Left wing Sepearatism, Terrorism : Watch

7 08 2008
Maoists blow up block office in Jharkhand
Press Trust of India, India – 41 minutes ago
Garwah (Jharkhand), Aug 7 (PTI) Maoists blew up the block office building at Dandai in Jharkhand’s Garwah district, police said today.

Maoists kill four in Chhattisgarh
Thaindian.com, Thailand – 23 hours ago
Raipur, Aug 6 (IANS) Maoist rebels killed four people in two separate attacks in Chhattisgarh, police said Wednesday. Insurgents killed two people in

Nandigram: CPM blames Trinamool-Maoist for fresh trouble
Zee News, India – 12 hours ago
Accusing Trinamool Congress and Maoists of launching attacks against CPI-M leaders at Nandigram where anti-SEZ protesters have locked horns with Left
No need to repay Rs 1.5b loan: Maoists tell farmers
Kantipur Online, Nepal – 5 Aug 2008
Some clients who used to pay interest regularly have also stopped after CPN (Maoist) became the largest party after the Constituent Assembly election.

Bike gang kills CPM leader in Nandigram
Calcutta Telegraph, India – 9 hours ago
The CPM has alleged that Niranjan’s murder was the handiwork of Maoists and the Trinamul Congress. “It is typical of Maoists to target CPM leaders and

How to lose a war against insurgency ?

7 08 2008

Praveen Swami

Source: The Hindu

Orissa faces defeat at the hands of increasingly powerful Maoist groups.

Its leaders don’t seem to care.

Under the benign gaze of a bright silver statue of Bhimrao Ambedkar, improbable numbers of passengers were being packed in a battered jeep for the ride home in forest hamlets. Neither a month of horrific violence nor the annual week-long general strike called by Maoist guerrillas to commemorate the martyrdom of their comrades deterred thousands of Chitrakonda’s Adivasi residents from showing up at the weekly market. Chitrakonda in Orissa seemed strangely cheerful f or a place which, this summer, witnessed some of the most horrific violence ever recorded in India’s Maoist insurgency. Across the road, from the market, the police station didn’t even have a guard.

In mid-July, a 100-kg landmine ripped through a specially designed mine-proof truck, killing 17 policemen near Motu, on the southern fringes of the violence-scarred district of Malkangiri. Earlier, 38 Andhra Pradesh police personnel died when a boat ferrying them across the Balimela Dam’s reservoir, just a few minutes drive from Chitrakonda, was ambushed. The panicked personnel ran to one side of the boat to escape, causing it to tip over, and all those on board were drowned. .

India’s National Informatics Centre, with a virtual grasp of reality, counts Motu and Balimela — where the ravaged hull of the sunken boat has now been salvaged and dragged ashore — as tourism draws. Not surprisingly, though, visitors aren’t queuing up to sample the region’s delights.

“Kandahar,” policemen call the forests around a bombed-out culvert on the road to village MV79 — home to Hindu refugees from East Pakistan, who were rehabilitated in this place without a name. On their way back from an operation near MV49, where they hoped to gather evidence linking a local politician to the CPI-Maoist, the tired police personnel — some of whom had served in the violence-scarred region for over two years on end — failed to execute a mine search before crossing the bridge. Now, besieged police personnel at Motu village, at the end of the road that runs south through the district to the confluence of the Sileru and Sabari rivers, have renamed the landmarks: “Peshawar,” “Khyber Pass,” “Kabul.”

Just why have things come to this? Put simply, the Orissa police are outmanned and outgunned. In addition to a strength of hundreds — perhaps thousands — of military-trained supporters active in villages, the CPI-Maoist is believed to have at least two companies of forces active in the area. Six months ago, the CPI-Maoist harvested over 1,100 rifles and machine guns in a raid on police stations and armouries in and around the town of Nayagarh. Ill-armed and poorly trained police guards did not even bother to put up a fight.

In what the former Punjab Director-General of Police K.P.S. Gill calls a “war of small commanders,” ground-level leadership is key. But while the Malkangiri police ought to have 49 sub-inspectors to command their constables, just 17 are in place. Where they should have three Deputy Superintendents, they have just one. Superintendent of Police Satish Gajabhiye is also the sole officer of his rank in place — a stark contrast with Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab which have waged successful counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency campaigns.

On ground, the Malkangiri police’s offensive counter-insurgency capabilities are pathetic. They have five SOG sections, each with 20 personnel, backed by six companies of ill-trained local police — a total of 700 men to operate in 5,791 square km of some of the most dense, mountainous tropical forests in India. Backing them are four companies of the Central Reserve Police Force — well under 500 men. Dantewada, across the border in Chhattisgarh, is twice as large as Malkangiri but has eight times as many CRPF personnel.

Back in 2001, well before the CPI-Maoist established itself in Orissa, the State sanctioned plans to create three new police stations in Malkangiri. But just one of them has become functional, that too on an ad hoc basis, without a proper building or housing for its staff. At least two police stations, Paparmetla and Jodambo, are unconnected by road, and have no reliable means of communication — not even electricity. In addition, the district’s criminal justice system has collapsed. Inadequate investigation and the complete absence of modern forensic resources, combined with the fact that judges and prosecutors are afraid of reprisals, have made securing convictions of CPI-Maoist leaders next to impossible.

Early this year, a Malkangiri court released Salven Mukta, a Chhattisgarh resident thought to be responsible for at least 49 killings in the course of the CPI-Maoist’s brutal war with Salwa Judum vigilantes. His rapid acquittal startled observers, who note that his trial in Chhattisgarh is still under way. Last year, the police in Malkangiri arrested Andhra-Orissa Border Special Zonal Committee member Srinivas Sriramaloo, along with a senior commander from Chhattisgarh, Madvi Sukal. Sriramaloo is now in a Medak jail — but Sukal, who was fortunate enough to face trial in Malkangiri, was released. He has, the police in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa say, gone on to lead several attacks against the informers the CPI-Maoists believe were responsible for the arrests.

Cases like these are depressingly common. Sariam Dora, code-named Santosh, was released from prison in July 2007, and is now a member of the CPI-Maoist’s Malkangiri district leadership. Katam Mala, acquitted in 2008, and Sapan Bala, released a year earlier, are already back on the district police’s wanted list.

All of this is symptomatic of a wider malaise. Last year, official data obtained by The Hindu shows, Orissa had just 10,839 armed police personnel instead of the 14,891 who should have been in place. It had 252 officers ranking from Deputy Superintendent to Senior Superintendent instead of the 304 needed, and only 4,542 inspectors instead of the 5,933 sanctioned. In 2005, the State was 12,000 personnel short of the sanctioned strength — a sanctioned strength based, it bears mention, on the three decades-old population data and no suggestion that an insurgency was brewing.

Last year, Orissa hired 6,000 cadets to fill the gap. It turned out, though, that its police training centre could process just 300 students at a time. Training was slashed from 12 months to six months— at which rate it would have taken a decade to complete the process — and meanwhile, untrained personnel were assigned to police stations. Earlier this year, the recruitments themselves were quashed, after credible allegations of corruption surfaced.

Bibhu Prasad Routray, a leading expert on Orissa’s Maoist insurgency, notes that while the State needs around 1,000 police stations, it has just 482. Most of these have neither proper infrastructure nor manpower. Even armed police contingents, which ought to constitute the cutting edge of the Orissa police’s counter-insurgency operations, are grossly underequipped. “For example,” Mr. Routray wrote earlier this year, “the 4th Battalion of the Orissa Armed Police located at Rourkela, close to the Orissa-Jharkhand border, stationed on a 143-acre plot of land, does not even have a boundary wall. The suggestion to erect a wall to protect the facility was made way back in November 2006. The battalion authorities are still awaiting approval of the Police Headquarters, after four subsequent reminders.”

Crack counter-insurgency force

Orissa is now focussing its energies on creating a crack counter-insurgency force, the Special Operations Group, modelled on Andhra Pradesh’s successful anti-naxalite police, the Greyhounds. It is unclear, though, whether what some critics call the ‘Rambo Model of Police Reform’ will work.

In Andhra Pradesh, the Greyhounds successes came in the context of thoroughgoing institutional reform of the police. Police stations were fortified to protect them from attack; incentives were introduced for the police to serve in troubled areas; and a massive programme of grass roots hiring was initiated. Critically, police intelligence was upgraded. Today’s Andhra Pradesh’s Special Intelligence Bureau has more direct-recruit Indian Police Service officers of the rank of SP than the Operations Directorate of the Intelligence Bureau, which handles all nationwide counter-terrorism intelligence. CPI-Maoist leaders have publicly acknowledged that the SIB’s intelligence capabilities were central to breaking the back of its campaign in Andhra Pradesh.

Just across the border in Chhattisgarh, there is evidence of how dangerous seeking shortcuts — instead of implementing proper police reforms — can be. Faced with a situation similar to that in Malkangiri, the State threw its weight behind the Salwa Judum militia. Not surprisingly, better-off Adivasi groups of Chhattisgarh dominated the vigilante organisation. Salwa Judum used to settle vendettas and feuds with the poorest tribes like the Koyas, who today make up the backbone of the CPI-Maoist in Malkangiri.

It will take more than policing, of course, to address the Maoist insurgency. As long as Malkangiri Adivasis continue to be excluded from economic development and are subjected to social discrimination, the conditions for violent protests will continue to exist.

Malkangiri, as the work of the eminent historian Biswamoy Pati teaches us, has a long history of rebellion. Back in 1879, the Koya rebels led by Tomma Dora rose in revolt against the authorities to protest slave labour and forcible extraction of supplies for the government. The rebels captured the Motu police station, and even annihilated a military detachment sent from Hyderabad to put down the uprising. In 1920-24, Adivasi unrest lent momentum to an uprising led by Alluri Sitarama Raju. And in 1942, Laxman Naiko led a massive movement for justice that is still in popular memory.

Orissa needs to provide justice if the Maoists in Malkangiri are to be defeated. But the fact is that Orissa has been evicted from Malkangiri, leaving the State government with no instrument with which it might deliver development and progress. Orissa’s political leadership seems to have neither the will nor the vision to win this war.

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.

Meeting the Naxal challenge

30 06 2008

Praful Bidwai

Has the Indian government established at least a degree of control over Naxalite activity? And has it got any wiser about how to contain Naxal-related violence after almost four decades of trying?

Going by the first meeting of the Standing Committee of chief ministers of Naxalite-affected states on September 19, and the October 5 conference of directors general of police, the answer isn’t clear. The CMs’ meeting happened barely a month after Andhra Pradesh reimposed a ban on a range of Naxalite groups followed by Chhattisgarh.

In both cases, the proscription followed violent incidents. In Chhattisgarh, the Naxals demonstrated their military prowess by blowing up a mine-proof vehicle carrying 24 Central Reserve Police Force personnel with a mine. This sent the vehicle flying 35 feet up in the air till it landed 90 feet away. In Andhra, they killed a Congress MLA on Independence Day.

PM assures help in tackling Naxalites

This deplorable violence formed the backdrop to the tough talk heard at the Standing Committee, itself encouraged by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil’s recent statements advocating the use of violence against Naxals.

Not many recalled the background to the violence, which was preceded by police brutality not just against Naxals, but ordinary villagers merely suspected to be their informers.

Even so, a consensus was reached on a ‘two-pronged’ approach: of ‘firmly tackling the security threat, and simultaneously implementing programmes for socio-economic development of vulnerable areas.’ Patil urged the CMs to ‘act compassionately but in a determined manner; use force but properly and discreetly.’

The states agreed to appoint ‘nodal officers’ for coordination. A handsome Rs 2,000 crores (Rs 20 billion) was allocated annually to anti-Naxal ‘police modernisation.’ The Centre gave the go-ahead to the use of sophisticated weaponry like helicopters and armoured vehicles in anti-Naxal operations. In addition, Rs 2 crores per Naxal-affected district was granted to “accelerate socio-economic development.”

This works out to a much smaller Rs 280 crores. The two “prongs,” then, are unequal in length. Indeed, the conclusion that many CMs and policemen have drawn from the Delhi deliberations is that they must step up the use of force. Thus, Andhra Director-General of police Swaranjit Sen, known for his machismo, hubris and trigger-happiness, and for his threats to sue journalists who interview the CPI-Maoist says he’ll use helicopters to “bring Naxalites out of forests,” and transport men and material for anti-extremist operations.

Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are considering the “Afghanistan Solution” — building a network of highways through forests to connect remote villages and create a “security corridor.” (It’s another matter that this hasn’t worked in Afghanistan. Besides, destroying forests and disrupting village life would aggravate the Naxal problem.) Even more dramatically, Bihar is planning to use satellite imagery to track Naxal activities.

Who are the Naxalites?

Such fancy high-tech schemes are fundamentally misconceived. They miss the point about the Naxalites’ strengths and weaknesses. Satellite pictures might have helped if the Naxals had permanent camps or held large-scale gatherings. But they don’t operate that way. Typically, they mix with villagers following Mao’s dictum about guerrillas and people being like fish and water. Helicopter gunships would be effective in mowing down whole hamlets — as the US, for instance, did in Vietnam, or is doing in Colombia.

But that involves indiscriminate violence, which in turn can only foment Naxal counter-violence.

The key to the problem lies in breaking this cycle of violence-and-counter-violence, not in raising it on to a higher military-technological plane. This happens when the state tries to tilt the power balance decisively in its favour through tough measures, starting with a ban and using increasingly lethal force to “instil the fear of God in the enemy”, as some policemen put it. But force can rarely deter counter-force. If states gain access to high-tech weapons, so can non-state actors, although they are much less dependent on arms than governments.

Past experience suggests that bans usually don’t achieve their purpose. They cannot significantly expand the government’s powers to deal with violence. Plenty of powers are available under existing laws, which cover a wide range of violent acts, and abetting, assisting or promoting them. Laws like the Public Security Act, used in many states, are draconian. They criminalise even acts of sympathy for Naxals, including giving them medical care. They punish people who might take Naxalites’ help in settling land or monetary disputes, which the law courts take years to resolve. This Naxal role has been praised even by police officers.

Bans can be counter-productive too. Take the People’s War Group, which merged a year ago with the Maoist Communist Centre to form the CPI-Maoist. It was proscribed in Andhra way back in 1992. Barring a short interval in 1996, it remained banned until July 2004. Through these 12 years, the group’s activities and influence grew not just in Andhra, but in adjacent states like Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Orissa, and most recently, even Karnataka, which now has some 600 Naxal activists.

The government’s knee-jerk response to Naxalism is always to treat it as a law-and-order or “security” problem. Yet, Naxalism — the movement named after an armed uprising of 1967 in Naxalbari village in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district — is different from other militant movements which typically remain confined to single states and to single issues.

Indeed, over 38 years, Naxalism has grown steadily, spawning 30-odd groups. Its core-areas first spread from the forests of West Bengal, Andhra and Bihar to their plains, as well as to Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh — and to contiguous states.

According to the Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, Naxalite presence expanded from 55 districts in nine states in 2003 to 156 districts in 13 states in 2004, and to 170 districts in 15 states this past February. In their strongholds — about 55 districts in 12 states — the Naxalites run a parallel government. The Centre’s own figures are similar.

Karl and the Kalashnikov

The reasons for the Naxals’ success are fairly straightforward. Naxals flourish where there are huge disparities in assets and incomes, and where injustice and violence by the privileged are rampant. Prakash Singh, former Border Security Force chief, and author of a book on Naxalism, holds: ‘The Naxal movement is irrepressible because it draws sustenance from the grievances of the people which have not be addressed by the government� Regarding land reforms, even the Tenth Plan document admits, “the record of most states in implementing the existing laws is dismal”.’

Mr Singh is no ‘softie.’ In India, only 1.3 per cent of agricultural land has been redistributed through tenancy reform and land ceilings — compared to 43 per cent in China, 37 in Taiwan, 33 in Japan [Images], and 32 per cent in South Korea.

Former Bihar chief secretary Kamala Prasad has a more comprehensive explanation for Naxalism’s success. He attributes it to numerous failures of the state. It began as a revolt of the landless poor who were defrauded of their rights and could find no justice. “There was gathering disillusionment among the youth about the quality of our democracy. Inherent also was a forewarning on the core issues of securing responsive, accountable and genuinely representative government. The adherents were still carried by the belief that the government would respect the force of their commitment,” says Prasad.

He describes Naxalism through metaphors: the failure of law and order, ambiguity of social policy, failings of democratic processes, failure of the party system, and deficits of governance.

The Naxalite problem recently got aggravated because of the Indian state’s withdrawal from public services, leading to their near-collapse, and the growing illegitimacy of governance in many regions, coupled with massive corruption. This has led to failing states in many parts of India. Agrarian distress, growing unemployment, and depredations of the forester-contractor mafia, have intensified popular discontent. As has unequal globalisation.

The United Progressive Alliance showed some comprehension of this. Its Common Minimum Programme said that Naxalism isn’t a mere law-and-order problem; the social and economic grievances underlying it must be addressed. To do so, the government must redefine the balance between the two “prongs” of its dual-tract approach by emphasising redressal of peoples’ grievances against inequalities and deprivation over law-and-order.

More, it must add a strategic third prong: giving the Naxals a democratic space for self-expression and encouraging them to come overground.

This approach worked in Andhra in the late 1980s. Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhar Reddy raised hopes of its revival when he lifted the ban on the PWG-CPI-Maoist last year and held talks with them. The party got a roaring public reception on its way from the forests to Hyderabad. But the government didn’t act honestly. It cheated the Naxals by tracking their forest hideouts in their absence and obtaining intelligence through coercion. And it refused to negotiate their reasonable demands about recovering public lands illegally grabbed by powerful interests. The talks failed. The government accused the Naxals of ‘regrouping’ and launched a major offensive. This brought on counter-attacks.

There’s a lesson here. If the government is serious about controlling Naxal violence, it must address its structural causes and not resort to gimmicks like Salwa Judum (peace campaign) in Chhattisgarh. It must of course protect citizens’ lives, but in lawful, Constitutional, humane ways. It must promote justice and equality. Or Naxalism will continue to spread.

Praful Bidwai