internal terror

4 02 2009

Source: DNA INDIA
For some time now, attacks by Maoist groups have been limited to parts of Central India — Maharashtra, where Naxalites are known to operate has been quiet. This changed on Sunday and in a most brutal manner when a large group of well armed Naxalites stormed a village and massacred a posse of 15 policemen who had come to the village.

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Eyewitness accounts of the incident are chilling — the Naxalites fired indiscriminately on the policemen and killed them; the bodies found were mutiliated with their eyes pierced and hand or legs chopped off. Some reports have claimed that women Maoists led the group.
Chief minister Ashok Chavan has bravely claimed that the state will retaliate and that the army need not be called to manage the situation, but his words mean little if his police department finds itself without the weapons or strategy to fight back. Experts have talked about a ‘Red Corridor’ extending from Andhra Pradesh to Uttar Pradesh.
While Naxalite groups in different states may not always coordinate with each other, there is no denying that large swathes of the hinterland are out of the state’s control. Clearly this is an untenable situation in need of quick resolution.
The Salwa Judum, or so-called self-protection groups promoted by the Chattisgarh government have proved to be unpopular and ineffective and state police units have found themselves out of their depth in understanding, much less handling Maoism. A proposal to have a special task force has been a non-starter.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s description of Naxalism as a “virus” is apt and this virus is spreading rapidly.TheIndian state has become preoccupied with externally-sponsored terrorism but internal terrorism is no less a scourge.
There are socio-economic reasons why Naxalites thrive; they are seen as helping tribal and disadvantaged groups in rural areaswhere the state’s delivery systems have failed. There are political issues too, because Maoists propogate an ultra-left ideology. All these should be incorporated in any strategy to deal with them. Not much thinking seems to have gone into this.
But it is also a major security issue and even here, worryingly, the states have failed as many such spectacular attacks in recent years show. Maharashtra and the Centre must see this incident as a major wake up call and refurbish their tactics in tackling Naxalism before more such attacks occur.

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Tempt Maoists if you can’t beat them

4 02 2009

Source: INDIA TODAY
If you can’t beat them, join them. Or better still, make them join you!
Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram perhaps wants the Jharkhand government to try exactly this by formulating an attractive surrender policy for the Maoists, one which can make the rebels join the mainstream.
So far, almost 100 Naxalites have surrendered in Jharkhand during different regimes. But, in the absence of their proper rehabilitation, the remaining Maoists rebels have shunned the state’s offer.
Chidambaram, who was in Jharkhand recently to review the state’s preparedness against the Naxalites, has suggested Jharkhand to work out its own surrender policy, “as only a state can evolve specific policy keeping in mind its specific geographical and social landscape”.
Obviously, the argument in favour of states preparing their own policies was that a national policy on surrender cannot carry the weight and complication of the extremist problem having local overtones. Chidambaram, however, clarified that the Centre may provide financial assistance to the states.
This was Chidambaram’s first visit to Jharkhand since he became the home minister late last year.

Jharkhand’s history of Naxal violence Click here

In terms of strategic realism, the Centre seems convinced that now was the right time to introduce a surrender policy because unlike 2007-08 when the country witnessed and withstood a sharp rise in extremist activities, the security forces have gained an upper hand in 2008.
“With their back to the wall, the Naxalites may now see some reasons to accept the surrender policy,” said a senior Jharkhand IPS officer.
No wonder Jharkhand officials are busy giving final touches to the draft of a new surrender policy, which they believe would motivate the Maoists rebels to abhor violence and return to the mainstream.
The Jharkhand police headquarters is believed to have supported continuance of hard anti-Naxalite operations to go along with the surrender policy because such policies work only when police are in a position of strength and the Naxalites are on the run.
There are, however, just too many questions over the efficacy of a surrender policy because the “bait” of a fixed monthly salary is unlikely to lure the rebels just because the Naxalites earn crores in the form of “levy”.
According to sources, the new surrender policy draft has borrowed heavily from a similar draft prepared in 2006 but could not be implemented because of serious difference of opinions within the then cabinet under Arjun Munda government.
The policy had then promised extremists cash compensation, reward, land, employment, free housing, healthcare and education, life insurance, monthly stipend, vocational training, fast-track courts, provision to condone sentences, reimbursement for firearms, a mechanism to settle land disputes and financial inducements to villages and NGOs motivating surrender.
Incidentally, the proposed policy has been left hanging by previous governments for quite some time now. The successive governments led by Arjun Munda, Madhu Koda and Shibu Soren have been dilly-dallying the finalisation.
Beyond surrender policy, Chidambaram was informed that as many as 145 police stations in Jharkhand were located in areas heavily infested by the Maoist rebels. The home minister also issued instructions to set up police stations in 25 blocks of Jharkhand, which do not have any.
The minister’s visit to Jharkhand also assumed special significance since this was one state where Chidambaram’s idea of inter-state join operation against Naxalites has failed to fructify because of a neighbour’s reluctance.
In fact, Chidambaram admitted that the hot-pursuit and barrier-free crackdown on Maoists was being carried out by the police forces of various states except West Bengal, which has not allowed the Jharkhand police to enter its territory. In fact, Jharkhand has lodged a formal complaint with Chidambaram on this issue.
“We told the Union home minister that West Bengal’s reluctance to be part of any joint operation against the ultras has turned out to be a stumbling block in the fight against Naxalism,” said a Jharkhand IPS officer.
The minister has promised to work it out with West Bengal, adding that Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar were already carrying out joint operations.
Earlier on January 7, when Chidambaram had a meeting with chief ministers of all the Maoist-hit states, a consensus was reached on conducting joint operations against the Maoists rebels.
The minister’s maiden visit, however, failed to lift the veil over the fate of Jharkhand’s suspended assembly, as he said it was for the political parties in the state to decide in which direction they wanted to go.
President’s rule was clamped in Jharkhand on January 19 after the UPA alliance partners failed to reach a consensus over Shibu Soren’s successor, as the JMM chief had to resign from the chief minister’s chair following his defeat at the January 8 Tamar bypoll.





Sreelatha Menon: A homecoming in Bastar

21 07 2008
Sreelatha Menon: A homecoming in Bastar
Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi July 20, 2008, 0:26 IST

The collector of Dantewada has agreed to give 10 quintals of paddy seed to restart farming in Nendra. Nendra is a village in Konta block in Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh which has been lying deserted for the last three years after multiple attacks by the government-backed anti-Naxal militia, the Salwa Judum, and the police. The collector’s gesture was in reciprocation of a rehabilitation effort by an NGO called Vanvasi Chetna Ashram to facilitate homecoming for the villagers who were living either in jungles fearing reprisals from the Salwa Judum and the police, or in neighbouring villages of Andhra Pradesh. Some of them are in camps set up by the state government.

The effort started this month, with 11 members of the ashram turning into a human shield and escorting the fugitive tribals to their village and staying with them.

There has been little support from the police. There were firings on the villagers. The first incident made them run for their lives to their familiar hideouts in the jungles.

Two boys, Madkam Bheem and Vetti Pojja, both about 16 years old, were caught this week while returning from the markets in the villages of Andhra Pradesh and are currently in Dantewada jail.

The police fired in the village a second time this week. But this time, the villagers did not flee and the police returned without harming anyone.

Himanshu Kumar, who has been running the ashram for the last 16 years in the Bastar area, says more villages are seeking their human shields to revive life in the abandoned hamlets.

People who have fled from about 25 villages are meeting in Nendra to extend the human shield initiative to their villages.

The human shield members, who took with them 15 quintals of paddy and a lot of clothes for the 100 families returning to Nendra, are currently helping the people cultivate their abandoned fields.

The collector’s gesture was to support this effort.

The Supreme Court ruled recently that the government of Chhattisgarh was acting in an illegal and unconstitutional way in arming civilians to fight the Naxalites. A report of the Planning Commission seconded this and said that Salwa Judum was a terrible mistake and had no place in a democratic and free country.

The Planning Commission report on Salwa Judum and Naxalites was presented yesterday before the home ministry’s task force.

What will take the powers-to-be to change their mind and understand that people have to live in their homes and cannot be held fugitives in their own country?

The human shield initiative is, meanwhile, preparing to leave for another deserted village, Vechapad, in Bhairamgadh block in Bastar’s Bijapur district. Himanshu Kumar says he has informed the police but they are asking them to wait saying an operation was going on there.

What is the guarantee that people returning from the Salwa Judum camps, usually identified with the atrocities attributed to the Salwa Judum, would be let off by the Naxalites and the people hiding in the jungles?

Himanshu Kumar says he has been speaking to the villagers outside the camps and they say there is no danger from them. He says Naxalites are also promising that they will not make reprisal attacks on the villagers and the SPOs if they come home.

At a time the government is introspecting about the Salwa Judum and does not know what to do with the Naxalites, the worst thing it can do is to sever ties with the civil society. It can begin by looking at activists like Himanshu Kumar and Binayak Sen as just that rather than conspirators against it, and instead use jails and police against criminals rather than activists.

NAVHIND TIMES

Roots of the Problem

EDITORIAL

During last one month the Maoists have killed nearly 60 security personnel belonging to the Greyhound force, constituted specially to counter Naxalite actions in various states. They trapped a boat carrying 40 jawans of the Greyhound who were on their mission to Orissa from Andhra Pradesh and killed them. A few days ago they killed 20 jawans in Orissa’s Malkangiri district in a mine blast. Even the Mine Protected Vehicle in which the cops were moving failed to protect them. Significantly this vehicle costing Rs 55 lakh was developed to suit the needs of paramilitary forces operating in Naxalite areas. Unfortunately this vehicle could not withstand the Naxalite attack. In fact the attack did not come suddenly. The general secretary of the CPI (Maoist), Mr M Lakshmana Rao alias Ganapathy had warned that they would intensify their actions against the state machinery, as destruction of the enemy forces was on their immediate agenda. In fact the Maoist targeting the enemy is not confined to Orissa or Andhra Pradesh, but it is happening also in Kiul in the eastern parts of Bihar. They have been blowing rail tracks and killing security forces and also innocent people. Though the government has been promising to take on the Naxalites so far it has not resulted in any significant reduction, except for deployment of some well-trained police personnel. Significantly on the eve of the meeting of chief ministers of Naxalite-affected states in Hyderabad last September, the Prime Minister had suggested to the states to evolve a concrete socio-economic action programme to counter the Naxalite challenge. But so far the central government or the concerned states have not chalked out any such programme and instead continue to follow the old path of meeting force with force. Look at the modus operandi of the Naxalites. They have selected the backward areas of eastern and central India and indoctrinated poor people. The resurgence of Naxalism in these areas owes to the callous administration of the state governments in these regions. The government ought to realize that it cannot counter Naxalites with force. It must reach out to the poor of the regions and give them real empowerment. It must realize that India is home not only to middle classes, but also to 70 per cent of people who are poor.

10 worst actions (attacks ) by NAXALISTES

The recent daring Naxal attack in Nayagarh, raised questions on the effectiveness of government’s intelligence system and the strength of police force to face the Maoist menace. States like Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal are worst-affected by an unprecedented spur in Naxal activities.

People’s struggle has unfortunately transformed into a power struggle. We have listed the 10 deadliest naxal or Maoist attacks in India in the past five years. They are listed in a chronological order. Here you go:

1) Attack on N. Chandrababu Naidu (Oct, 2003)

The TDP chief and then Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu had a narrow escape, when one of the Naxalites, failed to intimate his team about Mr. Naidu’s exact movement. A few seconds delay in triggering the claymore mines, saved Naidu’s life. Naidu, his colleague, B. Gopalakrishna Reddy, legislators R. Rajasekhara Reddy and Chadalavada Krishna Murthy, and security personnel were injured in the attack. Naidu was on his way to Tirupati on October 01, 2003, when the attack was carried out by a special team of Maoists at the foothills of Tirumala.

2) Naxal Attack in Koraput (2004)

In a daring attack, over 1000 Maoists attacked Orissa’s district headquarter town of Koraput and looted 2000 sophisticated guns and other weapons worth Rs 50 crore. There was a panic in the town, as the Naxalites continued their operation for 6 hours. They looted the district armory, five police stations, Koraput jail, SP’s office and the OSAP battalion. One sentry and two CRPF jawans were killed and 11 others injured in the attack. Over 500 Maoists were involved in the operation.

3) Jehanabad Jail-break (2005)

On November 13, 2005, over 1,000 Maoists laid virtual siege to Jehanabad town on the night of November 13, 2005 and freed over 375 prisoners including 130 Naxalites. The Naxal operation continued for seven hours and security personnel could do nothing to prevent this. They killed several Ranvir Sena men and police personnel. The Maoists looted 185 rifles and 2,000 rounds of ammunition.

4) Naxal attack in R Udayagiri, 40 Prisoners freed (Feb, 2006)

On March 24, 2006, Maoists lashed with arms and ammunition, attacked the Orissa State Armed Police camp at R Udayagiri in Gajapati district of Orissa, killing three policemen. The looted arms and freed around 40 prisoners. There were more than 500 Maoists involved in the attack.

5) Chhatisgarh Naxal Attack (2006)

At least 25 people were killed and 80 others injured, when over 800 armed Naxalites attacked a village in Dantewada district of Chhatisgarh on July 17, 2006. Some of the villages were hacked to death with sharp weapons, while few were charred to death. The attack took place at Errabore relief camp where more than 4000 people had taken shelter. The Naxalites also kidnapped more than 20 people, while 200 others fled from the spot.

6) Naxalites kill JMM MP Sunil Mahato (2007)

Armed Naxalites shot dead JMM MP (Lok Sabha) Sunil Kumar Mahato, his bodyguards and a party colleague while they were watching a football match at Bakuria village near Jamshedpur in Jharkhand. The incident took place on March 05, 2007.

7) Naxalites attack Police Outpost, kill 55 Security Pesonnel (2007)

The Naxalites attacked a police outpost in Chhatisgarh’s Rani Bodli village in Chhatisgarh, killing 55 police personnel. 24 of the deceased belonged to state police, while 31 others were Special Police Officers (SPOs). It was an irony that the security personnel were unable to even defend themselves – forget about the counter-attack. Most of the policemen were asleep when over 500 Naxalites carried out the attack. They used sophisticated weapons, lobbed grenades and bombs on them.

8) Naxal attack in Dantewada, 303 Prisoners freed (2007)

The Naxalites attacked the Dantewada jail and freed 303 priosners. Over 100 of them were Naxalites. They also snatched weapons of prison guards. The incident occurred on December 16, 2007. It was a major blow for the state government. It was reported that most of them fled to the jungles of Orissa. Although 25 prisoners, were recaptured, none of them were Naxalites.

9) Naxalites kill Babulal Marandi’s son (2007)

Former Jharkhand CM Babulal Marandi’s son Anup and 17 others were killed in a Naxal attack at Chilkhadia village in Giridih district of Jharkhand. The Naxals opened indiscriminate fire and exploded bombs when a cultural program was being held. Marandi’s brother Nunulal, who was also present at the function, escaped unhurt.

10) Nayagarh Naxal Attack (2008)

The Naxal attack in Nayagarh on the night of February 15, 2008, was called as the mother of all Naxal attacks. Hundreds of Maoists came in buses and trucks, and laid seize of the district headquarter town of Nayagarh in Orissa. Nayagarh is only 90 minutes away from the state capital, Bhubaneswar and no Naxal activities were reported in that area in the past.

A large group of Naxalites attacked the police stations in Nayagarh, Dashpalla and Nuagaon. They killed 14 policemen and one civilian. They also torched the Police Training School. The Maoists looted a huge number of arms and ammunition (worth crores of rupees) from the armoury.

The Orissa government launched the biggest anti-Naxal operation in the country to track down the Naxals. Over 700 state police personnel, CRPF personnel, SOG Commandos, Special Greyhound Force from Andhra Pradesh and IAF Helicopters launched massive offensive on the Naxals by encirling them at Gasma mountain. However, the Naxalites either managed to flee or mixed with the local people, making the task of the security personnel more difficult.

A CRPF Assistant Commandant (one of the co-founders of SOG) and two other security personnel were killed, while over 20 Maoists were reportedly killed. Over 50 percent of the looted arms and ammunition were recovered from the forest. The Orissa government has extended the operation to different parts of the state and it’s still going on.

Chronology of Naxal attacks in recent years
September 7, 2007 Former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Janardhan Reddy and his wife N Rajyalakshmi, escaped unhurt while three Congress workers were killed in a Maoist attack in Nellore district in Andhra Pradesh.
July 10, 2007 Naxalites attacked a police team with light machine guns and mortar bombs in a dense forest area of Chhattisgarh, killing at least 24 security personnel.
July 1, 2007 Nine persons, including five policemen, were killed and as many were wounded as CPI-Maoist rebels carried out simultaneous attacks on a police station and an outpost in Sasaram in Bihar’s Rohtas district and fled with arms and ammunition.
April 28, 2007 Five security personnel were killed in a landmine blast triggered by Maoist rebels in Michgaon village of Kanker district, about 175 km south of Raipur in Chattisgarh
Mar 16, 2007 Maoists attacked a police post in the remote jungles of in Rani Bodli in Chattisgarh with gunfire, hand grenades and gasoline bombs, killing at least 49 people
March 5, 2007 Naxalites shot dead Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s Lok Sabha MP Sunil Kumar Mahato. Two of his bodyguards and a party colleague were also killed in the attack when they were witnessing a football match organised to mark Holi at a village in Jamshedpur in Jharkhand
July 17, 2006 At least 25 people were killed and 80 injured, 32 of them seriously, while about 250 people were missing following an attack by some 800 armed Naxalites in Dantewada district of Chattisgarh
February 9, 2006 Eight Central Industrial Security Force personnel were killed and eight others injured when Naxalites raided a godown of the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) and took away explosives from a village near Bailadila in Jagdalpur in Chattisgarh
1 March 2005 In a major attack, Naxalites shot dead eight villagers and blew up a forest rest house, injuring a CRPF constable in Andhra Pradesh
November 13, 2005 Hundreds of activists of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) attacked the police lines in south Bihar’s Jehanabad district

(With inputs from PTI and IANS)





Sreelatha Menon: A homecoming in Bastar

21 07 2008
Sreelatha Menon: A homecoming in Bastar
Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi July 20, 2008, 0:26 IST

The collector of Dantewada has agreed to give 10 quintals of paddy seed to restart farming in Nendra. Nendra is a village in Konta block in Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh which has been lying deserted for the last three years after multiple attacks by the government-backed anti-Naxal militia, the Salwa Judum, and the police. The collector’s gesture was in reciprocation of a rehabilitation effort by an NGO called Vanvasi Chetna Ashram to facilitate homecoming for the villagers who were living either in jungles fearing reprisals from the Salwa Judum and the police, or in neighbouring villages of Andhra Pradesh. Some of them are in camps set up by the state government.

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The effort started this month, with 11 members of the ashram turning into a human shield and escorting the fugitive tribals to their village and staying with them.

There has been little support from the police. There were firings on the villagers. The first incident made them run for their lives to their familiar hideouts in the jungles.

Two boys, Madkam Bheem and Vetti Pojja, both about 16 years old, were caught this week while returning from the markets in the villages of Andhra Pradesh and are currently in Dantewada jail.

The police fired in the village a second time this week. But this time, the villagers did not flee and the police returned without harming anyone.

Himanshu Kumar, who has been running the ashram for the last 16 years in the Bastar area, says more villages are seeking their human shields to revive life in the abandoned hamlets.

People who have fled from about 25 villages are meeting in Nendra to extend the human shield initiative to their villages.

The human shield members, who took with them 15 quintals of paddy and a lot of clothes for the 100 families returning to Nendra, are currently helping the people cultivate their abandoned fields.

The collector’s gesture was to support this effort.

The Supreme Court ruled recently that the government of Chhattisgarh was acting in an illegal and unconstitutional way in arming civilians to fight the Naxalites. A report of the Planning Commission seconded this and said that Salwa Judum was a terrible mistake and had no place in a democratic and free country.

The Planning Commission report on Salwa Judum and Naxalites was presented yesterday before the home ministry’s task force.

What will take the powers-to-be to change their mind and understand that people have to live in their homes and cannot be held fugitives in their own country?

The human shield initiative is, meanwhile, preparing to leave for another deserted village, Vechapad, in Bhairamgadh block in Bastar’s Bijapur district. Himanshu Kumar says he has informed the police but they are asking them to wait saying an operation was going on there.

What is the guarantee that people returning from the Salwa Judum camps, usually identified with the atrocities attributed to the Salwa Judum, would be let off by the Naxalites and the people hiding in the jungles?

Himanshu Kumar says he has been speaking to the villagers outside the camps and they say there is no danger from them. He says Naxalites are also promising that they will not make reprisal attacks on the villagers and the SPOs if they come home.

At a time the government is introspecting about the Salwa Judum and does not know what to do with the Naxalites, the worst thing it can do is to sever ties with the civil society. It can begin by looking at activists like Himanshu Kumar and Binayak Sen as just that rather than conspirators against it, and instead use jails and police against criminals rather than activists.





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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”