India’s War Within
The frontiers between India and China, despite small disturbances of late, remain at peace. India’s borders and the line of actual control with Pakistan have not witnessed any exchange of fire for a long time. Yet the Indian state is engaged in an internal war that it is refusing to fight with full force.
The enemy is an armed group that believes in the political philosophy of Mao Zedong. The members were not, until recently, exactly a monolithic outfit but its cadres, variously known as Naxalites or Maoists, maintained a loose network. Now they have formed a much more cohesive organization.
The group’s presence is seen in nearly 40 per cent of India’s land mass. Although it has been waging a war against the state for the past 10 years or so, the fight has intensified in recent months. The group claims to be revolutionary, does not believe in parliamentary democracy, aims at capturing power through violence and maintains fraternal links with similar groups in neighboring countries.
In the past five years these fighters have killed more than 6,000 people, including police officers. This casualty figure, it may be noted, is much higher than the number of soldiers India has lost in three wars against Pakistan.
They are active across 220 of India’s 602 districts, spanning 15 states. They are especially concentrated in an area known as the “red corridor,” where they control 92,000 square kilometers of landmass stretching from Karnataka state in the south to the border with Nepal in the north.
With a force of 15,000 armed cadres, they control an estimated one-fifth of India’s forests. They are also believed to have 50,000 underground activists. Around 100,000 people, including the intelligentsia, are associated with various front organizations in different parts of the country.
They have hijacked super-fast trains, imposed regular “bandh’s” a form of protest by political activists that bring social and business life to a complete halt in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. They have shot dead innocent civilians and officials, set ablaze railway stations, taken hostages, torched vehicles, destroyed school buildings and dismantled government offices responsible for development-related work.
Two months ago they beheaded, Taliban style, police officials in the states of Jharkhand and Maharashtra, whom they had taken as hostages to force the government to release some of their detained comrades.
Last month they forced the government in West Bengal to release their activists from jail in exchange for a police inspector held hostage. Incidentally, while releasing the inspector they ensured that he put on a shirt displaying the sign “prisoner of war” to highlight that the Maoists are “at war” with India.
It is no surprise that for the past three years Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been saying: “The Naxalites pose the gravest threat to the internal security of the country.”
But how is Singh dealing with the issue? Therein lies the confusion. Singh like many typical advocates of human rights in India for whom the terrorists, not their victims, have constitutionally guaranteed rights although they do not believe in the Constitution is not convinced that the Maoists are the enemy of the nation.
Singh has even refused to brand them as terrorists, though their activities taking hostages, creating a sense of terror, merciless killings of civilians, destruction of public property, spreading a cult of intolerance and glorifying the use of violence to capture state power are hallmarks of terrorist activities.
The Maoists deserve to be faced with all the force and power at the disposal of the state. But Singh invariably cites the usual factors of underdevelopment, corruption in the bureaucracy, police atrocities and exploitation of the poor and tribal people as contributing factors to their growing influence.
Singh prefers dialogue with the Maoists. But he seems to forget that, as seen in Kashmir and other northeast regions, people are supporting the so-called revolutionaries in the “red corridor” in eastern and central India not out of love and reverence but due to terror and fear.
Maoists and their leaders are flourishing because money, important for procuring sophisticated weapons, is no longer a problem. Most Maoist leaders have over the past two decades acquired large properties in urban areas with the money received through extortion, which, according to one estimate, yields millions of dollars. The victims are contractors, businessmen, doctors, engineers, and even poor labourers and farmers who are forced to part with a substantial portion of their earnings.
The Maoists raise funds through extortion or by setting up parallel administrations to collect taxes in rural areas where local governments are either absent or weak. This is not all. Smuggling of contraband and wood as well as poppy cultivation also enrich their coffers.
Worse, the Maoists have strengthened their links with notorious terrorist groups outside the country, including al-Qaida. Credible intelligence reports, which have been published in India, Nepal and Bangladesh and not contested by the governments concerned, reveal how al-Qaida, through elements in the Pakistani spy agency the Inter-Services Intelligence, is patronizing Maoist operatives in spreading extremist Islam in South Asia under the guise of Communism.
It may be recalled that in 2001 Maoist groups in India formed the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia, better known as CCOMPOSA, in secret locations in the jungles of central India. Its members are Naxalites or Maoist outfits from Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
In August 2006 CCOMPOSA held its fourth conference in Nepal. Obviously, with the Maoists emerging as the most important political force in Nepal, their fraternal counterparts in India have become more powerful. Recently, a truck loaded with more than 1,000 kilograms of explosives and a large number of detonators was apprehended in Bihar close to the Nepal border.
Coming back to the central point, the Maoists and their sympathizers cannot be contained by the state if it fights them with hands tied. The Maoists have waged a war against the country and they must be comprehensively defeated before any meaningful talks begin. Any talks with them now could at best lead to a truce. But a truce is no substitute for a lasting peace.
By Prakash Mehra