(This article, by a major British magazine which openly represents the interests of the capitalist and imperialist system, examines how their local Indian counterparts are handling the growing revolutionary opposition. Their assessment: Not so well. They give a few tips, but don't show a great deal of optimism with how things looks at present. The people are not saddened by such news)
Maoist insurgents in India
More bloody and defiant
To overcome Naxalite rebels, India’s government needs to be more adept at both using force and spreading development
Jul 22nd 2010 DELHI
AS INDIA’S Maoist rebellion deepens and grows, so too do divisions in the government over how it should be confronted. Nearly 800 people have been killed in the insurgency so far this year, close to the total for the whole of 2009–a record year for bloodshed in this conflict. The lack of a unified government response suggests this grim trajectory will continue.
On July 17th Digvijay Singh, general secretary of the ruling Congress Party, used a television interview to defend criticisms he had made earlier in print, accusing the home minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, of mishandling the rebellion. He had written that it is wrong to treat the insurgency “purely as a law and order problem”; instead the government must “take into consideration the people living in the affected area who ultimately matter”.
This disagreement, between two senior government leaders, echoes a wider debate about how to battle the Naxalites, as the Maoists are also known because of their roots in a 1967 peasant uprising in the West Bengali village of Naxalbari. One view holds that the rebels are a military threat and the priority is to quash them by force. The other argues that the Naxalites feed on the grievances of impoverished tribal inhabitants in eastern and central India, and will only fade when development is brought to such areas.
The difference in emphasis matters, but in fact disagreement is much greater outside of the government than within it. A comprehensive response—which combines both security and development—is the best of all. Thus on July 14th, the government said that it is setting up a “unified command” structure to oversee state-level efforts to fight against the rebels, using the expertise of a former army general, and increased army logistical support and helicopters. But it also announced there would be more cash for development projects in Maoist-dominated areas.
The government has so far failed to combine the twin requirements of force and development to produce a successful strategy. “There’s still no consensual policy, no clarity,” says Ajay Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management, a think-tank in Delhi, commenting on the government plan. The battle against the rebels is being fought by an overstretched, ineffectual police force that has allowed the Maoists to spread from an estimated 56 of India’s 626 districts in 2001 to more than 200 today. The growth of the rebels, who today number 10,000-20,000, with countless thousands of village militias, has been aided by the 2004 merger of the country’s two main communist groups. In addition, speedy economic growth in the eastern states, especially in the mining industry, has given the rebels new targets for raising funds by extorting cash.
Late last year the government sent in thousands of federal police in an offensive across the worst-affected states: Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal. No notable improvement in the campaign followed. Instead, in recent months, Maoist violence has escalated sharply. This month 27 police were slaughtered in Chhattisgarh. In May Maoists were blamed for derailing a passenger train, killing at least 145 people. After reports of Maoist threats to their lives this month, the personal security of two high-ranking ministers was increased. The threats followed the killing by security forces of a leading Naxalite, Cherkuri Rajkumar, also known as Azad, in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh on July 2nd.
Politicians are so alive to the Maoist threat that when a train crashed in West Bengal on July 19th, killing at least 63 people, the railway minister, Mamata Banerjee, was quick to finger the rebels as suspects. In fact, the driver apparently ignored stop signals and failed to apply his brakes.
Increasingly, the insurgency is hampering efforts to open up east India’s mineral-rich forests to business. In particular, the rebel fondness for attacking railways and roads has made it difficult for some companies to operate. Work on a $7 billion steel plant by JSW Steel, India’s third-largest steel producer, has been delayed in West Bengal, as have steel projects by Tata Steel and Essar in Chhattisgarh. In June India’s coal minister, Sriprakash Jaiswal, said the threat of Naxalite attacks was substantially curbing coal production. Land conflicts between big companies and local people have done much to boost the appeal of the Naxalites.
The popularity of the Naxalites might yet diminish if people in rebel areas got more basic amenities such as roads, water and schools. The southern state of Andhra Pradesh has had great success in weakening Maoism with a combination of better development and policing. The state’s anti-Naxalite police have been better trained, paid and armed than forces elsewhere. Recruiting more police from the local communities who are familiar with the often difficult jungle terrain of Maoist areas would also help, rather than importing men who do not even understand the language of those they are fighting against.
Elsewhere, however, such measures have been slow in coming. A year ago police launched a big campaign in Lalgarh, West Bengal, to recapture the area from Maoist rebels. Today the rebels are still present, perhaps in part because public investment that was promised has not come as quickly as many had expected. Amitava Rath, a local journalist, points out that the support for the rebels is strongest in those villages with the fewest amenities. “The rebels have started carrying out some development work as if they are already running a state within the state,” he says.