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Saturday June 24, 2017
South Asia
Something Is Rotten In The Nation Of India
Vol: 1 Num: 3    Summer 2006
Born out of the 1967 militant peasant uprising of Naxalbari, West Bengal, the Maoist groups follow the classic Mao strategy to propagate their ideologies. First they build base in remote forested areas and then establish parallel non-governmental administration. However, a movement started with the original objective of helping the oppressed has turned on its own base. Its violent tactics have reached such proportion that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it the biggest threat facing India.

Born out of the 1967 militant peasant uprising of Naxalbari, West Bengal, the Maoist groups follow the classic Mao strategy to propagate their ideologies. First they build base in remote forested areas and then establish parallel non-governmental administration. However, a movement started with the original objective of helping the oppressed has turned on its own base. Its violent tactics have reached such proportion that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it the biggest threat facing India.

An enormous country with more than a billion people means that it is too big and too complex to govern, manage and administer without problems. Over the past sixty odd years since independence, the major thrust of India’s policies has been to industrialize, urbanize and raise the economic level of its population. These policies have worked well and India has developed – some regions more than others. However, India is huge and has gigantic problems, not the least of them is the uneven development of the country. While most of us see airports, tall metropolitan buildings, industries and roads there are wide swathes of the country which are still black-spots. That’s where the biggest challenge for India lies. There we find the termites hidden inside the big banyan tree, the insidious hollowing out of the state and the biggest danger – much bigger than the various terrorist campaigns in the North East or Kashmir – namely the Maoist terrorist campaign.

Almost 19% of India’s territory is now considered to be under the control of Maoists. The word Maoist covers a multitude of groups operating in a swathe of territories ranging from Nepal, Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. These groups follow the classic Mao strategy of building up bases in densely forested and remote areas, then creating guerrilla zones and finally implementing a parallel or dominant non-governmental administration. Once the countryside is taken over, the urban areas are surrounded and slowly squeezed.

Long Simmering Problems

With roots going back forty years, to the time of the Naxalbari movement in West Bengal, the Maoist movement is spreading rapidly across the least developed parts of the country. Originally the movement started against the landlords and low level government agents, who were seen as oppressing the landless, poor, tribal people, dalits and inhabitants of the remote under-developed areas. The movement’s original objective was the removal of landlords and redistribution of their land among the landless.

However, as is with all ideologies, the movement soon turned into a war on its own base of tribal people, landless agricultural laborers and the poor peasants. They were terrorized, forced to give money and support or be killed by landmines. Whenever the government tried to increase its spending and implement development projects in the areas infested by Maoists, its vehicles were blown up, its armories were looted and its officers, police and bureaucrats were killed. This generally did not allow local governments to function well, which made already incompetent and corrupt governments more inept and crooked. Desperately poor, the people of these regions are faced with an implacable foe in the Maoists on one side, and a rather ineffectual, uncaring and heavy handed government on the other. The situation is so dire that it has turned into one of the most dangerous threats facing the country. It is something that even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admitted not so long ago.

The Maoist movement consists of many radical organizations including, the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) or Janashakti and the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) or People's War Group (PWG) whose armed wing is called as the People's Guerrilla Army (PGA). They are generally known as the Naxalites, a term that comes from a small West Bengal village, Naxalbari, where the radical wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) led by Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal started a militant peasant uprising in 1967. Since then the Naxalites have splintered into many groups that operate interchangeably across a number of states in central-east India. Their strength is estimated to be ranging from 20,000 to 100,000 comrades across India, led by a highly professional leadership. They have even set up a coordination forum called the Coordination Committees of Maoist Parties and Organizations (CCOMPOSA), where Maoist groups from Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka join in to coordinate their activities.

Classic Guerilla Tactics

The economic targeting is a specific strand in the Maoist strategy. For example, in April 2001, the PGA arsonists set on fire a bauxite mine owned by Hindalco in Jharkhand. In May 2001, the same group imposed an economic blockade in Jharkhand. In March 2003, the Maoists exploded a warehouse owned by Pepsi Foods of India and destroyed facilities owned by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department. One month later, they targeted a cement plant of ACC and blew up its heavy machinery. In October of the very same year, they targeted the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh with a landmine, but failed to assassinate him.

Systematically, the Maoists are targeting major companies, sabotaging their facilities and warehouses with the aim of inflicting serious financial damages.

Apart from economic attacks on large businesses, the Maoists also target the local government officials. Kidnappings and killings by them of senior bureaucrats and police officers are quite rampant. So are the destruction of communication towers, electricity substations and power grids. Police stations are attacked and trains are stopped and looted. In 2005, they attacked a jail in Bihar releasing more than three hundred prisoners. In March 2006, an entire train filled with security personnel was stopped and held for almost eight hours in protest against the killing of a Maoist commander. Even opponents in the local population are assault very frequently. In 2006, nearly five hundred Maoist foot-soldiers attacked villagers suspected of being police informers in Bansaguda village in Dantewara district of Chhattisgarh.

These are not some isolated events, rather they are part of a very rigorous and violent guerilla campaign to change the form of government and impose their Maoist ideology on India through armed struggle.

What has been the reaction of the government?

The response of Indian government to this menace leaves a lot to be desired. Consistent with its typical response, the government left it to fester and become more cancerous before it paid any concentrated attention to it. This was compounded by the issues of inter-state governance and coordination, which meant that the terrorists could move easily between state boundaries and draw out the teeth of the local police without being bothered by a single law-enforcement entity that could cross the state-borders in pursuit.

The corruption of local governments at district and tehsil levels also did not help. Funds allocated for developmental projects like land development, irrigation, roads etc. are routinely siphoned off by local officials. Not only are they corrupt, but also many government officials do not speak local languages and dialects. The final challenge is who should the government fight? It is a diffused movement and even if the leaders are arrested, the issues of under-development, poverty, corruption and class warfare will still remain.

What can be done?

The severe governance issues in the remote and rural parts of India are too structural and too wide-spread to be resolved easily. Poverty, bad governance, corruption and lack of economic opportunities are the primary reasons for the rise and continuation of the Maoist movement. The Indian Government is trying to address this in a piecemeal fashion, such as by raising special task forces, national rural poor employment schemes, etc. Unfortunately, these efforts are too small, too limited in scope and are still riddled by corruption and mismanagement to be effectual.

In the opinion of just retired Inspector General of Police of Chhattisgarh, A.N. Singh, what is needed is a strong cooperation between central and state governments. Singh, who has had more than thirty years of experience handling Maoist insurgency, concurs with the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement that this is the biggest threat facing the country. He suggests that a multi party group should be established with a clear mandate to eradicate corruption, ensure clean elections and implement local development. He also suggests that an elite multi-state police force with authority to cross borders should be put together and specially trained for fighting in jungles, the usual hideouts of Maoists.

No doubt the Naxalite movement poses one of the biggest challenges to the security and stability of India that only the concentrated and well synchronized efforts of central and state governments can address. Given the centre–state relationships in India, it remains to be seen whether such a coordinated action against Maoist groups is possible or not.

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Dr. Bhaskar Dasgupta lives and works in London and is currently researching terrorism and international relations in India and other countries.

 

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