In India, death to global business: Naxal threat

11 06 2008

Manjeet Kripalani,

BusinessWeek (from rediff.com)

On the night of Apr 24, a group of 300 men and women, armed with bows and arrows and sickles and led by gun-wielding commanders, emerged swiftly and silently from the dense forest in India’s Chhattisgarh state. The guerrillas descended on an iron ore processing plant owned by Essar Steel [Get Quote], one of India’s biggest companies. There the attackers torched the heavy machinery on the site, plus 53 buses and trucks. Press reports say they also left a note: Stop shipping local resources out of the state – or else.

The assault on the Essar facility was the work of Naxalites – Maoist insurgents who seek the violent overthrow of the state and who despise India’s landowning and business classes. The Naxalites have been slowly but steadily spreading through the countryside for decades.

Townships vs. naxalism: Which India will win?
Podcast: India’s scary insurgency

Few outside India have heard of these rebels, named after the Bengal village of Naxalbari, where their movement started in 1967. Not many Indians have thought much about the Naxalites, either. The Naxalites mostly operate in the remote forests of eastern and central India, still a comfortable remove from the bustle of Mumbai and the thriving outsourcing centres of Gurgaon, New Delhi, and Bangalore.

Yet the Naxalites may be the sleeper threat to India’s economic power, potentially more damaging to Indian companies, foreign investors, and the state than pollution, crumbling infrastructure, or political gridlock.

Just when India needs to ramp up its industrial machine to lock in growth – and just when foreign companies are joining the party – the Naxalites are clashing with the mining and steel companies essential to India’s long-term success. The threat doesn’t stop there.

The Naxalites may move next on India’s cities, where outsourcing, finance, and retailing are thriving. Insurgents who embed themselves in the slums of Mumbai don’t have to overrun a call centre to cast a pall over the India story. “People in the cities think India is strong and Naxalism will fizzle out,” says Bibhu Routray, the top Naxal expert at New Delhi’s Institute for Conflict Management. “Yet considering what has happened in Nepal” – where Maoists have just taken over the government – “it could happen here as well. States, capitals, districts could all be taken over.”

Officials at the highest levels of government are starting to acknowledge the scale of the Naxal problem. In May a special report from the Planning Commission, a government think tank, detailed the extent of the danger and the “collective failure” in social and economic policy that caused it.

IBM vs. Tata: Who’s more American?

The report comes five months after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shocked the country with a candid admission: “The Naxal groups…are targeting all aspects of economic activity…(including) vital infrastructure so as to cripple transport and logistical capabilities and slow down any development. (We) cannot rest in peace until we have eliminated this virus.”

Why such rhetoric now about a movement that has coexisted with the rest of India for more than 40 years? One reason is the widening reach of the Naxalites. Today they operate in 30 per cent of India, up from 9 per cent in 2002. Almost 1,400 Indians were killed in Naxal violence in 2007, according to the Asian Center for Human Rights.

Collision course
The other reason for sounding the alarm stems from the increasingly close proximity between the corporate world and the forest domain of the Naxalites. India’s emergence as a hot growth market depended at first on the tech outsourcing boom in Bangalore and elsewhere.
Now the world is discovering the skill and productivity of India’s manufacturers as well. Meanwhile India’s affluent urban consumers have started buying autos, appliances, and homes, and they’re demanding improvements in the country’s roads, bridges, and railroads.

To stoke Indian manufacturing and satisfy consumers, the country needs cement, steel, and electric power in record amounts. In steel alone, India almost has to double capacity from 60 million tons a year now to 110 million tons. “We need a suitable social and economic environment to meet this national challenge,” says Essar Steel chief Jatinder Mehra.

Instead there’s a collision with the Naxalites. India has lots of unmined iron ore and coal – the essential ingredients of steel and electric power. Anxious to revive their moribund economies, the poor but resource-rich states of eastern India have given mining and land rights to Indian and multinational companies. Yet these deposits lie mostly in territory where the Naxals operate.

China is India’s ‘only possible threat’

Chhattisgarh, a state in eastern India across from Mumbai and a hotbed of Naxalite activity, has 23 per cent of India’s iron ore deposits and abundant coal. It has signed memoranda of understanding and other agreements worth billions with Tata Steel [Get Quote] and ArcelorMittal, De Beers Consolidated Mines, BHP Billiton, and Rio Tinto. Other states have cut similar deals. And US companies like Caterpillar want to sell equipment to the mining companies now digging in eastern India.

The appearance of mining crews, construction workers, and truckers in the forest has seriously alarmed the tribals who have lived in these regions from time immemorial. The tribals are a minority – about 85 million strong – who descend from India’s original inhabitants and are largely nature worshippers.

They are desperately poor, but unlike the poverty of the urban masses in Mumbai or Kolkata, their suffering has remained largely hidden to outsiders and most Indians, caught up as they are in the country’s incredible growth. The Naxalites, however, know the tribals well and have recruited from their ranks for decades.

Judging from their past experience with development, the tribals have a right to be afraid of the mining and building that threaten to change their lands. “Tribals in India, like all indigenous people, are already the most displaced people in the country, having made way for major dams and other projects,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia chief researcher for Human Rights Watch, which is compiling a report on the Naxal movement. The tribals are supposed to be justly compensated for any land used by the companies, but the states’ record in this area is patchy at best.

The biggest threat
This creates an opening for the Naxalites. “If there is a land acquisition issue over a project, the Naxals come in and say, ‘We will fight on your behalf,'” says Anami Roy, the director general of police for Maharashtra, the western state that has Mumbai as its capital. Upon his appointment to the post in March, Roy declared Naxalism to be the biggest threat to the state’s peace.
For those who see things differently from the Naxalites, the results can be terrifying. In January in Chhattisgarh, a village chieftain, suspected of being a police informer, was kidnapped, mutilated, and killed with a sickle – an example to any of the villagers who dared to oppose the Naxals.

Company executives talk sotto voce about how dangerous it is for a villager to support business projects. “No villager has the courage to stand up to the Naxalites,” says one manager who is often in the region. The possibility of violence has contributed to the slow progress of many mining projects.

Nik Senapati, country head of Rio Tinto, which has outstanding permits for prospecting in eastern India, knows the threat. “It’s possible to work here,” he says. “But we avoid parts where there are Naxals. We won’t risk our people.”

The Naxalites often don’t hesitate to kill or intimidate their foes, no matter how powerful they are. Former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who is credited with turning the state capital of Hyderabad into a tech center, narrowly avoided death at their hands.

Targeting cities
But the Naxalites can offer their followers clear benefits. Lakshmi Jalma Khodape, 32, alias Renuka, a petite tribal from Iheri, Maharashtra, was just 15 when she joined up. “I had no education,” she recalls. “My father was a guard in the forest department. The Naxals taught me how to read and write.” Eventually disgusted by the Naxals’ violence, Lakshmi surrendered to the state police and now lives under their protection.

Undeniably, the Naxals are viewed as Robin Hoods for many of their efforts. “The tribals have benefited economically thanks to the Naxals,” says human rights lawyer K Balagopal, who has defended captured Naxalites in court cases.

In Maharashtra, tribals pick tender tendu leaves, which are rolled to make a cigarette called a “bidi.” Contractors used to pay them the equivalent of a penny for picking 1,000 leaves from the surrounding forest. The contractors would then take the leaves to the factory owners and sell them for a huge markup. But the Naxals intervened, threatening the contractors and demanding better wages. Since 2002 the contractors have increased the price to about $4 per 1,000 leaves.
According to the Institute for Conflict Management, the Naxalites are now planning to penetrate India’s major cities. Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute, says they are looking to encircle urban centers, find sympathy among students and the unemployed, and create armed, “secret, self-defense squads” that will execute orders. Their targets are the two main industrialised belts that run along the east and west coasts.

That’s an ambitious plan, but the Institute estimates there are already 12,000 armed Naxalites, plus 13,000 “sympathisers and workers.” This is no ragtag army. It is an organised force, trained in guerrilla warfare. At the top, it is led by a central command staffed by members of the educated classes. The government also fears the Naxalites have many clandestine supporters among the urban left. The police have recently been rounding up suspected allies in the cities.

Ready recruits
The Naxalites are already operating on the edge of industrialised Maharashtra state, about 600 miles from Mumbai. The litany of complaints from village women in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district is endless and is one reason the Naxalites find ready recruits here.

The teachers don’t come to teach in the government school, and when they do, say local parents, they drink and gamble on the premises. In one village, the sixth-graders don’t know how to read and write despite the fact that the state pays teachers 20 per cent extra for volunteering to work in Naxal-infested areas.

In the civil hospital in Gadchiroli, poor villagers have to purchase all the equipment for treatment themselves, from scalpels to swabs. (The hospital says it’s well stocked.) “This is what happens in nontribal villages,” says Dr Rani Bang, a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine physician who runs a popular tribal hospital in the nearby forest. “You can imagine how bad it is for tribals.”

Despite the need to ease the tribals’ poverty and blunt the appeal of the Naxalites, New Delhi still treats the insurgency largely as a law-and-order problem. States like Chhattisgarh, whose ill-trained police force is overwhelmed, have unleashed vigilantes on the Naxalites and the tribals and given the force arms and special protection under the law.

The vigilantes, called Salwa Judum (“Peace Mission”), have made homeless an estimated 52,000 tribals, who have fled to poorly run, disease-infested government camps. Allegations of rape and unprovoked killings have dogged the Salwa Judum. Efforts to reach Salwa Judum were unsuccessful, but the state government has vigorously defended the group.

The problem is so severe that, in March, a public interest lawsuit was filed in India’s Supreme Court by noted historian Ramachandra Guha, who demanded an investigation into Salwa Judum’s activities. The court granted the request in April. Guha himself is not sanguine about the state’s ability to address the Naxal issue.

“The problem is serious, it is growing, our police force is soft,” he says. “Thousands of lives will be lost over the next 15 years.”

Advertisements




Leftist-Islamist alliance in South Asia

30 05 2008

Amitabh Tripathi

Victory of Maoists in Nepal has two reactions in India. One which portray this victory as an opportunity for Indian government to pursue Nexalites in India to join mainstream and follow the path of their Nepali counterpart.

According to second reaction victory of Maoists in Nepal is going to deteriorate the security interests of Indian and Indian government should work hard to crush Maoist insurgency in Nepal as well preventing Maoists to make king of Nepal irrelevant in political context.

The most dangerous sign which people in Indian media have shown is that they are pleading for Maoists and it has some serious implications as well reasons. Indian media in general and print in particular has dominance of people who are indoctrinated with Leftist ideology and most of them were activists of Left in their college period. They belong to that period when Marxism was fashion for intellectuals and college campuses were full of these people. In India since 1989 social and political change took place. After Economic reform was initiated and some drastic changes came in existence at economic level it has some impact on society as well. In the mean time surgence of Hindu forces was witnessed and leftist ideology sidelined.

After demolition of Babri structure in Ayodhya in 1992 leftists collaborated with several anti Hindu forces in the name of secularism and in this composition they don’t have more say but were surviving in any way.

After 2000 situation has changed to some extent and social division of have’s and have’s not has come in debate again and it has given a chance to leftist to curse American policies as well some agencies as responsible for all this. In Indian context this development is very important because social disparity has created a vacuum in society and provided an opportunity for any organization to woo have-not’s to their side and Naxalites in India exploited this situation in very shrewd manner. They are active in remote part of India which is very poor, illiterate and geographically scattered and made of hills and forests. Because of its geographical conditions these areas are very much terrorism prone.

Two years back I journeyed one of Naxal effected area named Chhatisgarh and met with some Naxalites. They have clear edge on security forces because of geographical structure but most important thing is that Naxalites working on parallel political and social system. They have their own school in which they not only teach children of tribal but also give financial assistance to their parents. I have a chance to visit their schools also they have their text books and these text books teach that Hindus in India are in alliance with imperialistic America and we have to fight both communal and imperialistic forces because both are two faces of same coin. They talk about a new world order where there will be no disparity and there is equality. They also publish a magazine called Mukti Maarg [way of salvation]. In this magazine they have mobilized those writers and acamecians who have left inclination. Islamists also talk of new world order based on Qur’an and shriyat and both ideologies support repression and violence to achieve their goal.

This theme has also been adopted by Islamists in India against Hindu forces as well as America. This is a common point where Islamists and leftists in India come close to each other. After victory of Maoists in Nepal left academia and establishment in Indian see a chance of resurgence of communism in global perspective and this is the reason why they are pursuing Indian people and government to hail the victory of Maoists and take it as a golden opportunity to take Naxalites back in mainstream.

I want to draw your attention on one more important point about which nobody has discussed but it has serious implications on both India and America. In India leftists have very limited electoral appeal and they are confined to only three states West Bengal, Keral and Tripura and in other states their presence is negligible. In new scenario they are thinking about their resurgence with help of Naxalites. Naxalites have big presence in more than 100 districts of India with states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, TamilNadu, Jharkhnd, Chhatisgarh, Andhra Pradesh. In these states they have more influence in some pockets. When two years back I visited Chhatisgarh and met with some Naxalites and their sympathizers I was told to have a close look on the developments of Nepal and told me about their plan that when they would be able to brought down system of Nepal and construct it with their plan they will sharpen their movement in India. These sympathizers of Naxalites are almost activists of Communists parties in India and with support of Naxalites and intimidation these sympathizers have a plan to broaden the electoral power of Communists in India.

As earlier I said growth of Naxalites in India have some effect on America also. After 911 we have witnessed several left ideologues overtly supporting Islamists but in India new nexus is building and leftists and Islamists have common enemy in India in the name of Hindu and America. If this nexus will get strength in India and south Asia finally it would damage America and West as well.

Four years back In India there were several people in Media with liberal-left inclination who were saying that Al Qaeda has launched a war against America and India has not to worry because Osama Bin Laden has said nothing against India. It was mischievous misrepresentation of facts. These are the people who want to see the victory of communist ideology at any cost and even they don’t hesitate to make an alliance with Islamists for this cause. Victory of Maoists in Nepal has emboldened leftists in India and they are dreaming of the resurgence of communism.

To counter this growing trend we have to take some initiatives. A parallel nationalist socialist movement should be promoted in India to fill the vacuum of dissatisfied people which ultimately culminates in strong anti imperialistic movement. Once nationalist socialist movement will take place Naxalites have no chance to woo dissatisfied people to their side. This is also true with Chinese hegemony in Asia. Coalition government in India of Congress and Left have some common agenda and congress is eyeing for next 10 years to stay in power. President of Congress Party Mrs Sonia Gandhi grooming her son Rahul Gandhi to hold the post of premiership for next 10 years. To make this happen Congress has to rely heavily on Left parties and this is why congress has adopted the policy of submission to leftists and Islamist. In this situation Indian government in near future is going to embolden the Islamist and leftist forces.

Taking into account the global scenario Indian and American interest has become very much common at least at strategic level. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and China could come close with a block in near future and it would have security implications for India. Nexus of Red green alliance as Dr Richard Benkin has predicted could become reality in South Asia. To prevent this India and America should come together and America should consider Hindu nationalists as their ally.