INDIA'S FORGOTTEN WAR – blogging naxalism.

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India’s Prisoner of Conscience

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On 24 December Dr. Binayak Sen,vice-president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties,  was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Raipur Sessions’ Court  for his violations of the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967. A full English translation of the judgement can be found here.

According to the Indian Express the court found Sen guilty of ‘helping’ the Naxalites and therefore guilty of sedition. The cited the following ‘evidence’:

Sen’s meetings with jailed Naxalite leader Narayan Sanyal; his attempt to pass on three letters written by Sanyal to unspecified people in Kolkata; and his helping some “hardcore Naxalites” to open bank accounts, get jobs and rented accommodation.Also cited as evidence is the recovery from Sen of newspaper clippings on the Naxal movement and a magazine with interviews of Naxal leaders Ganapati and Kishenji. The verdict is silent on which specific Naxal act or conspiracy Sen was involved in.

This is a judicial injustice entirely unbefitting a democratic state. There should be no tolerance in India for laws as draconian and vague as either of the acts under which Dr. Sen has been convicted. The verdict has been fiercely denounced both domestically and internationally.

The PUCL and Dr. Sen have been fierce critics of the government’s policies and actions towards the adivasi and this is why they have been targeted in a campaign of judicial harassment. Unlike the adivasi of Bastar, Dr. Sen is too prominent to simply kill (or ‘encounter’). Hence the draconian sentencing under a draconian law. The PUCL is one of the few relatively impartial organizations with outside contacts working in the region. They can tell the world what is actually happening on the ground. They are a threat to the local warlords of Dantewara and their friends and allies in Raipur.

The absurdity of the verdict and the law is clear. In effect, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act criminalizes all contact and association with the Maoists. The Maoists control much of the state. ‘Associating’ with them is inevitable for those individuals and groups who wish to do work in the region outside of official channels. In effect, the law ensures that the only story that is told about what happens in Bastar is filtered through the channels such as the Salwa Judum and the government sanctioned warlords who represent the state.

An excellent piece on the injustice of the case can be found here. Of particular note is this quote:

All through 2006, Dr Sen and the state PUCL were in the news for criticising the new Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and exposing fake encounters. In April 2007, the Chhattisgarh PUCL held its state-level convention on the theme: ‘Fake Encounters, fake surrenders and fake cases’.

On May 9, then state president Rajendra Sail [ Get Quote ] announced the PUCL’s decision to intervene in the petition filed by the wife of a Naxalite who alleged that her husband had been killed in a fake encounter in front of her and she had been raped.

This, in short, is the reason Dr Sen was arrested and implicated. In a state where the Maoists were gaining support from the Adivasis whom the government has forgotten, but whose lands it is eyeing, the Maoists had to be eliminated.

This is the crux of the matter. The war being fought in southern Chhattisgarh is dirty and brutal. The government has outsourced its counterinsurgency and ‘governance’ functions to a group of warlords which emerged from Salwa Judum. Dr. Sen and the PUCL are a threat to the impunity and brutality of the local anti-Maoist forces and needed to be silenced. I hope that the Indian system will not allow this decision to stand.

Written by Michael

January 11, 2011 at 11:17 pm

2010 Roundup

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I’ve learned from experience that at this period in my life I should not make promises to my readers which I can’t keep. My posts in the past six months have been extremely erratic. My academic and professional life doesn’t currently give me the time to consistently post with the same intensity as I could in the first years of Naxalwar. No more promises of ending a hiatus. I will only say that I hope to post when I have something to say and the time  to say it.

One of the reasons for the paucity of postings has certainly not been a lack of things to write about. 2010 was the bloodiest year in the history of the Maoist insurgency. 1,169 people died last year according to the government. While civilians continue to make up a disproportionate number of fatalities, the security forces have also not done very well. According to the Indian Express:

The Naxalite groups also enjoyed the upper hand vis-a-vis the security forces in terms of the number of people lost in the battle. The security forces lost 285 personnel, as compared to 317 in 2009 while the casualties on the Naxalites’ side was only 171, again significantly less than 219 in the previous year.

In spite of Green Hunt and the insertion of 60,000 CRPF personnel into the Maoist affected states (roughly evenly split between combat and support staff), the government has not been capable of establishing anything even remotely approaching tactical or strategic dominance.

It seems that 2011 will be more of the same: an unthinking counter-insurgency strategy rooted in the belief that poring greater and greater numbers of poorly trained and motivated paramilitary police forces into central and eastern India will somehow eliminate the ‘Naxal Menace’. It won’t. Nor will the funding of development programmes that are often little more than thinly veiled schemes to further enrich local notables and those forces responsible for the alienation of the adivasi from their land. What is required is political bravery- negotiation without condition. Only when the shooting stops can the government start thinking of the way in which it can begin to fundamentally transform its historically mal-governed hinterland.

Unfortunately, what we are getting is more of what was just announced:

Battling rising Maoist militancy, the Chhattisgarh governmenthas decided to add another 2,400 special police officers (SPOs) to be drawn from local youths to combat the guerrillas.

This will nearly double the number of SPOs in Bastar. More cannon fodder for the CRPF and more intra-tribal violence. Depressing.

Bread and Circuses (at least today)

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It’s hard not to be cynical about the Indian government’s strategy when one reads rubbish like this:

The police and paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) force set up a medical camp and distributed gifts to local tribals in the Maoist-affected Chandrapur village in Orissa’s Rayagada District.

Apparently they even organized a magic show! Wow. So shiny. I’m still not clear how any of these ad hoc, one off (and largely irrelevant) acts of charity by the Indian government constitute any sort of counterinsurgency strategy that  could assist the adivasi people become autonomous and empowered communities in India able to  exercise their democratic citizenship.

I have no doubt that the local commander in charge of this initiative has the best of intentions. But, once the clowns go home and the food runs out, the systematic exploitation and marginalisation of India’s eastern tribal populations will continue. There is no rabbit in the hat.

EDIT: And to preempt some criticisms of my admittedly snarky post, yeah, I have no doubt the kids dug the magic show. Hell, I loved magic shows when I was a boy and I was hardly lacking in toys and other childhood distractions. And, no doubt the medical care will make a real difference in some people’s lives. I have no intention of minimising this. The fact is, however, this is not part of some ‘relief’ mission- it is an ad hoc initiative being conducted under a counterinsurgency strategy. It is short term and misses the point.

Written by Michael

October 14, 2010 at 6:05 pm

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

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

Economics of War

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Here are a couple of good articles on the economic consequences of the Maoist insurgency:

Shanthie Mariet D’Souza and Bibhu Prasad Routray provide a summary of the estimated income that the Naxalites bring in through ‘taxation’. The numbers (if correct) are startling and paint a picture of a wealthy insurgency capable of raising enough funds to procure significant quantities of armaments.

Robert Cutler (currently a fellow at Carleton University) analyses the effect that the insurgency may have on the future macro-economic prospects of India. This is an issue which (as far as I’m aware) has not been examined before. His argument is, basically, that while the insurgency has not directly affected the overall growth of the country, the fact that the insurgency is occuring in a mineral rich area of the country is indirectly preventing optimal growth rates.

Additionally he claims that if the insurgency continues, it will continue to have a destabilising effect on the country. This may be noticed by investors.

I’m not sure I agree with all of Robert Cutler’s arguments, but it is worth a read. I think I’ll get in touch with him.

Written by Michael

May 20, 2010 at 6:19 pm