INDIA'S FORGOTTEN WAR – blogging naxalism.

Posts Tagged ‘Indian Election

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.

Indian Election Phase IV

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Polling in Phase IV of the Indian election was (largely) peaceful. Aside from some districts in Bihar, voting took place in areas largely devoid of Naxalite activity.

Written by Michael

May 7, 2009 at 11:30 am

Liberated Zone- Dantewada Attack

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Dantewada is the closest that the Naxalites have come to establishing a ‘liberated zone’ in India. I was in the area in 2008 and the local commander of the CRPF told me that the state controls nothing but the Salwa Judum camps and the main road during the day.

A poverty stricken part of the country, Dantewada’s primarily indigenous population coupled with a lack of infrastructure and guerrilla-friendly terrain has made it ground zero in India’s Maoist war.

On the eve of a re-polling (the first round of voting was suspended after a successful Naxalite-called boycott), the Naxalites have struck again, killing at least 11 in a landmine blast. The dead included members of Salwa Judum, the CRPF and the ill0trained, often underage, quasi-official Special Police Officers.

Phase III Indian Election Violence

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Voting in the 30 April polls of the Indian election was largely free of the Naxalite violence that affected Phase II. There were a few isolated incidents but minimal loss of life and damage was reported. Polling was, however, cancelled in a number of districts in West Bengal as a result of an agitation by tribal groups allied with the Maoists.

Did the Naxalites exhaust all of their logistics resources in their poll disruption during Phase I?

Phase III will be held on 7 May. Voting will be held in districts of West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Harayana, and Rajasthan.

Return to West Bengal (2)

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In West Bengal the Maoists have been riding the wave of rural discontent against land acquisition for some time. Now they are also mobilising tribal communities.

Following a series of assassinations of cadres affiliated with West Bengal’s governing communist party, Friday saw a large anti-government mobilisation in Kolkata. According to the Times of India, the demonstration was composed of groups affiliated with the Maoists.

India is rife with disaffected, oppressed and angry groups. By exploiting numerous local issues, the Maoist octopus threatens to  bring together the millions of small fires into a blazing inferno that could consume India. Hyperbole? Maybe.

Written by Michael

April 26, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Election Numbers- Did the Maoists Matter?

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Apparently not, according to preliminary polling data from Jharkhand.

Voter turnout was higher in the regions considered Maoist strongholds, whereas some places with little rebel presence recorded lower polling percentage.

Initial figures show that polling percentage in the eight Lok Sabha seats varied between 42 and 58 percent as people braved Maoist violence as well as the mercury soaring to 42-46 degree Celsius in various parts.

I haven’t found anything which supports these numbers, but it does seem that there was minimal disruption by the Naxalites. There were a few scattered attacks on Wednesday and another yesterday, but overall Phase II was more tranquil than I had expected.  The killer heatwave gripping much of the country undoubtedly did more to dampen voter enthusiasm than any other factor.

Update: According to the Hindu, overall turnout for Phase II was 55%. Higher than in 2004.

Post-Election Decompression

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No updates for the next day or two. I’m taking a break after a marathon session.

I started India’s Forgotten War earlier this week as my first foray into blogging (about four years two late!). I’m happy with the results so far. Considering how much of a minority interest Naxalism is, it’s amazing  how many hits I’ve had. I hope you come by often to see the blog develop and grow. Thanks everyone!

Written by Michael

April 23, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Indian Election Phase II

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UPDATE: Polling in Bihar “peaceful“.

UPDATE: Various skirmishes in polling areas. The Times of India reports that there have been numerous gunbattles between Maoists and the police and bomb attacks on election officials in Jhrakhand. Also some reports of violence in Orissa and Andhra.

UPDATE: A Naxalite landmine has been defused by police. The mine was buried under an electoral boycott banner at a polling station in Madhya Pradesh.

UPDATE: The chart disaggregates rural/urban turnout in major states during the last election. Unfortunately, most of the heavily Naxal affected states aren’t included. I’m curious to see what impact, if any, their call for an electoral boycott has had on rural voters. A decline in the percentages would underscore the insurgents strength. If voting turnout isn’t significantly affected, it would suggest that the the string of high profile attacks amount to little more than a bit of good media PR.

Turnout: Urban versus rural constituencies in 2004
Major State Turnout in urban
constituencies (%)
Turnout in rural
constituencies (%)
Turnout in entire
state (%)
Andhra Pradesh 60 72 69.9
Bihar 55 58 57.9
Gujarat 38 48 45.2
Karnataka 54 67 64.9
Kerala 68 72 71.5
Madhya Pradesh 48 47 48.1
Maharashtra 46 56 54.4
Orissa 69 67 66
Rajasthan 50 48 49.9
Uttar Pradesh 42 48 48.2
Tamil Nadu 54 63 60.8
West Bengal 75 79 78.2
Year of Lok Sabha
Turnout in Urban
constituencies (%)
Turnout in Rural
constituencies (%)
All India
turnout (%)
2004 54 59 58

Update: The BBC has a great interactive map of the election. What’s interesting is that half of Andhra Pradesh is voting today. Until a few years ago the state was the heart of Naxalite activity in the country. I haven’t heard of a single attack anywhere in the state since the beginning of the election. The hub of the so-called ‘red corrider’ has shifted to Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Elements of the Andhra government’s approach to counter-insurgency (raising and effectively training the anti-Naxalite Greyhound police force coupled with strong financial incentives for fighters wishing to quite the movement) sh0uld be emulated. I was in Warangal district (Andhra Pradesh) in 2008 and met with the district police commander. She had nothing but contempt for the Salwa Judum and Chhattisgarh’s ‘civilian’ militias.

Update: First reports of Maoist disruptions. Ongoing gun battle after a CRPF camp was attacked in West Singhbum, Jharkhand. Train station bombed in Palamau, also in Jharkhand.

Polls in phase 2 of the Indian election opened 30 minutes ago.

I found a UPI story on yesterday’s train hijacking claiming that the Naxalites were, “protest[ing] over some former Maoists participating in India’s general elections”.

Interesting. I interpreted the highjacking as a show of strength. Maybe it wasn’t. Also wondering who or what faction has jumped into legal politics. UPDATE: Could it be the 3000 ex-Maoists who joined the Prajarajyam Party (PP) in February? The hijack took place in Jhrkhand and the PP is based in Andhra. Maybe not?

Live blogging the Indian election (kinda… sorta, well… ok not really. frequent updates though!)

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I’m going to stay awake all night to blog and twitter Phase II of the Indian election. Should be interesting and after today’s Naxalite demonstration of strength (the train hijacking) I’m more convinced that there will be more violence than there was in Phase I. I hope I’m wrong and I hope that my night is  boring .

Written by Michael

April 22, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Nepal Crisis and the Indian Election

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An interesting piece from Sudeshna Sarkar on the crisis in Nepal. It’s a believable angle that underscores how intertwined the two countries are.  Kathmandu’s relationship with Delhi is of paramount importance to the stability of Nepal.

India should think very carefully before it weakens (or even topples) the Maoist government. A resumption of civil war would be strongly felt in the Naxalite heartland of eastern and central India.

`Indian polls may be behind Nepal’s army chief sacking drama’

April 22nd, 2009 – 2:04 pm ICT by IANS

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 22 (IANS) As Nepal’s first Maoist government faces the possibility of collapse following its determination to fire the chief of the army, a media report Wednesday said that the ongoing Indian elections could be a reason for the high drama.

“(Prime Minister) Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda feels that after the elections in India, there is a danger of (the new Indian government) intensifying efforts to topple the government in Nepal,” the Ghatana R Bichar weekly said.

“So before that happens, he wants to fortify and safeguard his own position.”

The weekly said that Prachanda would feel secure only after the state army was under the control of his former guerrilla party. Hence he was focussing on taming the army before a new government came to power in India.

The fear of a new dispensation in New Delhi, either headed by the ruling Indian Congress or nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party, both of whom have an uneasy relationship with the Nepal Maoists, could well be a key factor in the Maoists’ decision to take the Nepal Army head-on even at the cost of being deserted by its own allies.

Gen Rookmangud Katawal, the army chief under fire, is due to retire in August. By trying to sack him just four months before and putting its government at risk indicates the Maoists are under some serious compulsion.

On Monday, after the army chief refused to resign voluntarily, the Maoist government asked him to furnish an explanation within 24 hours.

The 61-year-old was asked to explain why the army continued to recruit soldiers even after being ordered to stop, reinstated eight brigadier-generals the government had decided to retire and finally, why last month it walked out of the National Games after the Maoist army, the People’s Liberation Army, also announced its participation.

The general’s reply that he had acted in accordance with the law has infuriated the Maoist party, whose hardliners are urging Prachanda to sack him.

On Wednesday, Maoist rallies erupted nationwide, asking for action against the army chief and criticising President Ram Baran Yadav, who is also the titular head of the army. Yadav has advised Prachanda not to fire the general in a hurry.

With the cabinet scheduled to take a decision on Katawal’s dismissal Wednesday, there are indications of a crisis in the Maoist-led government.

The main ally of the coalition government, the communists, are sharply divided on the issue. While one faction, including party chief Jhalanath Khanal, would prefer to go with the Maoists, the other is opposing the move fiercely.

Khanal, currently on a week-long visit to China, is expected to cut short his trip and return as rivals have threatened to pull out of the government and split the party.

India is watching the developments closely. The Indian ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood has met Prachanda twice already to express New Delhi’s concern at the new crisis that could derail the peace process.

Written by Michael

April 22, 2009 at 10:51 am