maoist insurgency in india
REVOLTED AND REVOLTING
Randolph is deputy editor of Current
Intelligence magazine and is working on a forthcoming
book on the Naxalite movement for Hurst & Co.
Maoist insurgency raging through India’s rural heartlands
has come to dominate the domestic security agenda in recent
months, but this internal struggle for power should also be
seen as a vicious by-product of India’s emergence as a
Minister Manmohan Singh repeatedly describes the Maoists –
otherwise known as Naxalites after the town of Naxalbari in
north India, where the movement’s first uprising took
place in 1967 – as India’s “gravest internal
security threat.” That much of India’s mineral potential
exists in its poorest regions, where the Maoists are strongest,
represents a direct threat to the country’s growth trajectory
at a time when it struggles to meet demand for coal, iron ore,
steel and other commodities.
the Naxalite movement is somewhat diffuse, the primary threat
comes from the Communist Party of India (Maoist), led by a Politburo
of 13 members, with an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 fighters and
pockets of influence in at least 20 of India’s 28 states.
A series of high-profile attacks dominated the news in 2010,
including a 6 April ambush in the state of Chhattisgarh that
left 76 paramilitaries dead and a 28th of May train derailment
by a Maoist-affiliated group that killed 148 civilians.
attacks are but a few of a daily stream of reports of assassinations,
extortion and police gun battles. In the first six months of
the year, 389 civilians, 177 members of security forces and
144 insurgents were killed, with the annual death toll expected
to far outstrip the 997 people killed in 2009. By comparison,
conflict in Jammu and Kashmir claimed 375 lives last year.
blame the government’s counter-insurgency surge launched
late last year, nicknamed Operation Green Hunt, for increasing
police battalions in affected regions without addressing underlying
grievances related to poor governance, lack of development and
the denial of basic rights to India’s poorest citizens.
the surface, the problem appears intrinsically internal. Former
links to Nepalese Maoists were severed after the latter entered
peace negotiations in 2006, while early support from China has
long since dissipated in the face of improving Sino-Indian relations
and the embrace of capitalism in both countries. In contrast
to many Islamist extremist groups, the Naxalites represent a
traditional form of insurgency, with little interest in attracting
global attention through attacks on international targets or
use of internet-based propaganda.
India’s growing global stature fuels the Naxalite resurgence.
Soaring growth rates of recent years, with the gross domestic
product more than doubling to $1.2 trillion since 2003, are
to a great extent a product of India’s economic liberalization
over the past two decades. India’s potential as a market
for foreign goods, the growth of its services and manufacturing
sectors, and its critical geopolitical position between China
and Central Asia combine to make the nation a central player
in 21st century international relations, a position reflected
in a raft of free-trade agreements and its exemption from the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
while economic growth has benefited millions of its citizens,
government promises to make that growth more inclusive of the
poor through improved infrastructure, social-security programs
and work-guarantee schemes have scarcely been realized. Most
recent figures from the government’s Planning Commission
show 41.8 percent of the rural population still lived below
the poverty line in 2004-05, and here, Maoists find an abundance
of potential recruits. Moreover, as communications increasingly
reach these communities, so does awareness that they are excluded
from India’s global success story. India has 550 million
cell phone subscribers with around 20 million new accounts opened
every month in 2010; the number of satellite TVs in rural areas
increased by 49 percent in 2009 and 64 percent in 2010 –
often reaching the poorest through communal viewing.
particular, remote tribal communities, lacking in basic government
services, have become the core constituency for the Maoists.
After years of exploitation by landowners and corrupt forest
officials, India’s tribals now find themselves awkwardly
sitting atop some of the country’s richest mineral reserves
and on land allocated as “special economic zones.”
The government sees these resources as vital to boosting foreign
investment, ensuring future energy security and meeting soaring
demand from domestic industry. By contrast, India’s tribals
view globalization largely as a source of intrusion, dispossession
protests against mining and industrial projects have gained
international attention through global campaigning groups such
as Amnesty International and Survival International. One sustained
campaign targets Vedanta, a UK-listed mining company, for plans
to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa, a deity for
the local Dongria Kondh tribe. The campaign has led to a number
of shareholders, including the Church of England, selling stock
on ethical grounds. Similar protests against land acquisition
have delayed major projects such as the $12 billion steel project
planned by South Korea’s Posco, also in Orissa.
of peaceful protests, India’s economic trajectory exercises
strong pressure to industrialize remote areas and expand India’s
relatively small mining sector, which currently accounts for
2.8 percent of GDP despite vast reserves of coal, bauxite, copper,
diamond and many other minerals. That pressure tends to be exercised
through corrupt channels of state-level bureaucracy, facilitated
by weak systems of property entitlement, that leave many of
those affected without decent compensation or effective means
of protest or redress.
issues have provided the Maoists with the ideological underpinning
by which to galvanize popular opinion. Theirs is essentially
an extreme form of critique of the globalized, pro-capitalist
direction set by India since 1991. In the absence of legitimate
governance, the Maoists often represent the only form of political
representation available to tribal communities. Once entrenched
in a region, their presence instigates a cycle of deteriorating
security, an exchange of violence with security forces, which
embeds them deeper within the local population.
biggest obstacle to foreign investment in India remains stifling
bureaucracy and rigid regulations on foreign ownership, but
the Naxalite insurgency and the violent trend of anti-globalization
is a growing source of disquiet for investors. The federal government
has attempted to address some grievances of local populations
through better protection of the environment and tribal property
rights, or more equitable disbursement of profits to affected
communities. One example is the Forest Rights Act 2006, which
aims to recognize ownership of land that a tribe or individual
has traditionally cultivated. However, such initiatives often
fall victim to corruption or bureaucratic inefficiency at local
level, with reports in the press of legitimate claims rejected
or ignored. Elsewhere, an attempt to give 26 percent of mining
profits to local communities through a revised Mining and Minerals
Bill faces vehement opposition from mining lobbyists, and would
face implementation problems if passed.
the meantime, the recent surge in violence reflects a momentum
that threatens government efforts to win the allegiance of local
populations. Commentators urge improved governance and development,
but the task is enormous. As just one example, a 2007 report
by the Centre for Environment and Food Security found that Orissa
government officials had pocketed 75 percent of funds allocated
under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the government’s
flagship anti-poverty scheme.
measures are crucial to undermining the Maoist insurgency and
softening the impact of global economic processes on India’s
most vulnerable citizens. But when endemic corruption undermines
these measures, the case for a globalized India has little to
recommend it to the millions still below the poverty line.
At Play in the Garbage Fields of the Lord
Shape of Rape in Pakistan
Games in India
Women: an Infinite Down
Unveiling the Terrorist Mind
with permission from YaleGlobal Online
(c) 2009 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.