INDIA'S FORGOTTEN WAR – blogging naxalism.

Posts Tagged ‘Delhi

Indian Forest Cover

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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. michaelspacek@gmail.com

UPDATE:

I’d like to thank the people behind http://naxalrevolution.blogspot.com/ for the email I received this morning. They sent me a copy of the report: http://www.fsi.org.in/sfr_2011.htm

I’ll take a look at it and post my response this weekend.

Written by Michael

February 8, 2012 at 5:26 pm

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.

Written by Michael

January 25, 2012 at 4:57 pm

World Politics Review

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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:

http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/7948/indias-enduring-naxalite-insurgency

Written by Michael

March 21, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Overlapping Connections and Complex Ties

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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.

Written by Michael

January 12, 2011 at 12:17 am

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

Terrorism?

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Reports are coming in that a train derailment in West Bengal that killed at least 15 people was caused by a Maoist bomb which destroyed the tracks. This seems to be a plausible possibility. The derailment happened in West Midnapore, an area which was briefly ‘liberated’ by the rebels late last year.

If this was in fact the Maoists, it represents a potentially disturbing turn towards terrorist tactics. The question is whether it was a deliberate attempt to derail a civilian passenger train. If it was, the Naxalites are not doing themselves any favours.

UPDATE: The death toll from yesterdays attack is now at 71 and continues to rise. While early reports suggested that the train was derailed as a result of a Maoist bomb, it now seems clear that it was the result of track sabotage.

While the Maoists are brutal, they have largely avoided the use of terrorist tactics. The recent attack against a civilian bus in Chhattisgarh, for example, targeted security forces. The civilians were ‘collateral damage’.

There is a strange idea circulating in India that while the Naxalites may have once been honourable and idealistically guided rebels, they have now became a nihilistic criminal gang. I’ve recently been reading documents and newspaper reports from the early days of the Naxalite movement in West Bengal during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The level of brutality inherent in their ‘strategy of annihilation’ as well as the thuggishness and terrorism of their lumpen street fighters in Calcutta suggests that this story is nothing more than a convenient myth.

The state was partially able to crush the early Maoist movement because their brutality had alienated the vast majority of the population. Today’s Naxalites have learned their lessons from the past. That is why actions such as this are surprising.

UPDATE 2: The CPI(Maoist) has denied involvement in the train derailment. I tend to believe them. The death toll has now surpassed 100.

UPDATE 3: The Indian Express is reporting that the People’s Committee Against Police Attrocities has claimed responsibility. If this is true, it raises questions of how autonomous the PCPA is from the CPI(Maoist). The links between the two groups have been taken as a given- are they nothing more than a front for the Naxalites? This is unclear.

Written by Michael

May 27, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Upping the Ante

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As Operation Green Hunt continues, the Maoists continue to strike with relative impunity while sustaining minimal casualties.

Earlier this week the Naxalites blew up a commercial bus travelling in Dantewara, killing around 50 people. Traveling aboard the civilian carrier were around 20 so-called Special Police Officers (SPOs). These are local tribals empowered as temporary constables to combat the Maoists. While they are valued for their local knowledge, they have also been criticised for child soldiers, inadequate training and their use as little more than cannon fodder by the CRPF.

While the Maoists have engendered a great deal of )understandable) outrage from their killing of dozens of non-combatants, the use of civilian transport by paramilitary forces engaged in a counterinsurgency is negligent at best and criminal at worst. More to the point, it is indicative of the lax discipline and poor tactical planning on the part of the government.

A little over a day later the Maoists, this time in West Bengal, carried out another landmine attack that killed 4 CRPF personnel. Today, in Bihar (a state only moderately affected by the insurgency) derailed a train transporting fuel and then proceeded to torch the carriages.

The relentless attacks by the Maoists and myriad failures by state forces has revealed not only problem inherent in Green Hunt, but also the serious divisions in the government over how best to deal with the insurgency.

The government is undertaking a review of its policies with Chidambaram pushing for a greater mandate. He is echoing the demand made by some state ministers for the deployment of the IAF.  From the Indian Express:

Chidambaram said he would ask the Cabinet Committee on Security for a “larger mandate” — an apparent reference to approval of air support for ground operations — for the Home Ministry in dealing with Naxalites. “The security forces, the Chief Ministers want it (air support). The Chief Ministers of (West) Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Orissa have all asked for air support,” Chidambaram said, speaking on the day Naxalites blew up a bus in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, killing at least 35 people, mostly civilians.

While the Home Minister has claimed that the IAF would be used for transportation and surveillance, rather than aerial bombardment, it is not at all clear why the currently deployed helicopters from the BSF’s air wing are inadequate for the task.

Use of the air force would engage the Indian armed forces in a battle which they are neither trained nor structured for. The armed forces have been prepared and equipped for conventional warfare between neighbouring states, not for precision attacks within their own borders. It is not at all surprising that the leadership of the IAF is opposed to such involvement.

Up until now, Green Hunt is a failure. It is premised on an uncertain blend of massive manpower and the funneling of development assistance to the affected states. The government’s response has been incompetent and inconsistent. The Maoists, on the other hand, have used the opportunities created by the presence of so many additional security forces to lethal effect.

Operation Green Hunt Updates

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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.

When all you have is a hammer…

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everything looks like a nail. Earlier this week, India’s home ministry threatened to prosecute intellectuals and civil society groups who help ‘spread’ the Naxalites ideology. This rather draconian threat has been heavily criticised  domestically and internationally. According to Human Rights Watch:

“The Indian government should think twice before trying to silence political discussion and demanding endorsement of its views on Maoist groups,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The recent views expressed by the Indian government against so-called sympathizers could be understood as carte blanche by local authorities to harass and arrest critics of Indian government policy.”

In order to help prevent the ‘spread’ of Maoist ideology, the home ministry has threatened to prosecute so-called violators under the 1967 Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. It is not at all clear what would entail ‘spreading’ Maoist ideology. The term is so nebulous and meaningless that it could apply to individuals and groups who provide no material support (or are not even sympathetic to) the Maoists, but are critical of the government’s actions.

The Director General of Police in Chhattisgarh has been considering whether to lay charges against Arundhati Roy for her piece in Outlook India.  If history is any guide, it is very unlikely that Roy will be prosecuted for her work. Rather, the threat is better read as a green-light to security agencies operating in the Red Corridor to go after local journalists and NGOs.

The 2005 Chhattisgarh Special Security Act is a draconian law that has made it virtually illegal to meet with or write about the Maoists in that state. To date it has never been used against a foreign or Delhi-based individual. In fact, I was in Chhattisgarh in 2008 doing some research. In spite of having clearly violated provisions in the law, I was actively assisted by local politicians and security personnel. The law has been used to ban small NGOs and detain local journalists and activists such as Binyak Sen. The goal of the act is to provide a chilling effect on the local population as a means of allowing the government to behave with minimum scrutiny and accountability. This latest threat by the home ministry has the same purpose.

It is true that there is a segment of the urban intelligentsia that has been guilty of romanticising the Naxalite rebel. This is inevitable in a vibrant democracy. The irony is that there is a very real nexus between the Maoists elements of the political and business classes in the Red Corridor. This nexus is the result of shared material and political interests between the various groups. Threatening journalists and writers will do nothing to address the region’s real problems.

Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery

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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.

Written by Michael

May 9, 2010 at 2:14 pm

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