Monthly Archives: March 2010

Top Maoist Leader Injured As Battle For West Bengal Rages

A top Maoist leader, Kishenji, believed among the top three figures in the Maoist organisation, has reportedly been injured by police during a shootout in West Bengal. Kishenji, real name Koteswar Rao, was a co-founder of the People’s War Group in Andhra Pradesh that merged with the Maoist Communist Centre in 2004 to form the current organisation.

He’s been one of the most prominent figures in the movement of late, giving frequent interviews to the local media, taking credit for a major attack on the Silda police camp in February and offering a 72-day truce to the government shortly afterwards.

West Bengal has been a scene of major fighting between the police and Maoist militants in the past few weeks as the state steps up its operations in an attempt to rebuild the presence it lost during fighting last summer. That conflict was centred on Lalgarh, where tribal villagers had set up the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) in protest against their treatment by officers.

West Bengal’s director-general of police Bhupinder Singh told me the other day that not a single atrocity had been committed by his officers and that this was just an excuse to set up the organisation with the help of the Maoists and establish a power base there.

Mr Singh told me:  “[The PCAPA] drummed up support by cooking up stories about atrocities with the obvious backing of the Maoists. They made all kinds of demands that innocents be released, that people [the police] should come and apologise.

“If there were atrocities, you have to name the incidents and the people at the receiving end. There have been no such reports. It is only propaganda. Politicians make more trouble out of it – everyone is looking at voting patterns.”

Human rights groups such as Sanhati beg to differ and claim there have been extensive beatings, kidnappings, murders and rapes by police officers in the region. In February, police killed Lalmohan Tudu, president of the PCAPA. The cops say he was a Maoist who had attacked one of their patrols, although most people that had dealings with Tudu say he had tried to stay separate from the Maoist organisation and that his movement was a non-violent protest against, well, police atrocities. They say he was dragged out of his house and shot in front of his family. When they tried to reclaim his body, they were told only the family could see it. When a member of the family applied to the court, the police sent a team to the house and had Mr Tudu’s wife sign a notice saying she did not want the body. Mr Singh claims that tribal people don’t need the body – they just burn an effigy.  

One activist who saw the post-mortem said it showed Mr Tudu had been killed at close range. The police have refused to release the post-mortem.

Mr Singh said: “People say he was killed in his house. The fellow doesn’t live in his house. You ask any of these guys where do you live? It’s not in their house.”

In the meantime, the police face a difficult task operating in forests and hills with minimal human intelligence and a thinly spread  force. Mr Singh says they are getting more intelligence now that bases have been re-established in remote areas and that they are conducting intelligence-led operations on specific Maoist targets. They have also been helped by increased cooperation with the neighbouring state of Jharkhand, with joint operations in the densely forested border region.

The injuring of Kishenji represents a major coup for the police, but is likely to only reinforce its commitment to a narrow security-focused approach at the expense of any kind of comprehensive counter-insurgency strategy.

The Lack of Religion in the Indian Mujahideen

Great article from Praveen Swami in The Hindu in which he argues that the Indian Mujahideen is much more about jihadi cool and political grievances than anything to do with conservative or fundamentalist religion:

Bored by the religious polemic, though, Bashar’s students turned instead to Anurag Kashyap’s movie Black Friday — a riveting account of just how a group of hard-drinking, womanising gangsters carried out the 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai to avenge the anti-Muslim riots that that tore apart the city after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Why Failing To Blow Up Your Underpants Is A Big Success

Here’s another piece I wrote for our wonderful Current Intelligence magazine:

Al Qaeda “is becoming more opportunistic, using fewer operatives and dramatically shrinking the amount of planning and preparation that goes into an attack.”  That’s the message coming out of Washington, according to a recent article in the LA Times. It cites as examples the Detroit underpants bomber and the suicide attack at the CIA base in Khowst province, Afghanistan.

Read the rest here…

Pakistan and America: A Purely Working Relationship

Here’s a piece I’ve written for our new online magazine, Current Intelligence:

The Pakistan military has done much to ease American concerns over the past year. It launched a successful offensive against the Tehrik-e-Taliban in the Swat valley last summer and it followed this with large-scale operations in South Waziristan. The success of the latter more difficult to gauge, but at it at least represented a much more concerted effort than had been tried before. Considering the heavy casualties it has suffered fighting Islamist militants (around 2,400 dead so far), and the deep public antipathy these operations have faced, the Pakistan military has strong grounds for rejecting the criticism that it fosters militancy and undermines the US effort in Afghanistan. In early 2010, with a slew of big players in the Quetta Shura now dead or captured, it even appears to be delivering what the US has been after all along – namely, concerted action against the Afghan Taliban. 

Read the rest here…

Massive Kolkata Fire

I happened to be at the scene of this massive fire in Kolkata today (see video link below) on one of the city’s fanciest commercial streets. It was quite a spectacle. Fires always attract a crowd – as do crowds – and being India, this attracted a number equal to the population of Switzerland, each of whom followed the fate of three young guys who had been forced out on to a third floor ledge like it was a derby cricket match.

Since none of the fire trucks had ladders long enough to save them, the usual DIY Indian spirit kicked in and a bunch of guys started climbing up the side of the building to try and fashion some sort of escape route. One guy was very good at shimmying up poles and sneaking up ledges, and received big ovations from the crowd. However, he got a bit carried away at one point and managed to get stuck on his own window ledge on the 2nd floor.

In the end, some ropes made their way to the stranded boys. Two of them braved the extremely hazardous slide down, the first one in a nail-bitingly clumsy manner that must have left him with some vicious rope burns on his hands; the second in a much more secret agent fashion that he will no doubt be banging on about to everyone he meets for the rest of his life. The last guy, bless him, pussied out and waited for the big fire truck with a proper crane to save him.

At some point, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal’s fierce looking opposition leader) showed up to give the news crews a new thing to point their cameras at. Hopes that she would use her superhuman fire-quenching Ice Breath powers to sort out the situation were not realised.

The fire has gutted two landmark eateries – Peter Cat and Flury’s – and apparently caused the death of around five people. People have blamed the traffic for how slowly the fire trucks arrived at the scene,  which considering the ridiculous parking lot that constitutes Kolkata’s roads at most times of the day seems like a reasonable complaint.

Countdown to Cock-Up: Commonwealth Games Are Becoming A “National Shame”

Everything you need to know about the horror show that is the preparations for India’s largest ever sporting event is in Soutik Biswas’ blog post.

He concludes:

Athletes from 85 countries arrive in Delhi in October to participate in the 18th Games, which are supposed to showcase India’s ability to host an international event. Human rights groups say it’s a sham – and what was supposed to be a matter of national pride is fast beginning to look like a national shame.

An Original Naxalite Hangs Himself, Age 81

One of the original Naxalites, a man who led an uprising in 1967 in the village of Naxalabari that gave the movement its name, has hanged himself at the age of 81, apparently for reasons of depression and illness.

Read These…

Excellent piece from Jason Burke in today’s Observer on the violence surrounding Jindal’s planned steel mine in West Midnapore district of West Bengal.

The shocking murder of human rights lawyer Shahid Azmi is discussed by a friend of his in Tehelka:

Praveen Swami outlines the long-standing connections between organised crime and jihadist violence in Mumbai:

More Vedanta Proselytising In The Guardian

…by me, though, so no complaining.

An attack on Vedanta staff near its aluminium refinery in India shows us that the clash of capitalism and remote tribes is more complex than James Cameron would have us believe.

The incident happened last month in the state of Orissa. Exact details are unclear but a senior member of Vedanta Aluminium Ltd, the Indian subsidiary of the UK-based Vedanta Resources Plc, confirmed that members of its corporate social responsibility team were attacked by unidentified individuals who set their jeep on fire and hospitalised two employees. As a measure of how well your public relations team is doing, this is not a good sign.

Read the rest here…

Democracy in Crisis: PUDR

The People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) is another of the groups ridiculously labelled by the government as a front organisation for the Maoists. Here’s some words from one of their activists, Preeti Chauhan, who had just returned from a fact-finding mission in the forest region along the border of Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, where several thousand refugees have settled after fleeing Maoist and security forces violence in Chattisgarh. She said it was a frustrating experience.

We visited 3 or 4 villages, including Cherla from 12 to 14 February. People had been coming for three or four months. We met two women who had witnessed the killings in Gompad village. They refused to talk. They were very fearful of what would happen.

We tried to meet people who had been systematically evicted, particularly in the last 6 months, by the Salwa Judum. There was confusion and people were not forthcoming. They worry that people will force them to go back. They want to claim rations [and worry they will lose them if they cause trouble].

There were people who had come recently in Cherla. Many have gone to other places in Andhra Pradesh. There is no way you can clearly assess the actions [of the military]. Homes are being burned, cattle taken, villages destroyed. How much is the military, how much is Salwa Judum? No civil rights groups have been able to move freely in Chattisgarh since January. Local journalists can’t go there.

Society is collapsing in on itself – both sides [government and Maoists] blame each other. They are locked in a battle with each other. There are ways and means in which a peaceful situation can be brought about.

Operation Green Hunt is being put on this country because of mining corporations. There are ways to resolve these problems without violence if the government takes a proper approach. There are provisions in the constitution for adivasis to choose their own way of life, which give them autonomy. All we are saying is that the government stop violating its own document, to take the constitution seriously.

People will find a way to resist, whether you call it Maoism or anything else. They will rise again.

Mr Chidambaram says we provide intellectual and material support to the Maoists. This is a direct attack on civil society. These are very troubling times for democracy in India. It represents a shrinking of the space for dissent. Witnesses are being intimidated – what can the courts do? Its own institutions don’t work. People are forced to circumvent them by the security forces – they are forced to protest.

200,000 to 300,000 families have been divided. Women stay in the village. There is ghastly violence.

Dotspad, December. Put oil in rice, smash up their stuff. Take their animals. Kill them. The Salwa Judum had been lying low, but it ramped up the violence in the last months of 2009. The government are very much in control, and now they are upping the ante. The thinking is to break the support of Maoists by spreading terror around. But people will continue to resist development works and mines. [The government] want the area completely sanitised.

Even if people aren’t using the Maoists for protection, the government needs the excuse that they are there.