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Red Terror: India's Maoist Mayhem

Red Terror: India's Maoist Mayhem

March 10, 2010

A look at why Indian democracy is under threat under increasing Maoist violence

Amid all that euphoria over a 7.5% growth rate, rising economic prosperity and the attractiveness it presents as an investment destination, it is easy for outsiders to overlook India’s struggle with an escalating Maoist insurgency. What Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of the country, called “the single biggest internal-security challenge” that India faces. Last week the Home Secretary G.K Pillai reiterated the magnitude of this threat, saying the Maoists want to completely overthrow the Indian state by 2050. What a paradox, though, that this violent struggle stems out of an anger of being excluded from the very same growth story that so often dominates global headlines. So powerful and violent has their movement become that after years of being put on the backburner, it has now become impossible for the Indian government or the media to ignore this conflict as it gets bloodier by the day, spreading to 20 of India’s 28 states.

These days the Maoists, or Maovadis as they are called, are in the news every day. One day it is for beheading a policeman in Bihar, the next for killing 24 cops in West Bengal. The rural revolt that sparked off the Naxal movement in 1967 is slowly taking on epidemic proportions and of the 6,000 people that have died in the last 20 years, this year alone, close to 700 have been mercilessly killed. The government is finding it increasingly difficult to control this insurrection because unlike terrorist groups, the Maoists are scattered among India’s poor, its massive tribal population from West Bengal to Andhra Pradesh & Bihar to Maharashtra.

So even as the Home Minister P. Chidambaram earns laurels for a much better internal security situation post the 26/11 terror attacks, he has been strongly criticized for the failure in stopping this particular contagion of left-wing extremism from spreading. To begin with, the police are badly equipped, ill-trained and constantly battling inadequate manpower, but more importantly it is the absence of a cohesive policy response from the centre that is worrying experts. On one hand, state governments like the one in Jharkhand are accused of supporting Maoists for electoral gains, while on the other alliance partners in the government itself, like the TMC, have been blamed for being soft on them. Just recently an arrested Maoist leader claimed that the TMC had provided them with arms!

But the root of the problem is a socio-economic one. The intelligentsia in India, very often accused of justifying the acts perpetrated by the Maoists, constantly stress on the fact that the solution to ending this crisis has to come not from stepping up an armed struggle but from tackling the root cause; the gross inequalities and decades of dispossession these people have been subjected to. Writing in the Guardian, prominent author and activist Arundhati Roy says, “right now in central India, the Maoists’ guerrilla army is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Saharan Africa. If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so because a government which has given them nothing but violence and neglect now wants to snatch away the last thing they have – their land.”

The land she talks about is rich in minerals and being rapidly usurped by several multinational corporations and mining companies, like Vedanta, through MoUs signed with the government that run into trillions of rupees. Roy believe the stakes are too high for the government to tolerate any dissent from tribals who are being robbed of their only source of livelihood to feed India’s capitalist dream.

The other side of the argument is that it would be stupid to believe that development and land protection are the goals of Maoists; it is all about power. The usual tactics used by them include blowing up any mark of development, whether it is trains, rail tracks or local offices, and therefore believing that they are well-intentioned folk fighting the grievances of their people would be naïve. Any efforts by the state at developing Mao inflicted regions have been constantly quashed, hence a reconciliation with them would hardly be the answer. Instead, there are suggestions that the Maoists should be separated from the tribals and then brought to book with an iron fist, which would include a military option.

But there is a broader consensus emerging on opening up talks with the Maoists where both the sides (the government and the Maoists) abjure violence and come on to the negotiating table. In fact, the Maoist leader Kishanji made such an offer on the condition that the government suspends its anti-Naxal activities for 72 days, only to attack the CPRF forces in West Bengal 3 hours later. That shouldn’t, however, be a reason to give up. After all, there have been successful examples of terror groups such as Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland giving up arms and joining mainstream politics, playing by the rules of a democratic setup. More recently, there have been talks of bringing the so-called ‘moderate’ elements of the Taliban to the centerfold of Afghan politics too. Whatever the strategy, it is going to be a tough road ahead for what seems like a very complex problem with no immediate solution in sight. But one thing is clear – the poorest of regions are those with the highest degree of Maoist infiltration which evidently means they are filling a vacuum for the lack of governance by the incumbents. Without a doubt, then, the only option before the government is to drastically improve the living conditions of these people and give them a sense of hope in order to prevent them from choosing the other option – taking arms.

The land she talks about is rich in minerals and being rapidly usurped by several multinational corporations and mining companies like Vedanta through MoUs signed with the government that run into trillions of rupees. Roy believe the stakes are too high for the government to tolerate any dissent from tribals who are being stolen off their only source of livelihood to feed India’s capitalist dream.

The other side of the argument is that it would be stupid to believe that development and land protection are the goals of Maoists; it is all about power. The usual tactics used by them include blowing up any mark of development, whether it is trains, rail tracks or local offices and therefore believing that they are well intentioned folk fighting the grievances of their people would be naïve. Any efforts by the state at developing Mao inflicted regions have been constantly quashed and hence a reconciliation with them would hardly be the answer. Instead there are suggestions that the Maoists should be separated from the tribals and then dealt with, with an iron fist which would include a military option.

But there is a broader consensus emerging on opening up talks with the Maoists, where both the sides (the government and the Maoists) abjure violence and come on to the negotiating table. In fact the Maoist leader Kishanji made such an offer on the condition that the government suspends its anti Naxal activities for 72 days, only to attack the CPRF forces in West Bengal 3 hours later. That shouldn’t however be a reason to give up. After all, there have been successful examples of terror groups such as Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland giving up arms and joining mainstream politics, playing by the rules of a democratic set up. More recently, there have been talks of bringing the so called ‘moderate’ elements of the Taliban at the centerfold of Afghan politics too.

Whatever the strategy, it is going to be a tough road ahead for what seems like a very complex problem with no immediate solution in sight. But one thing is clear – the poorest of regions are those with the highest degree of Maoist infiltration which evidently means they are filling a vacuum for the lack of governance by the incumbents. Without a doubt then the only option before the government is to drastically improve the living conditions of these people and give them a sense of hope in order to prevent them from choosing the other option – taking arms.

1 Comment

  • Nalini Hebbar
    By
    Nalini Hebbar
    11.03.10 12:29 PM
    we have more people dying from internal terror strikes than from those from outside...and unfortunately the Maoists are fighting for their rights which the govt should be able to give them...the priorities of govt. policies need new direction...the problem has to solved inside out...treating the symptoms can't stem the rot that has touched the hearts of our countries poorest of poor
    great post...very relevant

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