INDIA'S FORGOTTEN WAR – blogging naxalism.

Archive for November 2009

Pre-Emptive International Concern

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An interesting little piece of news today. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Office, which funds relief efforts in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region, has cautioned the Indian government against undertaking an anti-Maoist offensive that would jeopardise its work:

“It can become too dangerous, because of ongoing fighting, for our partners to access and reach out to the villages,” Maria Joao Ralha, ECHO’s desk officer for India, told AlertNet by phone from Brussels. “It can also limit access as parties involved in the conflict may become too nervous and may not want humanitarians working there so villagers would not be able to receive the healthcare that our partners are providing them.”

Aside from the increased international dimension which this story demonstrates, it’s important to note that, according to the piece, over 100,000 civilians have been displaced by the conflict. The very real suffering that the so-called ‘Naxal-problem’ has caused for some of India’s most marginalised populations is far in excess of what might be inferred by merely tracking total annual deaths. It’s important to think about. I’ve been to Bastar and visited illegal re-settlement villages in the forests. And the suffering I saw was horrendous. The government needs to be cautious.

Hearts and Minds

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While the Calcutta Telegraph is an virulent anti-Leftwing newspaper, in spite of its overt bias, it is one of the most solid sources of journalism in the country. And, as a creature of West Bengal, it has consistent coverage of Naxalism.

According to the Telegraph, Chidambaram, the Union Home Minister, will be attending a meeting sponsored by civil society groups in Dantewada. The Telegraph:

Chidambaram’s assent is being interpreted by civil society groups wanting to avert armed confrontation as a “victory against hawks in government” who have been pushing a military response to the recent Maoist surge in parts of central and eastern India.

Two things come to mind: 1) the visit seems to be a sensible strategy for a broader ‘hearts and minds’ counter-insurgency strategy and, 2) it’s going to be a hell of a security nightmare.

Countering the Counter-Insurgency

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If, as I argued in my last post, Operation Green Hunt needs to be a holistic counter-insurgency campaign- stories like this don’t help:

In the remote rural expanse that could soon be gobbled up by a Rs 19,500 crore steel plant, there is the clang of an iron-cast protest.“We will not give our land to Tata,” says 60-year-old Sankar Das, the frail dhoti-clad Hindu priest, even as he pokes round in the cloth bag when a passing journalist stops by at a meeting of village elders. Das promptly produces a letter written by residents of his Bedanji village to the district administrator of Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region, home to some of the world’s richest iron ore.

Tata Steel, India’s largest private sector steelmaker, plans to invest Rs 19,500 crores in a steel plant across 5,000 acres that will create 5.5 million tones of steel per year. Ten villages have to be emptied out.

“The Kakatiya kings brought and settled us here from Warangal 22 generations ago to worship the goddess and supervise sacrifices on Dussehra,” says the letter handwritten by Bedanji residents in Hindi. “We shall not move.”

It would be almost funny if it weren’t so sad. What this does is a) fuel the grievances of the Adivasi whose support is both crucial to the Maoists and the government and, b) provides the Maoists with a new source of revenue. The Maoists operate a vast illicit taxation network which relies on the exploitation of tribal lands by industry and mining companies.

So, in effect, the government, by authorising this project is providing the Maoists with both a revenue stream and a support base which they can use in their war against the state. Umm… yeah. Good thinking.

Written by Michael

November 16, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Operation Green Hunt

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Now that the beginnings of Operation Green Hunt, the central government’s anti-Naxalite offensive, have unfolded, a lot remains unclear. According to government spokespeople, it will not take the form of massive assault against the Maoist zones:

I wouldn’t like to call it a war. A war is fought against the enemy, not against our own people.

— Vijay Raman, Special Director General, Central Reserve Police Force and commandant of joint Centre-states anti-Naxalite operation Green Hunt.

Rather Green Hunt will, according to Raman:

facilitate, assist and secure the process of development that the government will hasten in these areas than go bang-bang hitting the Naxal targets. It can take any number of years. All I would say is, it would be a very calculated security exercise with human face,

So, what we have is a long-term and sustained counter-insurgency campaign that, in some ways, mirrors the US project in Afghanistan. Fair enough. I have often argued that the Naxalites are not primarily a police ‘problem’. They are the consequence of a complex array of failures in the contemporary Indian state, ranging from weak institutions to persistent social and exploitation of marginal groups in the deprived parts of the country.

In order for this strategy to work, however, the Indian government must improve the training, pay and equipment of the para-military police. Steps have been taken, including the establishment of a jungle warfare centre. However, this is not nearly enough. Reports continue to come in from parts of Chhattisgarh of troops selling their weapons to the rebels in exchange for food. Time and again, the CRPF has also showed that it is being out-fought, out-thought and out-gunned by the Naxalites. This needs to change.

The Indian government is currently testing the deployment of drones in the Naxalite areas. Use of advanced technology will only be effective in conjunction with a concerted, long-term effort to improve the capabilities of the para-police. Drones are no replacement for solid, human intelligence gathered by disciplined and motivated forces who have developed the trust of local communities.

As I said, I’m happy to see that the Indian government has not chosen to undertake a spectacular, if fruitless, massive counterstrike into the Naxal heartland. It remains to be seen, however, if the more complex strategy chosen can be undertaken effectively.

The Return of People’s March

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The ‘Voice of the Indian Revolution’ has returned. In late 2008, the Kerala-based People’s March magazine was banned after the arrest of its editor. According to the Hindustan Times, the publication ban was overturned after the Press Registrar Appellate Board declared that the proscription was invalid as no formal charges had been brought against the magazine by the government. Good for them. Aside from my academic interest in having access to an English language publication which at least semi-represents the views of the CPI (Maoist), it seems that banning propaganda is a particularly crude and ineffective way at combating a highly sophisticated insurgency. If anything, publications such as People’s March can help provide the government with some insight into the current intellectual and tactical direction of the guerillas.

As for the magazine itself, a PDF of the latest issue can be found here. I haven’t yet been able to track down a website.

Written by Michael

November 16, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Candace Feit’s Photography

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I just  stumbled across Candace Feit’s website. She’s a Delhi-based photojournalist who’s  been published in some notable outlets such as the NYT. I’d encourage you to take a look as she has done work with tribal people in India’s Maoist heartland. Seeing pictures like this serves as an important reminder to me that what I’m writing about is more than an abstraction.

Enjoy. I did.

Written by Michael

November 16, 2009 at 4:26 pm

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Return to Blogging

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As some of you may have noticed, it’s been some time since I’ve posted anything to India’s Forgotten War. I started my PhD this fall and as someone who’s been out of school for  number of years the adjustment process has taken up all of my time and energy. I’ve managed to settle into a routine and re-awakened long dormant skills such as reading ridiculous quantities of often dry, and always dense, academic texts in hyper-speed.

Events have been moving quickly on the Naxalite front. The situation in West Bengal continues to be highly unstable, the first battles of the government’s offensive in the forests of Central India have been fought and peace talks between Delhi and the CPI (Maoist) seem to be a slim possibility. In addition to this, the Maoists in Nepal have embarked on another push this week to try and topple the government in Kathmandu.

All of this adds up to a hell of a lot to write about. I hope that those who may have stopped following my blog will come back and I hope to continue to build my readers by continuing to deliver timely and non-partisan news and analysis on a story that is increasingly garnering both domestic and international media attention.

Written by Michael

November 15, 2009 at 11:28 pm

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