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Monday, October 12, 2009

India Battles ‘Red Terror’

The Maoist-Naxalite threat turns up the heat in India, with extremists on the rampage, attacking civilians and killing 17 police officers this month, and the government preparing for a major military offensive, Animesh Roul writes for ISN Security Watch.
By Animesh Roul in New Delhi for ISN Security Watch

In a brutal show of force, hundreds of left-wing extremists (also known as Maoists or Naxalites) attacked a police unit killing 17 officers in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district on 8 October, despite threats from state and federal governments of a strong military response if extremists failed to renounce violence. 
Earlier that week, Maoists extremists beheaded an abducted senior police official in Chhattisgarh state following a failed bid to swap jailed Maoists leaders.
Reacting to the latest Taliban-style execution, Minster of Home Affairs P Chidambaram told local media that the violence was a possible response to the arrest of some senior CPI-Maoist leaders.
Samarji, Maoist leader in Jharkhand, had reportedly demanded through local media that the abducted police official be swapped for three recently arrested cadres — Kobad Ghandy, Chhattradhar Mahato and Chandra Bhushan Yadav.
Maoists have been targeting legislators, security officials and government properties in regular intervals in their so-called Red Corridor, which comprises swathes of territory including parts central and eastern India.
According to government sources, the extremists control nearly 40,000 square kilometers across 20 states.

The Indian government now concedes that the Naxalites pose one of the greatest threats to the country’s security.
In India, left-wing extremism emerged from a place called Naxalbari in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal in 1967 under the leadership of Charu Mazumdar. Since then, the movement has come a long way from what was a rather small-scale local rebellion of farmers and tribal peoples.

Maoists in India, as elsewhere, have adopted the ‘Protracted People’s War’ (PPW) as the strategy to achieve their political objective. The PPW is divided into three phases: occupy the land; step up the guerilla struggle; and bring power to the people.
Urbanizing terror
Speaking to ISN Security Watch, Rajat Kujur, co-author of Maoism in India: Reincarnation of Ultra Left Wing Extremism in the Twenty-First Century (Routledge, 2009, Forthcoming), said that some significant changes [have] occurred in the Maoist modus operandi of late.” He said that the Maoists were moving away from the traditional guerilla formula of ambush towards a novel hit-and-run formula and an urban strategy.
There been violent clashes between armed tribal groups backed by Maoists and security forces in West Bengal’s Nandigram, Singur and Lalgarh areas over land acquisition by the state government. And of late, many Maoists cadres from Indian metropolises including New Delhi, Mumbai, Nagpur and Hyderabad have been arrested.
According to Kujur, these developments should largely have been expected. 
“Encircling the Urban areas definitely is a Maoist technique,” Kujur said, explaining that “once the guerilla warfare reaches a point, the classic Maoist formula says they must start encircling the cities, which they are doing now.”
Nihar Nayak, Maoist expert at the New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis (IDSA), agrees. “In their mass mobilization effort, Maoists are now garnering support from intellectuals, students, slum dwellers, minority populations and laborers in the Cities and towns,” he told ISN Security Watch.
“In urban areas, the CPI Maoist has been forming a Tactical United Front with organizations that oppose the Indian State. It has also infiltrated existing trade unions and plans to float new ones in all big companies both for political and funding purposes.”
In a recent interview with a national daily, Koteshwar Rao, a politburo member of the CPI (Maoists) in charge of their West Bengal, Orissa and Jharkand operations, disclosed they had joined forces with northeast separatist groups and Islamist organizations in order to fight the Indian government.
Nayak recalled that “the CPI-Maoist’s January 2007 resolution had prompted the extremists to reach out to Muslims and other minorities to spread the movement throughout the country.”
On the offensive
The government is planning a multi-pronged military operation in ‘hot pursuit’ of extremists that will include a developmental package for tribal regions starting in mid-October.
The scheduled military campaign, now dubbed the ‘October Offensive,’ will be carried out with help from civilian and military agencies such as the Anti- Maoist Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) force, the Indian air force, the Indian Space Research Organization, paramilitary forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force and the Border Security Force.
“This will be the first time India will wage such a military offensive, though not a full-fledged war against its own people.”
However, “We do not consider this as our own Swat [referring to anti-Taliban operations in neighboring Pakistan] at all, as media are painting it,” a senior security official involved in the operation told ISN security Watch under condition of anonymity.
Nayak plays down the euphoria of a military offensive to root out Maoist extremism in India. He underscores that this “cannot be a long term solution to the protracted Maoist insurgency in the country.
“Historical evidence suggests that even if the state managed to suppress the movement for some time, the Maoist movement would [return] with new vigor and manifest itself in most a virulent form,” he said.
Similar views are expressed by Mahendra Kumawat, a former paramilitary chief who was quoted in The Telegraph on 4 Kolkata. In charge of anti-Naxalite operations in his earlier capacity, Kumawat questioned the government’s ‘crackdown first - development-later strategy’ and urged it to refrain from a “strike policy” that only involves bloodshed and disruption.
Kujur concurred, saying, “This military campaign and economic overtures notwithstanding, the government needs to ensure that the people of those affected regions enjoy the benefits of good governance.”
“Again, one needs to understand that Naxalism is a political problem and it needs to be solved politically,” he added.

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