Archive for May 2010
The more I think about it, the more I believe that the Naxalites were not responsible for the recent train derailment. It contradicts their modus operandi. They do not do terrorism. And they have denied responsibility. Even when they fuck up, they admit responsibility. For example, the destruction of a bus in Chhattisgarh which killed scores of civilians was caused by the CPI(Maoist). They admitted responsibility and apologised. They’re hardly angels, but this is not they way they operate. They’re far more tactically clever than this.
The railway minister is now claiming it was a ‘conspiracy’. Yes, Mamata has an agenda as the head of the Trinamool Congress. And her hands are hardly clean. But, something about this doesn’t smell right. Feel free to tell me I’m an idiot.
Reports are coming in that a train derailment in West Bengal that killed at least 15 people was caused by a Maoist bomb which destroyed the tracks. This seems to be a plausible possibility. The derailment happened in West Midnapore, an area which was briefly ‘liberated’ by the rebels late last year.
If this was in fact the Maoists, it represents a potentially disturbing turn towards terrorist tactics. The question is whether it was a deliberate attempt to derail a civilian passenger train. If it was, the Naxalites are not doing themselves any favours.
UPDATE: The death toll from yesterdays attack is now at 71 and continues to rise. While early reports suggested that the train was derailed as a result of a Maoist bomb, it now seems clear that it was the result of track sabotage.
While the Maoists are brutal, they have largely avoided the use of terrorist tactics. The recent attack against a civilian bus in Chhattisgarh, for example, targeted security forces. The civilians were ‘collateral damage’.
There is a strange idea circulating in India that while the Naxalites may have once been honourable and idealistically guided rebels, they have now became a nihilistic criminal gang. I’ve recently been reading documents and newspaper reports from the early days of the Naxalite movement in West Bengal during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The level of brutality inherent in their ‘strategy of annihilation’ as well as the thuggishness and terrorism of their lumpen street fighters in Calcutta suggests that this story is nothing more than a convenient myth.
The state was partially able to crush the early Maoist movement because their brutality had alienated the vast majority of the population. Today’s Naxalites have learned their lessons from the past. That is why actions such as this are surprising.
UPDATE 2: The CPI(Maoist) has denied involvement in the train derailment. I tend to believe them. The death toll has now surpassed 100.
UPDATE 3: The Indian Express is reporting that the People’s Committee Against Police Attrocities has claimed responsibility. If this is true, it raises questions of how autonomous the PCPA is from the CPI(Maoist). The links between the two groups have been taken as a given- are they nothing more than a front for the Naxalites? This is unclear.
Here are a couple of good articles on the economic consequences of the Maoist insurgency:
Shanthie Mariet D’Souza and Bibhu Prasad Routray provide a summary of the estimated income that the Naxalites bring in through ‘taxation’. The numbers (if correct) are startling and paint a picture of a wealthy insurgency capable of raising enough funds to procure significant quantities of armaments.
Robert Cutler (currently a fellow at Carleton University) analyses the effect that the insurgency may have on the future macro-economic prospects of India. This is an issue which (as far as I’m aware) has not been examined before. His argument is, basically, that while the insurgency has not directly affected the overall growth of the country, the fact that the insurgency is occuring in a mineral rich area of the country is indirectly preventing optimal growth rates.
Additionally he claims that if the insurgency continues, it will continue to have a destabilising effect on the country. This may be noticed by investors.
I’m not sure I agree with all of Robert Cutler’s arguments, but it is worth a read. I think I’ll get in touch with him.
Earlier this week the Naxalites blew up a commercial bus travelling in Dantewara, killing around 50 people. Traveling aboard the civilian carrier were around 20 so-called Special Police Officers (SPOs). These are local tribals empowered as temporary constables to combat the Maoists. While they are valued for their local knowledge, they have also been criticised for child soldiers, inadequate training and their use as little more than cannon fodder by the CRPF.
While the Maoists have engendered a great deal of )understandable) outrage from their killing of dozens of non-combatants, the use of civilian transport by paramilitary forces engaged in a counterinsurgency is negligent at best and criminal at worst. More to the point, it is indicative of the lax discipline and poor tactical planning on the part of the government.
A little over a day later the Maoists, this time in West Bengal, carried out another landmine attack that killed 4 CRPF personnel. Today, in Bihar (a state only moderately affected by the insurgency) derailed a train transporting fuel and then proceeded to torch the carriages.
The relentless attacks by the Maoists and myriad failures by state forces has revealed not only problem inherent in Green Hunt, but also the serious divisions in the government over how best to deal with the insurgency.
The government is undertaking a review of its policies with Chidambaram pushing for a greater mandate. He is echoing the demand made by some state ministers for the deployment of the IAF. From the Indian Express:
Chidambaram said he would ask the Cabinet Committee on Security for a “larger mandate” — an apparent reference to approval of air support for ground operations — for the Home Ministry in dealing with Naxalites. “The security forces, the Chief Ministers want it (air support). The Chief Ministers of (West) Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Orissa have all asked for air support,” Chidambaram said, speaking on the day Naxalites blew up a bus in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, killing at least 35 people, mostly civilians.
While the Home Minister has claimed that the IAF would be used for transportation and surveillance, rather than aerial bombardment, it is not at all clear why the currently deployed helicopters from the BSF’s air wing are inadequate for the task.
Use of the air force would engage the Indian armed forces in a battle which they are neither trained nor structured for. The armed forces have been prepared and equipped for conventional warfare between neighbouring states, not for precision attacks within their own borders. It is not at all surprising that the leadership of the IAF is opposed to such involvement.
Up until now, Green Hunt is a failure. It is premised on an uncertain blend of massive manpower and the funneling of development assistance to the affected states. The government’s response has been incompetent and inconsistent. The Maoists, on the other hand, have used the opportunities created by the presence of so many additional security forces to lethal effect.
Things have been relatively quiet since the April attack which killed 76 paramilitary members. Both sides were likely taking stock of the situation. Things are once again heating up. Here are a few of the latest developments:
Security forces have ambushed a party of Maoists in Orissa. While it is difficult to verify body counts (as the Naxalites remove their dead), the government is claiming to have killed at least a dozen rebels and suffered no casualties. The interesting thing is that the Greyhound forces, Andhra Pradesh’s much lauded anti-Naxalite force, has been involved. This suggests a level of cross-border collaboration which has been largely absent in the past.
The Maoists inflicted their first significant casualties since early April. An IED on one Chhattisgarh’s busiest highways killed 8 paramilitaries riding in an armoured vehicle. Apparently the explosive device had been planted months earlier once again demonstrating the discipline and patience of the rebels.
Continuing the field dominance approach of Operation Green Hunt, Delhi has promised to send even more paramilitary units to West Bengal this month. If anyone has current numbers on deployment in the Red Corridor, I’d be grateful if you could send them on to me.
Finally, the Maoists have threatened to kill Congress Party members in Jharkhand. Notably, neither BJP nor JMM politicians have been targeted.
everything looks like a nail. Earlier this week, India’s home ministry threatened to prosecute intellectuals and civil society groups who help ‘spread’ the Naxalites ideology. This rather draconian threat has been heavily criticised domestically and internationally. According to Human Rights Watch:
“The Indian government should think twice before trying to silence political discussion and demanding endorsement of its views on Maoist groups,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The recent views expressed by the Indian government against so-called sympathizers could be understood as carte blanche by local authorities to harass and arrest critics of Indian government policy.”
In order to help prevent the ‘spread’ of Maoist ideology, the home ministry has threatened to prosecute so-called violators under the 1967 Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. It is not at all clear what would entail ‘spreading’ Maoist ideology. The term is so nebulous and meaningless that it could apply to individuals and groups who provide no material support (or are not even sympathetic to) the Maoists, but are critical of the government’s actions.
The Director General of Police in Chhattisgarh has been considering whether to lay charges against Arundhati Roy for her piece in Outlook India. If history is any guide, it is very unlikely that Roy will be prosecuted for her work. Rather, the threat is better read as a green-light to security agencies operating in the Red Corridor to go after local journalists and NGOs.
The 2005 Chhattisgarh Special Security Act is a draconian law that has made it virtually illegal to meet with or write about the Maoists in that state. To date it has never been used against a foreign or Delhi-based individual. In fact, I was in Chhattisgarh in 2008 doing some research. In spite of having clearly violated provisions in the law, I was actively assisted by local politicians and security personnel. The law has been used to ban small NGOs and detain local journalists and activists such as Binyak Sen. The goal of the act is to provide a chilling effect on the local population as a means of allowing the government to behave with minimum scrutiny and accountability. This latest threat by the home ministry has the same purpose.
It is true that there is a segment of the urban intelligentsia that has been guilty of romanticising the Naxalite rebel. This is inevitable in a vibrant democracy. The irony is that there is a very real nexus between the Maoists elements of the political and business classes in the Red Corridor. This nexus is the result of shared material and political interests between the various groups. Threatening journalists and writers will do nothing to address the region’s real problems.
There’s an interesting article by Megha Baree on the Forbes website. She is the daughter of a Calcutta-based businessman who had to flee the city because of Naxalite violence during the late 1960s. It was a particular brutal time:
Every day he and his colleagues would meet at a different spot in the city and be escorted by the police, in a convoy, to the factory. One day a colleague who usually traveled with Avinash in his car, fed up with it all, called a taxi to go home early. The cab had barely exited the 10-acre factory compound when it was attacked, and he was knifed to death. “He had six children,” Avinash remembers. “I had to tell his wife. She never forgave me.” While they were at the funeral two men on motorcycles drove by and threw crude bombs filled with nails at them.
The Naxalites of 1968 were a very different breed than the Naxalites of the 21st century. It was a movement made up largely of students, intellectuals and the working class. In the heady days of 1968 the rebels thought, with the support of China, they could quickly overthrow the state through insurrection and the ‘annihlation of class enemies’. They were wrong. Their brutality engendered a backlash and a viscious state response that virtually decimated the party.
The survivors learned their lesson. Rather than dramatic urban action, they would slowly cultivate support and control in isolated rural areas. It is a much smarter strategy.
(Photo: Charu Mazumdar, the founder of the original Naxlite group, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninst) )
UPDATE: Mr. Mani’s plagarised article at openDemocracy has been pulled by their editorial team. I sent an email complaining late last week. The editors at the publication acted in a timely and professional manner. The surprising thing to me is that Mr. Mani thought he might be able to get away with it. I mean, really? The on-line world of those interested in Naxalism is pretty small. We mostly know each other. It’s not as if the piece was about Israel-Palestine.
In either case, thanks to those who brought this to my attention.
I just stumbled upon this piece from Opinion Asia by Rakesh Mani. Mr. Mani is, according to the site, a Bombay-based Teach for India Fellow. Somewhat unsurprisingly I couldn’t agree with him more. Perhaps this has something to do with the uncanny resemblance that his article has to a piece I wrote for Pragati‘s April issue.
The similarities are truly extraordinary. For example, Mr. Mani writes:
The fatal flaw of Operation Green Hunt and of the government’s general approach to the Naxalite issue is that they are rooted in the culture of brutal repression and top-down development. What makes the Naxalites attractive is that they can conjure up an alternate vision of the future. Their future fights the entire superstructure that has historically bred poverty, alienation and displacement in the tribal belt.
Contrast this with what I wrote back in March:
This is the fatal flaw of Green Hunt. It is rooted in the two approaches that have always coloured the state’s interaction with the adivasis: repression and top-down development. The Naxalites are able to articulate an alternative vision. Theirs represents a complete rejection of a framework that has done little more than breed poverty and alienation in the tribal heartland. The only way that the government can demonstrate the poverty of the Naxalite vision is by giving the adivasis a real stake in the governance of democratic India.
When I first read Mr. Mani’s post, I must admit that I was slightly annoyed and had even thought of sending a nasty little missive to Opinion Asia. Then, after some thought, I realised that I should feel happy rather than offended. After all, it isn’t often that you stumble on a thinker whose thoughts are so similar ones own that you could have even written their article for them!
So, Mr. Mani, I look forward to any of your future contributions to the debate on Naxalism. I should have a few more articles published this summer. Feel free to take a look.