- Category: South Asia Revolution
- Created on Thursday, 17 January 2013 05:14
- Written by Chamara Sumanapala
India’s ‘Forgotten’ Naxalite War
this first appeared at national.lk
In a political environment dominated by unrest in West Asia, tension in East Asia and economic crises in North America and Europe, everyone seems to have forgotten about the insurgency still raging in the heartland of Eastern India. For their own reasons, both the Indian government and the insurgents seemingly do not mind the lack of attention to the battle they are waging.
The Maoists of India, popularly known as the ‘Naxalites’ have been waging a war of attrition with the government of India for four and a half decades. It has seen its ups and downs over the years. After being almost wiped out in the early 1970s, it regrouped and reemerged as a much more strong force around a decade ago. It appeared so strong that the Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh declared it to be the “greatest internal threat” India is facing in 2006.
Still, too many Indians themselves, let alone outsiders, gave it much attention. Out of 13 Chief Ministers invited by the Prime Minister to discuss a common strategy to counter the threat in 2006, only six chose to turn up in New Delhi. Even then, one of them found a time to sleep during the meeting. Such was the importance they gave to what their Prime Minister believed to be the most serious internal threat.
To many, it was a ‘ragtag rebellion’ as described by The Economist in June 2009. However, at that time the international magazine was arguing that there were not enough brave politicians, honest officials and well trained police to counter the rebellion. By the end of the year, the magazine was reporting that India was planning to take the battle to the Maoist heartland. By February 2010, The Economist was arguing that the Indian government should take the matter seriously, obviously because the counterinsurgency had not worked. However, with not enough well trained policemen, strong politicians and honest officials, Indians could hardly take the matters seriously and mount a successful campaign against the Naxalites.
Then the Maoists struck at the Indian security establishment with a vengeance. In early April 2010, a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) patrol was ambushed in Chhattisgarh by Maoist cadres. 76 policemen lost their lives.
This ushered in a new era in the insurgency. International media started taking an interest in it much more than before. The grievances of the insurgents found a voice outside the borders of India. However, this attack also created panic among the urban population and the ruling class of India. Strong reaction was demanded.
Tribal versus tribal affair
Maoists were already in retreat in their traditional strongholds of Andhra Pradesh. Their main “base areas” were in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and some areas bordering those states. India’s marginalized tribal people are their main support base. In Chhattisgarh, there was a state funded paramilitary force, the Salwa Judum (Peace March) was created to counter the Naxals. The Salwa Judum was to be composed of tribal people and therefore, the counterinsurgency in Chhattisgarh became a tribal versus tribal affair. However, India’s Supreme Court decided that the deployment of tribal youths as Special Police Officers (SPOs) in the anti-Maoist operations was unconstitutional and illegal.
Meanwhile, police action was intensified in several states against the Naxalites. The main outfit, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) was weakened by the removal of many of its leaders through arrest, killing or desertion. While the deaths and arrests of leaders failed to visibly affect the rebels in earlier years, the death of one of their top leaders, Koteswara Rao, affected them dearly. Seen as a spokesman to the outfit, he led a rebel campaign in West Bengal, which collapsed after his death in November 2011.
Koteswara Rao, more commonly known as Kishenji, was a native of Andhra Pradesh, like many of the top leadership of the CPI (Maoist). This Andhra based leadership was criticized by the Maoist leader in Odisha (Orissa) Subyasachi Panda. In one of the most significant breaks in the short history of the CPI (Maoist), he left the party in mid-2012. This further weakened the Maoists. Currently, the outside world considers the CPI (Maoist) as largely silent. There has not been any incident which could catch widespread media attention after the kidnapping of two Italians and a local politician in early 2012 and a local collector some time later. There have been reports of the police forces making occasional forays into the Maoist heartland.
However, this relative inaction may be an illusion. It was not so long ago when the Indian government assessed that there were around 8,000 well trained members in the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) of the CPI (Maoist). In addition, there were nearly 40,000 members in the people’s militia. The latter was not well armed or trained and the PLGA also lacks sophisticated arms. But the training given to the PLGA cadres is reportedly much better than that given the Indian police forces. These are also highly motivated ideologically. The Naxalites propagate their ideas through cultural troops and other means. Their hard core cadres are reportedly highly motivated. The Naxalites provide education and other social benefits to the marginalized tribes.
Therefore, such a strongly entrenched force is unlikely to melt away, and it has not. The campaign on the ground has been continued attracting little media attention. The Maoists, at this critical juncture when they have been weakened, may prefer the lack of media attention. It will divert the attention of the Indian people outside the Maoist heartland to more pressing issues, until the Maoists are once again ready to launch a new campaign.