INDIA'S FORGOTTEN WAR – blogging naxalism.

Archive for the ‘Guerilla Warfare’ Category

Decentralised Insurgency and ‘Rogue’ Elements

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It seems increasingly likely that Naxalites were involved in the recent train derailment. The most plausible explanation is that ‘rogue’ elements loosely ties to the CPI(Maoist) were responsible. The party central committee, recognising the public relations disaster caused by the murder of over a hundred civilians has promised to crack down:

The Maoists have denied responsibility for the incident and blamed the sabotage on the ruling Marxists.

But now they have indicated that they would punish leaders of the local militia if they were found to be behind the attack.

“Anybody, even if they are found close to us, will be punished if their involvement is proved beyond doubt,” Comrade Akaash said.

Kudos to Shlok over at Naxalite Rage for predicting this possibility far sooner than I did. His post can be found here.

To me this is extremely plausible as one of the strengths of the Maoist movement has been decentralised structure. This has enabled flexibility in tactics and resilience against state repression. On the other hand, decentralisation has its drawbacks to an insurgency as this attack has demonstrated.

Written by Michael

June 3, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Massive Attack

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As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I’ve had no time to update in the past few weeks. However, this morning’s news of a massive, coordinated attack in Dantewara is worth a quick post. At least 76 paramilitary police have been killed in what is the largest loss of life for state forces in the history of the Maoist insurgency. According to the Indian Express:

Virtually an entire company of the CRPF was wiped out when 75 of its personnel including Deputy Commandant Satyawan Singh Yadav and Assistant Commandant B L Meena along with the head constable of the Chattisgarh police were killed.

The operative word is, according to the BBC, ambushes in the plural. Not one single attack, but rather a well planned and well executed series of attacks against the security forces by the insurgents. Considering that much of the local population has been displaced and their villages emptied by the Salwa Judum campaign it isn’t at all surprising that the Indian forces seem incapable of gathering enough local human intelligence to outmaneuver the Maoists.

This attack comes only a few days after 10 paramilitary police in neighbouring Orissa state were killed in a landmine blast. Inevitably there are now some calls for the resignation of the Home Minister, Chidambaram, the architect of Operation Green Hunt, the anti-Naxalite offensive. The next 48 hours will be interesting and I am awaiting both the official government and Maoist statements.

Brutal and Media Friendly. The New Face of Naxalism?

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One of the most underreported developments in Naxalism in 2009 has been the emergence of a new leadership cadre that is guiding the CPI (Maoist) in an entirely new tactical direction. Less conservative and reclusive than has historically been the case, the new West Bengal-based group has chosen to undertake bold (and brutal) actions calculated to garner media attention. This has included the beheading of a captured police inspector in October and a dramatic train hijack during India’s election campaign.  This was preceded by the capture of Lalgarh in West Bengal, a move seemingly calculated to demonstrate to India and the world that the Maoists were a force to be reckoned with.

All of this suggests a dramatic re-orientation in Naxalite tactics. Historically, the Maoists have been a tactically conservative force. Rather than court media attention, they preferred to work quietly, expanding their reach and power methodically and patiently. Their leadership has been notoriously recalcitrant and media shy. What has changed? Significant numbers of party leaders, most notably Kobad Gandhi, were arrested in 2009 as the Indian government has improved its counter-insurgency intel apparatus. As a result, a new crop of people with different tactical ideas has emerged. This new face of Maoism has been best personified in Kishenji, the Andhra born, West Bengal-based rebel.

Kishenji is a new kind of Naxalite leader. He has actively courted media attention- holding numerous press conferences and maintaining regular correspondence with prominent journalists. He has demonstrated a flair for the theatrical:

Kishenji had a seven-minute telephone conversation with West Bengal Principal Secretary (Environment) Madan Lal Meena complaining about polluting mines earlier this week, the Chief Minister was forced to accept the state intelligence machinery’s failure to locate the Maoist leader, who is on the run.

It remains to be seen how effective this tactic will be. While Kishenji has succeeded in garnering interest in the Maoist movement (and perhaps gained the support of segments of the urban population), much of the Naxalite’s strength stems precisely from their patient expansion.  By refusing to draw attention to themselves, the government of India has felt little public pressure to respond, creating a space for he gradual expansion of Maoist territory. A new strategy centred around engagement with the press and audacious assaults against the state carries a great deal of risk.

Soft Targets

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This India Today article is interesting, but largely misses the point:

They [the Maoists] are said to be attacking telecom towers to prevent the police eavesdropping on their conversations, and to neutralise police informers.

True enough as it goes… but, in a country which effectively bypassed land-lines, particularly in rural areas, disabling poorly defended mobile towers is an effective means of paralysing all rapid local communication.

More later.

Written by Michael

September 10, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Andhra CM Missing… Update 2

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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.

September/Post-Monsoon Offensive Watch

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It seems increasingly likely that the Singh government will launch a major anti-Naxalite offensive sometime after 1 September. I was contacted recently by someone working closely with the state police in Chhattisgarh who has said as much (trying to find out more). There have also been a number of stories in the Indian media lending credibility to this claim, including the recent re-deployment of 5,000 Border Security Personnel into India’s eastern states.

red indiaAdditionally, the Maoists, in anticipation of a major counter-insurgency campaign by the Centre, are allegedly preparing themselves by intensifying their operations. The CPI (Maoist) Politburo has, according to Rediff, issued a circular:

The politburo circular also has enough indications that the Maoist strategy to counter the proposed government offensive is to step up violence in their strongholds through what the Maoists call a Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign.

“We have to further aggravate the situation and create more difficulties to the enemy forces by expanding our guerrilla war to new areas on the one hand and intensifying the mass resistance in the existing areas so as to disperse the enemy forces over a sufficiently wider area;

“Hence the foremost task in every state is to intensify the war in their respective states while in areas of intense enemy repression there is need to expand the area of struggle by proper planning by the concerned committees; tactical counter-offensives should be stepped up and also taken up in new areas so as to divert a section of the enemy forces from attacking our guerrilla bases and organs of political power,” the politburo said.

Now would be a logical time for Delhi to try and push the Maoists out of their jungle strongholds. The Singh government has just waged a successful re-election campaign and is politically safe in case something goes terribly wrong. Additionally, India’s Forgotten War is no longer so forgotten. It has reached a tipping point. The Maoists are a growing threat to the state which can and is no longer being ignored. The Singh government knows that it must tackle them before the Maoists are in a position to seriously resist a concerted government counter-insurgency campaign. Now is the time for any rational government to move to prevent risking intolerable political and security costs.

The question is, how effective will a government strike on the heart of Naxal country be? More to come.

State Within a State Part 1

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This story is significant. The Naxalite’s brief detention and search of a government official travelling on southern Chhattisgarh’s main highway is a relatively minor incident which highlights how the Indian government has lost control over large parts of the country:

The last three months have seen the Maoists tightening their grip on Chhattisgarh and the amount of control that they exercise over National Highway 43 is disturbing, intelligence officials told rediff.com. “The situation has worsened ever since the elections. They [Maoists] have gone from strength to strength. While the massacre of more than 30 people including a superintendent of police made headlines, the truth is that they have become even stronger in the Bastar region,” said a senior state intelligence officer.

Other intelligence sources agreed that the impunity with which the rebels have started raiding and imposing themselves on NH 43 is a disturbing sign of their increasing clout in the region.

I travelled on NH 43 back in late 2007 and was told by a local CRPF commander that while security forces controlled the road during the day, the Naxalite writ ran during the night. Since that time, it seems that the government has lost further ground as the Maoists have strengthened their grip over southern Chhattisgarh. They administer justice, collect taxes and control access in an out of the region. They have virtually established a state within a state.

CPI (Maoist) Documents

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Bannedthought.net has a great collection of interviews and documents from the CPI (Maoist) here. Well done! The Naxalites are a fairly shadowy organisation and tracking documents and/or statements from the Party itself is a bit of challenge. This site is a solid source of primary information and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the Naxalites world-view and their tactical/strategic analysis.

Written by Michael

July 31, 2009 at 4:07 pm

War of Words in West Bengal

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The virtual civil war in West Bengal continues apace. While anti-Naxal operations in Lalgarh are ongoing,  both the opposition Trinamool Congress and the governing Communist Party of India (Marxist) continue to accuse each other of orchestrating a campaign of murder against their respective cadres.

4da5c864-37f5-11de-b074-000b5dabf636What is clear in the war of words is that West Bengal’s nearly three decade long rural political structure is in the process of distintegration. Both the Trinamool Congress and the Maoists stand to gain from the CPI(M)’s weakening rural electoral machine. Trinamool is envisioning itself as head of government and the Naxalites see an opportunity to re-establish themselves in the state which gave them birth. What if the Left Front does fall and Trinamool takes its place in Calcutta? Would there be a government in West Bengal which owed the Naxalites a tremendous debt? Or would any temporary tactical alliance be jettisoned by a new government? In either scenario the Naxalites would emerge victorious. They would have emerged in West Bengal with a stronger presence and reach than they have enjoyed since the early 1970s. They will be in a position to either directly pressure the state government or threaten it militarily.

The Trinamool Congress, never consistent ideologically, is playing a dangerous game. The CPI(M), on the other hand, bears most of the blame for the current situation. They are a party which has failed to adequately realise their developmental vision. They have deployed their powerful party machinery in an arbitrary and often violent way, alienating precisely those people who make up their natural constituency.

Image: Rediff

India’s Forgotten War Intensifies

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iphoto_1247627195045-1-0jpgFirst, 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)