India Insight

Who are India’s Maoists and why they are in the news

By Shashank Chouhan and Sankalp Phartiyal

Here’s a ready reckoner on the Maoist movement in India.

WHO ARE THE MAOISTS?

The Maoists, also known as Naxals in India, are inspired by the political philosophy of China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong. They say they are fighting for the rights of poor farmers and landless labourers. In 2004, several Maoist groups merged to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which is now the largest left-wing extremist organization in the country. Their aim is to overthrow the state and usher in a classless society. The Maoists are banned in India. They are not to be confused with the mainstream communist parties in India who regularly get elected to legislatures and parliament.

ARE THEY GETTING STRONGER?
The May 25, 2013 ambush was perhaps their most brazen attack on politicians. On June 13, 2013, Maoists attacked a passenger train in Bihar, killing three people. On April 6, 2010, the rebels killed at least 75 policemen in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. The same year, Maoists were blamed for a sabotaging a crowded train in West Bengal, with around 100 passengers killed when it derailed. Maoists have also kidnapped bureaucrats and foreigners to force their demands on the state. Government data shows they have also destroyed hundreds of schools and infrastructure such as telephone towers.

HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE DIED SO FAR?
It is difficult to arrive at an exact number but government data shows nearly 8,000 people have been killed between 2001 and 2012.

HOW DID THIS MOVEMENT BEGIN?
The peasant movement in Andhra Pradesh just after India’s independence was a precursor to the rise of Maoist thought. But it was an attack on a tribal man in the Naxalbari village of West Bengal on March 2, 1967 that sparked the violent, extremist left-wing movement. A police research paper says the movement was subdued for two decades till 1991.

ARE MAOISTS GETTING FOREIGN HELP?
Media reports suggest the Maoists may be getting training and support from China. There are also reports of their links with Maoist cadres in Nepal, the Philippines and Turkey.

India needs a tough hostage policy

The abductions of two Italians and two government officials by Maoist guerrillas in just over a month must have left Indian authorities with a sense of déjà vu as they search for ways to end the cycle of negotiations and eventual accession to demands made by the rebels.

For the Maoists, who say they are fighting for people left out of India’s economic boom, the tactic of taking hostages instead of engaging soldiers brings huge dividends — obtaining freedom for jailed comrades and suspension of military ‘combing’ operations in areas controlled by them.

The method is not new, with government records showing hundreds of kidnappings since 2008 by Maoists, who have fought for decades in a wide swathe of central and eastern India including many resource-rich regions. Authorities stumble along on a case-by-case basis because there is no set procedure on how to handle such situations.

Sympathy for the devil? Maoist supporters get flak

maoists

Hours after Maoist rebels detonated a landmine under a bus in central India on Monday, killing about 35 people including policemen, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram was unapologetic in his criticism of civil society organisations that he said were getting in the way of the state’s efforts to contain the rebels.

It is “almost fashionable” to be sympathetic to the Maoist cause, Chidambaram said in an interview to NDTV news channel.

In defending the rebels and questioning the motives of the government — and not of the rebels — they were weakening the apparatus of the state, he said.

from Afghan Journal:

Bombing your own people: the use of air power in South Asia

(U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt jets, also known as the Warthog. File photo)

(U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt jets, also known as the Warthog. File photo)

Pakistani army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani offered a rare apology at the weekend for a deadly air strike in the Khyber region in the northwest  in which residents and local officials say at least 63 civilians were killed.

Tragically for the Pakistani military, most of the victims were members of a tribe that had stood up against the Taliban. Some of them were members of the army. Indeed as Dawn reported the first bomb was dropped on the house of a serving army officer, followed by another more devastating strike just when people rushed to the scene. Such actions defy description and an explanation is in order from those who ordered the assault, the newspaper said in an angry editorial.

But the question really is wasn't it coming? The counter-insurgency strategy that Pakistan has pursued to wrest control of its turbulent northwest along the border with Afghanistan has consisted of heavy use of air strikes and long range artillery barrages in the initial stages before putting boots on the ground.

Police taking on India’s Maoists can’t shoot straight?

The killing of 76 police by Maoist rebels earlier this month in central India did not come as a big surprise to experts who know most of the forces that are deployed in the dense jungles are hardly trained in jungle warfare.

Security personnel in Lucknow pay their respects in front of a coffin of a policeman who was killed in the Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh April 7, 2010. REUTERS/Pawan KumarMost of them undergo a short training course before engaging the rebels in inhospitable terrain is thrust upon their shoulders.

More than 1,000 fighters, armed with sophisticated weapons, ambushed the central police in insurgency-hit Chhattisgarh state, exposing a lack of intelligence and planning by forces who were totally unfamiliar with the rebel territory.

Will anti-torture law have the desired effect?

Just days after 76 security personnel were killed by Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh, a long-pending bill to prevent torture has been cleared by the cabinet for introduction in parliament, which aims to align Indian law with the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

Activists have for years demanded ratification of the 1984 U.N. convention, which India signed 13 years ago, to curb alleged brutalities by state agencies especially in disturbed areas like Jammu and Kashmir, the North East and the “red corridor” where Maoists operate.

But some cabinet members reportedly felt the bill was ill-timed in the wake of the Dantewada killings, arguing it could be demoralising for security forces who are trying to maintain security in hostile environments.

Is the government losing the plot in tackling Maoist insurgency?

A day after hundreds of Maoist rebels trapped and killed 76 Indian security personnel in a heavily mined swathe of jungle in Chhattisgarh, a feeling of shock pervades the national psyche.

The nature of the attack, the detailed planning that went into it and the government’s reaction thereafter has raised the question that is being debated for some time now.

The bodies of policemen are removed from a vehicle in Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh, April 6, 2010. REUTERS/StringerIs it time to involve the better equipped and better trained armed forces in ongoing anti-insurgency operations?

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Comparing Pakistan’s Islamists to India’s Maoists

chhattisgarhOne of the more controversial arguments doing the rounds is the question of whether you can compare Pakistan's Islamist militants to Maoist insurgents in India. Both claim to champion the cause of social justice and have been able to exploit local grievances against poor governance to win support, and both use violence against the state to try to achieve their aims.

The differences are obvious:  the Islamist militants come from the religious right; the Maoists from the far-left. In Pakistan, the militants have become powerful enough to strike at the heart of the country's major cities. In India, the Maoists remain largely confined to the country's interiors, although their influence is spreading through large parts of its rural hinterland.

In Pakistan, the military initially nurtured Islamist militants to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan - with U.S. and Saudi support - and later to fight India in Kashmir. In India, the Maoist movement has grown organically from its origins as a local 1967 uprising by communists over a land dispute in the village of  Naxalbari in West Bengal, from where its followers derive their name as Naxalites.

Are the Maoists gaining ground in West Bengal?

Hundreds of tribal people backed by the Maoist guerrillas stormed the high-speed Rajdhani Express, one of the country’s most prestigious passenger trains, in West Bengal on Tuesday. Police and security forces could free the train and its driver after a five-hour-long hostage drama, including a gunfight with the rebels in the forest.Maoists have stepped up violence across eastern and central India and internal security experts say it indicates a growing dominance of the insurgents in the state.The rebels raided a police station in West Bengal this month and abducted a senior official after gunning down two of his colleagues.Police officer Atindranath Dutta was held captive for two days and freed in exchange for 23 tribal women lodged in prisons for suspected Maoist links.Maoist attacks on police posts are nothing new in an area that has witnessed an anti-insurgency operation since June and the rebels have taken effective control of large swathes of the countryside.The insurgents say they are waging war on behalf of the poor and the landless against the state. The attack has raised concerns and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the swap was an “exception, not a norm.”Security experts say the Maoists, whom Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has identified as the country’s biggest internal threat, have thrown an open challenge to the authorities.In June a combined force of central paramilitary troops and state police retook control of Lalgarh, a town captured by the Maoists in West Midnapore district of West Bengal.The government began cracking down on the rebel leaders and sympathisers since then.The policeman abduction episode has apparently galvanised the communist government in West Bengal which has said it will heavily weaponise policemen and fortify its police stations. The NGOs working in Maoist-affected areas blame the government for the state of affairs.Is increasing Maoist violence in West Bengal indicative of a growing clout of the rebels?

Does India need its army to tackle the Maoists?

I have been noticing a debate in newspapers and television channels about the need to call in the army to tackle the Maoists and wonder whether it is indeed time to turn towards them before the movement spirals out of control.

Last week, hundreds of Maoists, who are expanding their influence in India, chased away police from a tribal area based around the town of Lalgarh about 170 km (100 miles) from Kolkata, capital of West Bengal state.

By attacking Lalgarh and then keeping the police at bay for four days, the Maoists demonstrated their growing influence over poor villagers and their capability to strike close to a big city like Kolkata.

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