Apologies – posts have been light while I settle in the freezing, foggy building site that is Delhi.
I’m turning my attentions to Naxalites and starting to collate a list of events that I will publish on this blog when it takes some form. Although the TV media tends to see this in horrendously Bushian, black-and-white terms of terrorists trying to overthrow the state, there are some excellent articles being published, not least this one from Tehelka from last week about how journalists and activists are being prevented from monitoring the government’s anti-Maoist military campaign, Operation Green Hunt, which was launched last November.
What follows are some general thoughts from things I’ve been reading over the past couple of days, which I’ll hopefully build into something a bit more organised as time goes on. The Naxalite movement remains criminally under-reported in the west, mostly because their attentions are mostly directed at internal enemies and because the government black-out on information has been so successful.
It has become common knowledge that the Maoist uprising of the past five years is the result of the suffering inflicted on the poorest in Indian society – the dalits and adivasis (hill tribes) – through social oppression, physical dislocation, political corruption and inertia, the failure to develop services and employment opportunities, brutality by the security forces and the large-scale degradation of the environment by mining corporations.
But as Arundhati Roy argues in this brilliant long article, that understanding is not enough. It tends to encourage simplistic responses such as ‘the state is not doing enough’, ‘more development is needed’ and so on. Such statements suggest that the power to resolve the crisis is within the government’s grasp and desire, if only it implements the right policy, puts the right people in place, does the right thing. What they miss is the fundamental nature of the Maoist protest – that it objects not to particular people or policies, but to the entire direction which the government has taken over the past two decades.
Roy argues that the Maoist uprising should be seen as the spawn of the economic reforms that occurred at the start of the 1990s, which gave international business a free hand and opened the way for multinational corporations to exploit India’s natural resources. The idea was that wealth would trickle down, the reality was that vast numbers of the poor became an impediment to financial expansion. In Roy’s analysis, the war against Naxalites is a war against the poor that are obstructing investment opportunities, with the Salwar Judums – the anti-Naxal vigilantes that sprung up in Chattisgarh in the mid-2000s – presented as government heavies designed to clear land for developers.
She asks some pretty good questions such as:
What are we to make of the fact that the Union home minister, P Chidambaram, the chief of Operation Green Hunt, has, in his career as a corporate lawyer, represented several mining corporations? What are we to make of the fact that he was a non-executive director of Vedanta – a position from which he resigned the day he became finance minister in 2004? What are we to make of the fact that, when he became finance minister, one of the first clearances he gave for FDI was to Twinstar Holdings, a Mauritius-based company, to buy shares in Sterlite, a part of the Vedanta group?
An alternative view is to see the Naxalites as an opportunistic political movement, seeking to gain power for itself by playing on the failures of the central government and its ability to mobilise a mass movement of the poor. They point to the brutal tactics attributed to Maoist cadres, emphasising their willingness to kill dissidents and innocent civilians in the name of an ultimate goal of wresting control of the state, which if true would indeed present a serious threat to all those who would have to live under their new regime. This thinking acknowledges the need to address root causes of poor development in affected areas but argues the classic counter-insurgency line (as seen in Vivek Anand’s essay in this journal) that you can’t have development without security. So success demands large-scale troop deployment to get things rolling and large-scale development initiatives to lock it in place.
It’s also possible from this perspective to present the Naxals as just another political party, and one whose primitive form of violence (compared to the highly sophisticated violence of the state and its allies) and lack of respect for property rights has exempted them from legitimate politics. In this view, they are like a parasite feeding off the mistakes of the government rather than the legitimate bearers of a political alternative. So, today in The Hindustan Times they are described as “piggy-backing” on political issues outside their normal comfort zone, such as the current mess over the division of Andrha Pradesh and even the Copenhagen summit. They are just another set of politicians rather than a movement of protest and reform.
The danger in all approaches to Maoism is underestimating the vast complexity of the movement, which not only comprises a whole range of separate parties, groups and splinter groups, but is also a label tacked on to all sorts of affiliates, often for political reasons. There is also the difficulty of group evolution – the corrupting influence of spending years as a criminal outfit in need of funds and the changes wrought by a dedication to violent means. This is something that I need to delve into.
For now, I’ll end by linking to one of the best overviews of the problems that have nurtured Naxalism – a 2008 report which actually came from within the establishment (an expert group set up by the planning commission to tell them what to do). This seems to be a key feature of Indian political life – the ability to highlight problems effectively, apply very laudable moral questions, and search with genuine intent for the right solution. All of which is entirely ignored when it comes time to put that knowledge is put into practice.
It concludes its section on sources of discontent by saying:
The rights and entitlements of the people underlying these issues find expression in the Constitution, the laws enacted by the various Governments and the policy declarations. The administration should not have waited for the Naxalite movement to remind it of its obligations towards the people in these matters. But at least now that the reminder has been given, it should begin rectifying its own deficiencies. It should be recognised that such a responsibility would lie upon the Indian State even if the Naxalites were not there, and even in regions where the Naxalite movement does not exist.
Or go kill everyone.