Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Red Star Rising

The Naxalite hijacking earlier today of a train en route to one of India's busiest stations (Mughal Sarai in eastern Uttar Pradesh, near Varanasi) highlights the truth of Manmohan Singh's claim, a few years ago, that the Naxalites constituted the single greatest security threat to India. Alarms about the Naxals might seem odd (the spate of attacks during the Indian elections notwithstanding), given the sort of 2008 the country has had, with multiple serial blasts in cities across India attributed to Muslim extremists, a handful of lesser bomb attacks in Western India attributed to Hindu extremists, all culminating in the hair-raising 1970s-style Mumbai attacks last November, carried out by Pakistan-based terrorists. Compared to the spectacular nature of these sorts of terrorist attacks, the slow drip of Naxalite violence -- a handful of dead people here, a bomb explosion there -- and often in some of India's dustiest and most faraway corners, might not seem like a very big deal at all. And certainly, the violence barely registers in the country's major metros, and, consequently, in the major Indian media outlets.

This is a mistake, for the Naxalite movement threatens the Indian state at a structural level, in a way that terrorist blasts do not. The latter might well account for more deaths (certainly in 2008, although even this is likely untrue in other years), and presumably threaten foreign investment and tourism; but the Naxalite movement represents a potent challenge to the Indian state's claims of sovereignty in large tracts of land across multiple states. It is a challenge that has withstood the test of time, and it would be no exaggeration to say that in multiple districts, the Maoist insurgency has, if not supplanted the Indian state, reduced it to the level of co-sovereign. In this it has much in common with the creeping Taliban insurgency in Pakistan: like the Taliban, the Naxalites insist upon an alternate legal and social regime in areas they control, complete with tax and judicial mechanisms. Like the Taliban, the Naxalites feed off the very real grievances of an oppressed peasantry, and it is no coincidence that the insurgency has deepest roots in those parts of India where post-1947 land reform has either not been meaningful, or where aboriginal ("tribal" or "adivasi") peoples have been excluded from both the political and economic fruits of the last sixty years (and this, even as they are disproportionately likely to be dispossessed by the sorts of large scale mining and other industrial projects that help fuel the industrial development the benefits of which are reaped by others). And like the Taliban, the Naxalites sap the state's prestige, by demonstrating that it lacks both efficacy and legitimacy. Typically, this is done by scores of attacks on policemen, soldiers, and indeed anyone wearing a government-issued uniform, but nothing makes the symbolic aim clearer than the train hijacking this post started out with: the insurgents took over a train (variously reported as having 700, or 75, passengers aboard), for over four hours, ultimately releasing the passengers unharmed. This operation, coming on the eve of the election's second phase of polling, and in the wake of a series of daring attacks during the first phase earlier this month, conveyed the message that the Indian state cannot foreclose large-scale Naxal attacks despite its intensive deployment of security forces to ensure a peaceful election. That's the kind of political ad worth a million posters, and the urban Indian public ignores it at its peril.

The solution cannot be a military one alone: as the example of states -- such as Andhra Pradesh, to an extent -- makes clear, tackling the Naxalite movement requires more than paying lip service to social justice. It requires, at a minimum, land re-distribution, judicious amnesties, and even cooptation of some Naxalite leaders by the Indian political process. But it will also require what no government, state or central, has so far shown the imagination to consider: a devolution of power in favor of Indian aboriginal communities, to an extent far greater than currently exists. "Federalism" need not be defined purely in terms of sub-national territorial units; it can be supplemented by a new kind of political arrangement better adapted to the needs of many of India's aboriginal/"forest"-communities. At present, these communities are almost as likely to be alienated from the state capital and its power structures, as they are from the national capital and its halls of power. The creation of ever-smaller states is not likely to address this problem, so long as so much power continues to be vested in a bureaucratic/urban class that simply does not include enough adivasis. By contrast, greater local/communitarian control over natural resources has worked rather well in the context of the Himalayan Chipko movement, and something similar, and more comprehensive, deserves to be tried in the context of Naxalite-hit Central India as well. It certainly would do no worse than the sort of "initiatives" used by the Chattisgarh government.


PH said...


Couldn't agree more that the Naxalite movement is a far more fundamental threat to the(idea of the) Indian state than is urban terror - the post Babri spike in it notwithstanding.
Your point about "adivasis" is central to this. I can't help feeling that until we see "them" as "us" (the lack of which identification is one reason the media focus is on the Mumbai attacks) and equally equal, there's not going to be a solution.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Qalandar. I have been thinking about this lately (particularly what ideologically constitutes "Naxalism" and/or "Maoism" in India today) and you have once again succintly nuanced the situation.

And thus we have "the tribal" defined for us:

"So you feel Salwa Judum was an achievement...

Definitely, it is a success. But it is a success on an immediate level and can't be a sustainable strategy. A tribal can't live in shelter camps forever. He likes to be free and go to the markets, do cock fights, drink his toddy."

yikes . . .

Conrad Barwa said...

I agree about the need for addressing the concerns of the adviasi communities who have been shamefully neglected by the central govts and actually oppressed by the state govts. But I can't see Naxalism as a serious threat to India - it doesn't exist as a coherent force outside the adivasi belt of Chotanagpur and in Bihar where it mobilised the Dalits and the MBCs the movement got split up into factions some of which have just become as predatory as the caste senas. In large parts of the country like UP it simply doesn't exist and there is little chance of it making headway into the more prosperous agricultural tracts never mind the mofussil towns and metros.

the forest-based adivasis are a special case as once mobilised to fight and convinced of their cause; they will do so until they are either annhilated or told to stop by their leaders - who btw are almost entirely upper caste individuals with their social origins in the urban intellegentsia, especially at the higher cadre level. They will form a kernel of resistance to the state but ultimately by themselves will be no match for state power. It is no accident that it is those states that have weak goverance structures and police forces like Bihar, MP, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh that are affected by this; other states were state repression was more effectively and brutally employed like Punjab, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu destroyed the Naxalites.

Only if they can make a broader alliances with other social and political formations will the be a serious threat but this seems unlikely.

Anonymous said...

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

Industrial Society is destroying necessary things [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land] for making unnecessary things [consumer goods].

"Growth Rate" - "Economy Rate" - "GDP"

These are figures of "Ecocide".
These are figures of "crimes against Nature".
These are figures of "destruction of Ecosystems".
These are figures of "Insanity, Abnormality and Criminality".

The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land].

Destroy the system that has killed all ecosystems.

Destroy the society that plunders, exploits and kills earth 365 days of the year and then celebrates Earth Day.

Chief Seattle of the Indian Tribe had warned the destroyers of ecosystems way back in 1854 :

Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you realize that you cannot eat money.

To read the complete article please follow any of these links.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Delhi, India