India is in extreme action and reaction in relation to the current phase of Maoist rebellion. As much as “common” folk who are daily forced to walk a tightrope between security forces and rebels, businesses and business plans in these areas too are affected. The names include local and global majors engaged in mining, iron and steel, power, and farming.
From all available indications, there is no getting away from it for a horizon that certainly includes the next two years—and could extend to five.
Over the past year, since P. Chidambaram assumed office as minister for home affairs, there has been an increase in recruitment of paramilitary; exhortations to increase and modernize police forces and police posts in rebel-affected states; and intelligence gathering and sharing to attack rebels.
Several dozen cadres and key rebel leaders have been killed, many arrested. More police and paramilitary are being trained in counter-insurgency techniques.
In response, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), too, has escalated its activities, hitting targets almost at will in Chhattisgarh, eastern Maharashtra, Orissa, Jharkhand, adjacent regions of West Bengal and Bihar. Such actions have killed several hundred police and paramilitary—from elite “anti-Naxal” forces to guards at mining depots—minor politicians, and political thugs—as in the Lalgarh region of West Bengal. Several chief ministers continue to be targets.
Listen to Sudeep Chakravarti and Narendra Singh Sisodia, Director General of the Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, talk about the escalating Naxal tensions in India
It will get more violent and far dirtier.
The government— in New Delhi and various states—and rebels will both contribute to it as they work multiple fronts.
Maoist rebels will get shriller. The October issue of People’s March, a pro-Maoist journal, gleefully recounts a three-location attack by cadres of the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army in Chhattisgarh on 12 July that killed at least 40 policemen, including the superintendent of police of Rajnandgaon district.
Also Read Sudeep Chakravarti’s earlier columns
It terms this year’s escalation “a slap in the face of the notorious home minister who has taken a personal interest in the operation against the Maoists”. It talks of “punishing the most vile elements”—suspected police informers who typically have their throats slashed, if they aren’t beheaded or shot—“by trying them in people’s courts...”
It urges “strategic firmness with tactical flexibility” in its game plan of revolution, and vilifies “the US stooge Manmohan Singh” who is “scheduled to visit the US on 24 November to actually appease US imperialism for further gifting away the country’s interests”.
The state has not been idle. A senior army officer posted to a conflict zone told me just days ago that India’s police and “civil” authorities are now equipped with enough laws under the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and various laws separately enacted by states to suborn completely the notion of free speech and action even by non-combatants.
The government can use procedure to arrest and implicate who it wishes for real and imagined crimes ranging from taking up a weapon against state forces to exposing corruption and wrongdoing by the police, bureaucracy and politicians—as repeatedly happens in Chhattisgarh and eastern Maharashtra. These regions also witness instances of rape, torture and faked encounters even towards non-combatants in the course of anti-rebel operations.
The police and the administrative machinery have more power, impunity and immunity, the officer marvelled, than permitted the army under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, with versions freely applied to Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur. At a recent gathering in New Delhi that included several security insiders, I heard suggestions of “finishing off these guys once and for all”—meaning Maoists. There was talk also of “getting rid of Naxalites like that Binayak Sen”. The reference was to the strident civil rights activist and barefoot doctor from Chhattisgarh who was jailed for at least two years since May 2007, in reality for highlighting corruption and police excesses in that state.
Many businesses depend on state governments to stand surety for land procurement and facilities, and state police and paramilitary to provide security as willing proxies. I understand some others are in touch with Maoist rebels to soften entry, or perpetuate business, promising to look after rebel interests along with those of the local population—a practice long prevalent in parts of north-eastern India. As rhetoric and action ratchets up, businesses will find it trickier to live with such arrangements, both public and private, that have thus far been typical in Maoist geographies.
The unfortunate part, of course, is that there is little attempt at resolution of conflict, only attempts to minimize its effect.
Sudeep Chakravarti writes on issues related to conflict in South Asia. He is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. He writes a column alternate Thursdays on conflicts that directly affect business.
Respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org