The spike in Maoist activity over the past month and more—a mine explosion that killed several security personnel in Maharashtra, kidnappings of tourists and government officials in Orissa and Chhattisgarh—and well-publicized security operations against Maoists nearly everywhere appear to have led the media, at least television, to breathlessly rediscover that the rebellion exists.
The fact is: violent irritation in India extends well beyond the ambit of Maoists and the everyday nature of much of this “action” rarely blips national media, both print and electronic. The ministry of home affairs, the hub of all internal security issues and action, routinely deals with an astonishingly large bouquet of angst as well as angst-on-the-mend in 14 of India’s 28 states and issues such as religion-inspired terrorism that transcends immediate factors of ethnicity and maladministration. The ministry’s annual report for 2011-12 (accessible at mha.nic.in) offers a sobering insight into this wounded country, the sort that folks keener on mind-over-matter pronouncements at the ministry of finance, the Reserve Bank of India or the Planning Commission tend to pass over.
The home ministry’s Naxal management division—in the manner of India’s security apparatus and media interchangeably using “Naxal” and “Maoist” to describe left-wing extremists—is a relatively new one, created in October 2006 “to effectively tackle the Naxal menace from both security and development angles”, a reaction delayed by about two decades. Active anti-Maoist operations are on in conjunction with local police in parts of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal. (As to keeping a watch on states where Maoist propaganda and recruitment are being attempted, but have not yet broken out into armed rebellion, it’s nearly all of northern India and the remainder of the peninsula.)
The North-East division deals with several rebellions over ethnic identities and aspirations in various stages of play—including ceasefire with, or suspension of operations against, several rebel groups, not formal peace—in India’s Far East. That marks six states: Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Tripura, and parts of Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. The peaceful states as of now are Sikkim, and Mizoram—where rebellion formally ended in 1986.
The Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) division deals with everything from policy to rehabilitation of the conflict-affected in this country’s key geopolitical sweet spot, which is unlikely to mend until Pakistan and Afghanistan mend.
Then there is internal security division I which, among other things, deals with “anti-national and subversive activities” of extremist organizations, financing of terrorist activities, operational issues, tracking Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, and counterterrorism policy. Internal security division II is relatively more “vanilla”, dealing with matters of arms and explosives, narcotics and the National Security Act. Police-II division deals, among other things, with deployment of centrally controlled paramilitaries.
These divisions, except for core issues of Maoist “management” and the North-East, pretty much dovetail with one another.
The good news is that, compared with 2010, fatalities in 2011 were down across the board in all theatres of such action, in terms of incidents of terrorism or rebel action, numbers of security forces and civilians killed and even terrorists or rebel forces killed. This last is a sign of domination by police and paramilitary and, in certain cases such as J&K and north-eastern India, the army. Or, a sign of rapprochement consequent to such domination; a major “pro-talks” faction of United Liberation Front of Asom and several smaller ethnic groups in that state, Meghalaya, Tripura and Manipur provide examples.
Unsurprisingly, though, the Maoist theatre, as it were, is described differently from the others, even though collective Maoist deaths, arrests and surrenders exceed the numbers in other theatres. This reflects the acknowledgement, however grudging, that the greater spread of left-wing extremism and its deep rootedness cannot be faulted to notions of a tribe or small numbers among other ethnic group in the peripheries of India’s geography feeling insulted or deprived. Or Pakistan’s security apparatus impelling the cause of secessionism in J&K; or feeding Islamist terror cells across India. This is not regional, nor religious, being almost entirely socio-economic and administrative in root, and in the very heart of India.
The war against Maoism is a “long-drawn-out battle”, the ministry concedes—tempering the myopic cowboy-talk of several state governments, most notably Chhattisgarh—“and needs to be persevered with both operations against the armed elements as well as the all-round development of left-wing extremism affected areas.” Enough said.
Sudeep Chakravarti writes on issues of conflict in South Asia. He is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and the soon-to-be published Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations that directly affect business, runs on Fridays.
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