INDIA'S FORGOTTEN WAR – blogging naxalism.

Posts Tagged ‘Maoist

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.

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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.

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

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.

The Fire Last Time

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There’s an interesting article by Megha Baree on the Forbes website. She is the daughter of a Calcutta-based businessman who had to flee the city because of Naxalite violence during the late 1960s.  It was a particular brutal time:

Every day he and his colleagues would meet at a different spot in the city and be escorted by the police, in a convoy, to the factory. One day a colleague who usually traveled with Avinash in his car, fed up with it all, called a taxi to go home early. The cab had barely exited the 10-acre factory compound when it was attacked, and he was knifed to death. “He had six children,” Avinash remembers. “I had to tell his wife. She never forgave me.” While they were at the funeral two men on motorcycles drove by and threw crude bombs filled with nails at them.

The Naxalites of 1968 were a very different breed than the Naxalites of the 21st century. It was a movement made up largely of students, intellectuals and the working class. In the heady days of 1968 the rebels thought, with the support of China, they could quickly overthrow the state through insurrection and the ‘annihlation of class enemies’. They were wrong. Their brutality engendered a backlash and a viscious state response that virtually decimated the party.

The survivors learned their lesson. Rather than dramatic urban action, they would slowly cultivate support and control in isolated rural areas. It is a much smarter strategy.

(Photo: Charu Mazumdar, the founder of the original Naxlite group, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninst) )

Written by Michael

May 9, 2010 at 2:47 pm

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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A Moment of Respite

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After my previous post on the major Naxalite attack, interest in my blog grew significantly. I’d like to thank all of my new readers.

In the past few weeks, however, traffic has returned to less manic levels. Of course this is not because of anything I wrote, but rather a product of the audaciousness of the Maoist attack. Since then eastern India has been relatively quiet. The rebels have engaged in a few isolated attacks on the railways and the government has killed a few Maoist ‘sympathizers’. After the hysteria, it seems that the status quo has returned- low level violence against people and property.

But has it? The Dantewada attack may have been a game changer. The Maoists demonstrated that they have the capability to engage in dramatic strikes that can garner the attention of the national and global media. Was it a tactical victory? Likely not. But, it was a strategic victory in the information war and a show of strength that can only boost the appeal of the Maoist forces. Conversely, it couldn’t have been good for morale amongst the paramilitary police. The government, on the other hand, learned that simply pouring troops into the so-called ”Red Corridor’ is not enough. Without sufficient intelligence the CRPF personnel are little more than targets.

What does this all mean? At the risk of making an excessively decisive prediction, I think that the attack in Chhattisgarh has made the conflict with the Naxalites more of a war. The government learned that it needs to be smarter and that the Maoists are a very real threat. They will be more cautious and measured in the future. This is no longer about a group of violent malcontents running around the peripheral regions of India. It is about the Indian state facing a disciplined, tactically superior force that has demonstrated its ability to gain victories both militarily and informationally. It is a war. And war is not always a good thing.  Especially if you believe, as I do, that the Naxalites are a symptom and not the cause.