INDIA'S FORGOTTEN WAR – blogging naxalism.

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The Last Hurrah?

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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.

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Written by Michael

January 25, 2012 at 4:57 pm

The Plot Thickens….

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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.

Written by Michael

May 29, 2010 at 6:24 pm

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.

The Forgotten War

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Time Magazine has declared India’s Maoist insurgency to be the 3rd most under-reported story of 2009. I’m surprised that they even noticed. While media coverage internationally and domestically has been sparse, this has started to slowly change. For too long, the Naxalites could be ignored by the urban-based Indian elite as a problem which affected only small segments of the largely invisible rural poor. While events such as the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 threatened the safety and security of the countries chattering classes, what happened in the dusty forests of rural Chhattisgarh could easily be ignored. This has started to change. Perhaps, 2010 will bring increased coverage not only to the insurgency, but also to the scandalous conditions in which India’s rural poor exist. One can only hope.

Written by Michael

January 1, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Telangana as Farce

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Since my last post on the ongoing battle for an independent Telangana the story has taken a turn for the absurd. In early December, the central government unilaterally (and suddenly) declared their support for the creation of a new state to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh, leading to anger and sporadic violence. Opponents of the decision were particularly concerned with the status of Andhra’s capital, the wealthy technology hub Hyderabad situated deep inside Telangana. After the resignations of a number of Congress politicians in protest at the decision, the central government backtracked and announced that Telangana would only come into being after a process of talks involving all of the local political parties. Again, this lead to violence and resignations, only this time by disappointed Telangana activists. The talks are scheduled to begin on 5 January.

The central government’s handling of the issue has been inept and farcical. First, by rushing through a unilateral decision on the creation of a new state, the government alienated much of the population of Andhra. Then, by backtracking on their decision, they effectively alienated and angered all of those who had supported the initial decision. It’s a mess. Furthermore, the decisions of the government have greatly strengthened the hand of the Maoists.  As this (excessively pessimistic) piece in Pragati states:

Telangana is not only being formed with the support of the Naxalites, but will be encompassing the districts that are their stronghold. The security situation is bound to worsen further.

Not only is the creation of Telangana a potential boon for the Maoists, the muddled process that has so far marked its birth is tailor-made for strengthening their position. The Maoists have strongly supported calls for an independent Telangana. The central government’s moves have created a volatile situation in the state marked by a high degree of political mobilisation. By supporting the pro-Telangana forces, the Maoists have positioned themselves as an armed and disciplined force which can help a popular movement struggle against the central government’s duplicity. They have, for example, already called for a general strike for the 2 January.

If the Maoists play their hand well, they will be in position to gain a tremendous goodwill and popular support by acting as a force which is willing to fight for the sentiments and aspirations of the local population. They will be in an even stronger position to capture the newly independent state once it is created. Delhi could not have created conditions more beneficial for the Naxalites had it been closely collaborating with the Maoist leadership.

Written by Michael

January 1, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Holiday Hiatus

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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.

Stay tuned….

Written by Michael

December 27, 2009 at 12:17 am

Are the Naxalites Winning?

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The Indian government just released the official figures for combat deaths across all of the country’s insurgencies. I haven’t yet been able to track down the official report (if there is one), but, from what’s being reported in the media, it doesn’t look good for the government:

In Naxal affected States, the number of the number of Civilians and Security Forces personnel killed upto Oct.31, 2009 was 742 while it was 721 in 2008. However, the number of Naxalites killed during the same time is 170 (till Oct.31, 2009), which stood at 199 in 2008.

An approximate 4:1 ratio is not an indication of anything approximating victory. India The Indian government should be worried.

Written by Michael

December 9, 2009 at 8:38 pm