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I’ve run out of time to write properly and my interests have evolved from when I started this blog/
My interest in Naxalism hasn’t disappeared. I still consider the Maoist insurgency in India to be one of the seminal challenges of the 21st Century. My thinking and my ideas have, however, moved beyond Naxalwar. Started in 2008, nearly four years have passed. I’d like to thank all of the people who have read and commented on my work here. I’ve learned a lot from you and I appreciate the interest of those who haven’t contacted me. Thank you.
I’m off to Chhattisgarh and West Bengal next month. I may or may not start a blog with field comments. The form and content would be very different.
Until then, thank you and good night.
A recent story is making the rounds on twitter. From the Indian Express:
Survey blames Naxals for decline in forest cover
India’s overall forest cover has declined by 367 sq-kms in the past two years despite a few states actually expanding their forest areas. The net loss is mainly on account of Naxalites destroying close to 200 sq-km of forests in Andhra Pradesh, a government report said in Tuesday
I wanted to respond to the ‘survey’, but googling it only led me nearly identical articles in all of the other Indian English papers. For example, there was this in the Hindu.
My recent work has been looking at state expansion into adivasi areas and how this expansion has been structured around forest ‘protection’. Naturally, this piece caught my interest. On the surface, it seems like a psychological anti-Naxalite move on the part of the government (as it’s difficult to believe that the Maoists can be blamed for deforestation in any significant way). But, I can neither find the report nor do the various articles provide a link to the journalist who wrote the piece. Curious.
If any reader knows more, I’d be grateful to hear from them. Inquiring minds want to know. Please email me. firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll take a look at it and post my response this weekend.
I received an apt comment on this blog from Andrew Gibbons last December:
This site seems to have become India’s forgotten blog.
Andrew has a point. During the previous year and a half, I haven’t written anything of note on NaxalWar. Aside from laziness, I blame my academic work.
The blog has suffered because of the kind of writing I have to do. A PhD requires that I write things that are ‘publishable’ and the conventions of academia are formal. Blogging (at least when done well) is somewhere between formal writing and ranting. Finding this balance has become harder.
Two things have happened. First, the old aphorism that the more you know the more you realize that you don’t know has smacked me in the head. Much of what I have written on this blog I wouldn’t write now. The more I read about the Maoist affected areas, the less certain I am about my conclusions. The insurgeny is complex as hell and my thinking has become less certain.
Second, my work is now at the stage where I feel as I have little to say until I get into the field. I started this blog largely because I felt (and still feel) that most of what is written about the Maoists is shallow, superficial and unthinkingly ideological. What often passes for journalism, think tank ‘insights’ and academic work is, if I were being generous, crap. It’s often worse than crap, it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous because the ‘story’ which most journalists, academics and ‘experts’ tell leads to policies that are not only ineffectual and counter-productive, but are brutal and destructive.
Many people writing about the Naxalites don’t know what it is they’re talking about. The story of the insurgency is a human story with real human consequences. The work of ‘experts’ sitting in Delhi, Bombay or London often tell us more about their deadlines than they do about the conflict.
I’ve reached a point where I feel I have very little to say until I do my fieldwork. I’ve toyed with the idea of archiving this blog and starting a new one that I could use for my thoughts, musings and observations from the field. I dunno… I haven’t yet decided whether to shut NaxalWar down or turn it into something new.
Before I make a decision, however, there will be at least one more post. While sitting at a pub this afternoon– me. a pint and The Economist– I read an article about Indian energy needs, an article that is screaming for a response. And after that, who knows. Perhaps NaxalWar is merely moribund, perhaps it’s dead. I haven’t yet decided.
It’s a bit lazy, but here is some of my most recent thinking on Naxalism. It was published a few weeks back in a really solid up and coming policy mag World Politics Review. It’s behind a firewall, but they offer a trial subscription. Check it out:
On 24 December Dr. Binayak Sen,vice-president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Raipur Sessions’ Court for his violations of the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967. A full English translation of the judgement can be found here.
According to the Indian Express the court found Sen guilty of ‘helping’ the Naxalites and therefore guilty of sedition. The cited the following ‘evidence’:
Sen’s meetings with jailed Naxalite leader Narayan Sanyal; his attempt to pass on three letters written by Sanyal to unspecified people in Kolkata; and his helping some “hardcore Naxalites” to open bank accounts, get jobs and rented accommodation.Also cited as evidence is the recovery from Sen of newspaper clippings on the Naxal movement and a magazine with interviews of Naxal leaders Ganapati and Kishenji. The verdict is silent on which specific Naxal act or conspiracy Sen was involved in.
This is a judicial injustice entirely unbefitting a democratic state. There should be no tolerance in India for laws as draconian and vague as either of the acts under which Dr. Sen has been convicted. The verdict has been fiercely denounced both domestically and internationally.
The PUCL and Dr. Sen have been fierce critics of the government’s policies and actions towards the adivasi and this is why they have been targeted in a campaign of judicial harassment. Unlike the adivasi of Bastar, Dr. Sen is too prominent to simply kill (or ‘encounter’). Hence the draconian sentencing under a draconian law. The PUCL is one of the few relatively impartial organizations with outside contacts working in the region. They can tell the world what is actually happening on the ground. They are a threat to the local warlords of Dantewara and their friends and allies in Raipur.
The absurdity of the verdict and the law is clear. In effect, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act criminalizes all contact and association with the Maoists. The Maoists control much of the state. ‘Associating’ with them is inevitable for those individuals and groups who wish to do work in the region outside of official channels. In effect, the law ensures that the only story that is told about what happens in Bastar is filtered through the channels such as the Salwa Judum and the government sanctioned warlords who represent the state.
An excellent piece on the injustice of the case can be found here. Of particular note is this quote:
All through 2006, Dr Sen and the state PUCL were in the news for criticising the new Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and exposing fake encounters. In April 2007, the Chhattisgarh PUCL held its state-level convention on the theme: ‘Fake Encounters, fake surrenders and fake cases’.
On May 9, then state president Rajendra Sail [ Get Quote ] announced the PUCL’s decision to intervene in the petition filed by the wife of a Naxalite who alleged that her husband had been killed in a fake encounter in front of her and she had been raped.
This, in short, is the reason Dr Sen was arrested and implicated. In a state where the Maoists were gaining support from the Adivasis whom the government has forgotten, but whose lands it is eyeing, the Maoists had to be eliminated.
This is the crux of the matter. The war being fought in southern Chhattisgarh is dirty and brutal. The government has outsourced its counterinsurgency and ‘governance’ functions to a group of warlords which emerged from Salwa Judum. Dr. Sen and the PUCL are a threat to the impunity and brutality of the local anti-Maoist forces and needed to be silenced. I hope that the Indian system will not allow this decision to stand.
I was perhaps a little overly optimistic my last post. Unfortunately, I was unable to resume blogging these past few months. In addition to some personal commitments, I’ve been busy with my PhD work. Thankfully, I was able to pass my comprehensive exams and have now begun the (hopefully not quixotic) search for funding. If all goes well, I hope to begin fieldwork in India by next summer.
Blogging is, as much as anything, a habit- maybe even a compulsion. It’s a habit that I miss and one which I hope will now again become a part of my daily routine. Naxal War has not only provided me with a platform to voice my views. Importantly it has become an invaluable forum for the discussion of views with and between my readers. Thanks for all of those who have taken the time to participate in this project. You have forced me to re-examine some of my views and lead me in new intellectual directions. I hope in the next few weeks and months, I’ll be able to engage with you and (hopefully) expand the number of people involved in this conversation.
Apologies to my readers for having been quiet this past month. I’ve spent most of the summer studying for the dreaded comprehensive exams and had expected that my blogging would be light.
Unfortunately I also broke my right arm last month which has made writing (at least writing with caps) nearly impossible. It’s pretty much healed and I’ll resume regular blogging later this week. Check back soon….
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.
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.
I’ve been busy spending time over the Christmas holidays with my family leaving me little time to blog. It’s been great, but I’m about ready to get back to work. There is a lot to write about- the unbelievably inept ‘handling’ (if you can even call it that) of the Telangana issue, the emergence of a more media savy (and brutal) West Bengal-based leadership clique after the arrest of key Maoist leaders, the latest propsal for peace negotiations between the government and the rebels and my (perhaps idle) speculation as to what 2010 might bring.