Posts Tagged ‘Jharkhand’
One of the most interesting elements of the Maoist insurgency is the complex relationships between the various actors. This is not an insurgency that can easily be understood as a battle between an armed anti-state group fighting the government. Naxalism makes for strange bedfellows. One of the strangest is the link between the Trinamool Congress and the CPI(Maoist). While there have long been rumours of an alliance, the latest evidence is particularly damning:
Causing serious embarrassment to the Trinamool Congress leadership, party MP Kabir Suman has written an autobiography and dedicated it to top Maoist leader Kishenji among others.
The book, titled ‘Nishaner Naam Tapasi Malik’, has an eye-witness account of a meeting held in the office of the Trinamool Congress between party supremo Mamata Banerjee and Maoist leaders Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chhattapadhyay, who are currently in jail under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
While Kabir Suman is no longer a member of Trinamool, there have been no suggestions (as far as I know) that these revelations are false. Mamata Banerjee is not only the leader of the party, she is also a minister in the central government. In effect, a senior member of a government engaged in a large counter-insurgency operation is a tactical ally of the insurgents. Her party, a member of the governing coalition, also has ongoing operational linkages with the Maoists. Bizarre.
And this isn’t all. One of the most intense theatres of conflict is in West Bengal where the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) government is engaged in an increasingly ferocious and indiscriminate turf war with the Maoists. The Forward Bloc, one of the CPI(M)’s governing coalition partners is also sympathetic towards the Maoists:
Forward Bloc is known to be a “silent sympathiser” of the Maoists as it had opposed the joint operations in Lalgarh despite being a partner of the Left Front. It also criticised the imposition of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on the Maoists in West Bengal.
And in neighbouring Jharkhand, another hotbed of insurgency, the former (and still influential) Chief Minister apparently also believes that the Naxalites are a people’s movement worthy of support. In late December he was asked whether:
deployment of joint forces has been causing problems to tribals, Soren said:
“If the government thinks force is necessary to restore the law and order, it’s fine with me. But at the same time, it has to be ensured that the force is not used for the benefit of some party.”
His observation comes in the wake of Jharkhand Deputy Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s assertion that he was in favour of the withdrawal of Central forces from Naxal-hit areas because he had information that the forces have been helping the CPM to control the sanitised area.
In effect, the former CM and the current Deputy CM of Jharkhand have allied themselves with the Trinamool and the Maoists against the CPI(M).
If this is making your head hurt, you’re not the only one. Such Byzantine alliances exist not only been political parties and the rebels. They also exist between business and the Naxalites. The mineral rich areas of the country are partly governed and regulated through a mutually beneficial collaborative relationship between large mineral extracting ‘capitalists’ and the communist rebels. Of course the losers in all of these machinations are the local people.
Oh. But I forgot. It’s Binayak Sen who is guilty of sedition.
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.
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.
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.
A couple of things… while the NSA has stated that it is unlikely that the CM’s helicopter was brought down by the Naxalites because they lack the weaponry for such a strike, this runs contrary to some previous reports. According to the Indian Express, material was seized during a raid by Jharkhand police in August 2007 which indicated that:
the extremists have been training in the use of 12.7 mm anti-aircraft guns and have already acquired 80 mm mortars and rocket-propelled grenade rifles.
The Economic Times has also claimed that unnamed ‘reports’ suggest that the Naxalites have acquired a number of anti-aircraft guns. While the Times is… umm… a little bit vague on the details, it is a surprise that the NSA has so soon and so unequivocally stated that the Naxalites do not possess the capabilities to undertake a strike against a helicopter. It’s a bit premature.
I mentioned in my last post that a Delhi-based businessman was recently arrested for attempting to provide material support to Jharkhand’s Naxalites. According to police the equipment, which was destined for rural cadres, consisted of communications and logistical technology such as mobile phones and laptops.
This is, I believe, simply the tip of the iceburg. The Naxalites are more than disaffected peasants running around with country guns in the poorest parts of rural India. They are a part of a series of sophisticated urban (and international) intelligence and arms procurement and distribution networks. And they have a lot of cash. And friends.
First, my apologies for being relatively erratic with updates. I’m in the process of re-locating to Ottawa and just haven’t had time to do much with India’s Forgotten War. All of this is unfortunate timing on my part, because recent developments in the Maoist insurgency suggest that we may be witnessing not only the intensification of the war, but an evolution in its nature. The Naxalites have never presented as much of a threat to the stability of the state as they do now.
In the past month, the Naxalites have flexed their muscles and declared a ‘Liberated Zone’ in West Bengal. While government forces have re-established nominal control over Lalgarh, they have failed to inflict significant casualties on the Maoists who, having made their point, have simply melted back into the jungle.
This was followed last week by a major attack which killed at least 30 CRPF personnel (a number are still missing and unaccounted for). The attack was significant because not only was it a well co-ordinated, twin ambush, but the it occured near to Chattisgarh’s capital, Ranchi Raipur (thanks to Rahul for catching my mistake).
Additionally, last week, PTI reported that:
An inter-state Maoist arms racket has been busted with the arrest of a businessman in the national capital and his counterpart in Jharkhand with recovery of a huge cache of bulletproof jackets and sophisticated gadgets.
While the existence of nascent urban Maoist cells is not news to anyone who has followed the growing tentacles of Naxalism in India, the arrests have made explicit the complex logistics and ideological networks which exist across the entire country. Revolutionary Maoism is not only a rural phenomenon that affects the poorest and most backward districts of the country. It is a national movement dedicated to the overthrow of India’s current system of government.
Finally, demonstrating the new confidence of the Naxalites and perhaps signalling a shift in tactics, a spokesperson for the CPI (Maoist) has threatened to:
[R]esort to LTTE-style attacks against Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh... A threat has also been issued against Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, the release said and asked all Congress legislators, both from Parliament and assembly, to quit within a week or face “death warrants”.
What has the government response been? As mentioned in a previous post, Delhi has now formally proscribed the CPI (Maoist) and a number of affiliated groups as ‘terrorists’. Beyond that, there are unconfirmed reports that the government is planning a major, co-ordinated counter-insurgency campaign in the most badly affected districts this September. I hope to have more on this soon.
In the meantime, not much seems to have changed. The Naxalites are branching out tactically and territorially. They seem to have calculated that they are now in a position to intensify their insurgency. And, so far, the government has not seemed fit to meet this threat.
(Image: Manpreet Romana/AFP)
Another big attack. 11 CRPF members were killed by a large IED.
A confession. I’m allergic to simplistic, mono-causal analyses of complex, multi-dimensional ‘problems’ like the Naxal insurgency. This sometimes leads me to commit the opposite sin of trying to find complexity where it may not exist. It’s good to take a step back and say, “Keep it simple stupid!”
If there’s one key, operative variable for the intensification and sustainability of the Naxalite insurgency in India’s eastern states, it is the presence of a wealth of exploitable natural resources. I have no intention of making a silly, reductionist claim (No blood for oil!), rather I believe that its both defensible and compelling to state that the presence of natural resources is the main reason that Naxalism has torn apart places like Chhattisgargh and Jharkhand rather than West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.
I am fortunate to have had a chance to take a course at the LSE under David Keen. Keen’s work on the political economy of conflict is compelling and also deceptively simple. In short, Keen argues that areas with significant tradeable resources are more likely to experience war and once a war does occur, it is likely to be prolonged as a conflict economy develops which acts as a deterrent for peacemaking among the participants. I’m not doing his nuanced argument justice (and am making it sound a bit teleological), but it’s good enough for a blog post.
The war in Chhattisgargh and Jharkhand was not caused by the presence of a large amounts of natural resources. The two state’s developmental, social and political failures created a space for the promulgation of a revolutionary and violent ideology. However, once the guerrillas did establish themselves, the presence of raw materials enabled the emergence of numerous, illicit networks through which the Maoists are able to gain money, power and arms.
Both the government forces and the Naxalites collaborate with businessman, politicians and, in some cases, each other.The war has created a new political economy in which the winners are everyone except for the ordinary people who live there.
(Image: CSE India)
As the lethal war in Chhattisgargh continues to become more bloody, in neighbouring Jharkhand the Naxalite’s continue to threaten one of their favourite targets- Indian Railways. Three train officials have been kidnapped and are being held in Latehar District.