproven) claims that the Maoists have infiltrated the student protests at Osmania University.
While the claim may be little more than political propaganda by the Andhra government, I find it difficult to believe that there would be no Maoist involvement in the unrest. It is an area with an historically strong Naxalite base and the agitation has been blessed by the rebel leadership.
Infiltration would also fit into the Maoist playbook. Furthermore, I would go so far as saying that it would be tactically foolish for them to not get involved. I welcome any dissenting opinion.
Finally, there have long been rumours of a Maoist presence in the country’s large urban centres. This claim seems to have been lent some credence by Kobad Ghandy, the now imprisoned Maoist leader. Under interrogation, he has stated that the rebels have cadre in Delhi and a network of sympathisers among students and trade unionists in the city. How accurate this information is remains unclear.
I’ve spent far too much time blogging in the past few days and need to get back to my other work. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, so I had a lot of ground to cover.
According to the BBC:
More than 100 policemen fighting Maoist rebels in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand have died of malaria in the past two years, a police body says.
They also claim that malaria has claimed more lives than the Maoists.
A previous post made the point that one of the advantages that the Maoists have vis-a-vis the state is their capacity to wage a debordered insurgency inside federal India. What is less clear is how debordered the Naxalites are regionally.
There have long been rumours of collaboration between the Nepalese and Indian Maoists. However, since the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) ended their armed struggle and won a democratic election, a rift developed between the two parties.
Now that Nepal again seems to be on the brink and the Maoists are on the outside looking in, rumours of renewed contacts have re-emerged.
Prachanda, the Nepalese Maoist leader, has denied any link:
“During the 10 years that our party went underground and waged the People’s War, Prachanda met representatives from many communist parties in the world,” Shrestha said. “The meetings occurred due to the parties sharing the same interests and ideologies.
“However, after our party signed a peace agreement and returned to mainstream politics in 2006, there has been no link between us and any other underground party.”
If Nepal descends back into a war waged by even a minority of disgruntled Maoist factions, India would face an even more dangerous, debordered insurgency.
Much has been written about the Maoists’ daring strike on the Eastern Frontier Rifles camp in West Bengal. 24 paramilitary police were killed in the raid. The international press has provided extensive coverage. Examples can be found here and here.Not only does this again demonstrate the increasing attention that the global media is paying to the insurgency, but it also reflects the sheer audaciousness of the attack.
It was a calculated attack- a response to Operation Green Hunt. The tactics fell very much into the approach taken by Kishenji, one of the Maoists military leaders (see my previous post). As he stated in the inevitable post-attack press conference:
“We are calling it ‘Peace Hunt,’ ” he said, according to the Hindustan Times. “This is our reply to the anti-Naxalite operation the union government has launched.”
Kishenji once again, made a brilliant rhetorical point. In one action, he demonstrated to the government that it remains the Maoists who determine when and where they will fight. Every action against them will be met with greater response.
Is this, however, only smoke and mirrors? Undoubtedly, Kishenji is a brilliant PR man who would, in different circumstances, have had a great career in advertising. Is it possible that the rebels are terrified of Operation Green Hunt? It’s difficult to tell. Within days of the attack, Kishenji proposed a 72 day ceasefire with the government. While his proposal has descended into the farcical, it remains an open question of what this all means.
Did the attack and the subsequent call for a temporary truce suggest that the Maoists are weak and need time to regroup, much as they did during the abortive negotiations with the Andhra Pradesh government in 2004? Or, rather, is it a cynical strategy in which the Maoists will leverage their military strength in tandem with a push for increased popular support showing themselves as the more reasonable party?
It’s impossible to say, but it seems to me that it might be neither. The Naxalite leadership is tactically diverse and decentralised. It seems that there are now serious divisions between Kishenji, on the one hand, and others who are pushing for a more conciliatory stance:
While Kishanji — the military strategist responsible for brutal killings in Bengal — insists on a showdown with the state forces, another powerful section of the CPI (Maoist) central committee, led by Gopinathji alias Durga Hembram, wants talks at the earliest.
Internal debate seems to me a more plausible explanation for the schizophrenic lurch between the attack on the Eastern Frontier Rifles and the subsequent offer of a truce. And, if this is the case, a disunited Maoist Central Committee presents numerous opportunities for the government if they are clever enough to use them. Alas, this does not seem to be the case.
In light of the massacre of the 24 paramilitary policemen, the war in West Bengal seems to be taking a turn for the worse. While the war against the Naxalites has never been entirely ‘clean’, it has avoided the institutionalised excesses and state abuses that have happened in Kashmir. That may be beginning to change:
A policeman admitted that post-Shilda, they had unofficial instructions that if they caught a hardcore Maoist deep in a forest or a secluded spot, they should not take the trouble of bringing him back to the camp. “No one wants to talk about it, but the thinking now is not to have any mercy on those who commit such heinous crimes as killing innocent cops,” an officer said.
It seems that this ‘strategy’ has already claimed its first high-profile victim:
The president of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA), the Maoist-backed tribal resistance group based in Lalgarh, was killed last night in what police claimed was “retaliatory fire” after guerrillas attacked a CRPF camp here.
If this is, in fact, an unofficial policy in West Bank Bengal (heh), it is madness and completely contrary to the waging of any form of ‘smart’ counterinsurgency. It will cement the unity of the Maoist leadership, eliminate the incentive for the surrender of fighters and inevitably antagonise the local population.
Kishenji must be pleased with the results of Operation Peace Hunt.
UPDATE: There has been some debate about the giving Rao the honorific of ‘ji’. I’m sticking with Kishenji only because it is the convention. The Caluctta Telegraph has been notable in referring to him as Kishen. However, I have neither the reach nor the ambition of the Telegraph and will continue to stick with his most recognisable name.
Operation Green Hunt, India’s long-term, coordinated counter-insurgency push continues to face numerous challenges. The country’s federal structure has always made it extremely difficult to wage war against the Naxalites. While the state forces are bordered, the rebels are borderless. Military ‘success’ in one state has often simply meant a Naxalite withdrawal into another state. This has been most evident in the Warangal/Bastar region.
Once the heartland of the Maoists, the Andhra Pradesh government, through a combination of incentives and ‘smart’ force, reasserted state control in the region, virtually eradicating the Maoist presence. This was, however, largely accomplished because of a tactical retreat by the rebels. They simply crossed the border into neighbouring Chhattisgarh and have, in the years since, established the closest thing in Bastar to a ‘liberated zone’ that exists in the country.
One of the promises of Green Hunt was that the central government would spear head a coordinated, joint effort involving all of the states where the Maoists have a presence. In effect, the state would become as debordered as the Maoists, thereby eliminating a serious tactical disadvantage. This has not quite happened. Two states in particular, Jharkhand and Bihar, are proving to be a serious obstacle.
According to the Indian Express, the Jharkhand coalition government, led by the Mukti Morcha (a regional party rooted in the Jharkhand state-hood movement), has:
Opted out of several chief minister-level meetings to discuss the [Maoist] problem. And reports [state] that the government ended patrolling and left the Special Task Force, intended to take on Naxals, cooling its heels in its barracks.
This obstruction is allegedly connected to the Mukti Morcha’s links with the Maoists. The state is a hotbed of Naxalite activity and the ruling party has run a number of former rebels on its ticket. The Maoists are a powerful political force and there are allegations that the government and the ruling elites have a comfortable and mutually beneficial relationship with the rebels.
Jharkhand illustrates one of the more serious problems faced by the Indian state: elite/Maoist collusion. Prominent business and political leaders have often found it easier to work with the Maoists than against them. By paying ‘taxes’ to the rebels, business receives a level of security which the state is unable to provide. Politicians are able to tap into constituencies and gain votes from people in Maoist controlled areas and also gain support for oppositional campaigns against the government.
In West Bengal, for example, it has been alleged that the opposition Trinamool Congress has worked closely with the Maoists. Both want to topple the entrenched ruling Left Front government, so the argument goes. If this is true, it again presents a dilemma as the party is part of the ruling coalition in Delhi.
Is Operation Green Hunt doomed to failure? It’s too early to tell. What does seem clear is that as long as India is forced to fight a debordered insurgency with a bordered counter-insurgency, the odds are not good.
Now that the media has taken notice of the Maoist insurgency there have been a slew of features coming out from both the domestic and the international press. One of the things I love about India is its vibrant and extensive English language media. While the quality can be spotty, the fact that there are so many newspapers and magazines means that there’s always something interesting to read. And, now that urban India has noticed the war raging in its hinterlands, there are a hell of a lot of good journalists on the story.
Each month, I’ll provide a brief roundup of features which I think our worth reading.
Smita Gupta, writing for Outlook, makes a journey to Chhattisgarh where he spends time with the state elites in Raipur and visits Bastar to meet with the villagers who are caught in the midst of war. While the piece doesn’t provide many new insight into the war, it does bring into sharp relief the dilemmas and the suffering of the local tribal population who are caught between the state and the rebels. It also shows the collusion which exists between the Maoists and the governing elite.
The second feature is from India Today. Shafi Rahman visits the Maoist ‘liberated zones’ to report on the governance structures that the rebels have set up in areas which they control. Well worth a read as it provides a rare glimpse into the actual workings of the civil component of the ‘revolution’. The Maoists have been able to establish alternative systems of government partly through force, but also because of the vacuum which exists in the most backward parts of the country where historically the state has had a minimal presence. Rahman puts a human face to this reality.
I’ve just discovered Eric Randolph’s blog, Kikobar. Eric is a freelance journalist based in Delhi. He has quite a bit on the Naxalites and his thinking seems to mirror mine quite a bit. I’d highly recommend popping in.
(thanks to Shlok at Naxalite Rage for bringing Eric’s excellent blog to my attention)
This is entirely anecdotal and non-scientific, but, I’ve heard a number of people note that the India media payed more attention to the Maoist attack against the police in West Bengal than it did to the near simultaneous Pune German Bakery bombings. This is an interesting development. I’ve been arguing for a long time that the media has payed far more attention to so-called ‘Muslim’ terrorism than it has to Naxalite violence simply because the former affects the country’s elite. Maoist and police violence against the rural poor could be safely ignored. Have we reached a tipping point where urban India now feels threatened by the Maoists? Or am I reading too much into this.