The BBC is reporting that a major offensive has been launched against Maoist leaders.
“We want to drive them into a headless condition, so we will go after the leadership,” [Home Minister P Chidambaran] said, “but we don’t want a Sri Lanka-type operation that could cause much collateral damage to innocent civilians. So we are specifically targeting the Maoist leadership and you will see a lot of special operations based on specific intelligence.”
This is pretty poor counter-insurgency theory to be coming from the man who is supposed to be the sharpest and most effective member of the Indian cabinet. If ever there was a group that epitomised the popular uprising model of insurgency, then the Maoists are surely it. As I wrote a couple of days ago, this movement is the product of very genuine grievances among the poor: deprivation, brutality, theft, oppression – you name the bad-sounding word and the dalits and adivasis that make up the Naxalite constituency have experienced it.
So it should come as no surprise to the government that their plan to decapitate the regime will have absolutely no long-term effect on the strength of the movement. Or at least, no adverse effect. It might create new martyrs and grievances that give it further strength, and this strategy seems designed to keep all the root causes of the violence intact.
Unfortunately, this does not matter because the government’s forces are unlikely to stick to the plan so objectively reported by the Beeb. Far from limiting themselves to actionable intelligence and careful targeting of individuals, the security forces have long made a habit of roaming through villages murdering anyone thought to be a Maoist sympathiser. Reports of disgusting violence, rape and torture are common from these scenes of combat – often, for some god-forsaken reason, featuring young children with their fingers cut off. The alleged sympathisers are generally people that have been forced to seek the protection of (often brutal) Maoist cadres as their only protection against a rapacious state, or because they provide a semblance of administration where there is none.
Do these offensives have anything to do with defeating the Maoists, in which case they are very poorly conceived, or are they really motivated by the need to remove obstacles to economic progress – in this case, poor tribal people that happen to be in the way of very valuable minerals? Minerals which have already been signed away to foreign multi-nationals and dealt on futures markets.
The government knows the score – its own panel of experts told it as much in 2008. I’ve linked this before and I think I’ll keep doing so because chapter 3 gives such an excellent run-through of the myriad failings of the state and its absolute responsibility for the violence occurring in India’s poorest regions.
So, we are left with two choices: Either the government genuinely cares about the Maoist threat and is implementing a completely wrong-headed approach to its counter-insurgency campaign; or it doesn’t care at all about the violence enacted on the poor in these states and is going on a killing spree dressed up as intelligence-led counter-terrorism. Hard to find much hope there.
The most ridiculous part of Chidambaram’s statement, however, are actually the words “you will see”, because the chances are the wider world will see nothing of these operations. Journalists are barred from Maoist areas with a ruthlessness that would impress even the Israel Defence Forces. Perhaps the BBC will print some more glowing reports of success from Mr Chidambaram when it’s done.