Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Human Rights | Analysis

POLITICS: India’s Red Rebels Pose ‘Biggest Internal Threat’

Analysis by IPS Correspondents

KOLKATA, India, Feb 21 2010 (IPS) - They emerge from the jungles like Robin Hood’s band of merry men. They ambush police posts, kill government supporters, kidnap officials, trigger landmines and disappear in the same forest with a loot of weapons as Indian police suffer like sitting ducks.

The Maoists, who killed 24 policemen in eastern India’s West Bengal state on Monday last week after taking them off guard in a camp and followed it with another deadly attack, killing 11 villagers in neighbouring state Bihar, has exposed again the shocking inadequacies of the Indian police to fight the rebels who have armed themselves to the teeth and trained in guerilla warfare.

“The attack by the Communist Party of India (CPI-Maoist) on a camp of the Eastern Frontier Rifles of West Bengal is another outrageous attempt by the banned organisation to overawe the established authority in the state,” said India’s home minister P. Chidambaram.

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the Maoist rebels – said to number around 22,000 and mostly residing in the jungles and tribal areas of eastern India with their ideological patrons in cities – the country’s biggest internal threat.

India’s home ministry officials in New Delhi were peeved at the unpreparedness of the police force in West Bengal’s Silda camp as the rebels massacred them on Monday.

The police camp, ironically, was set up as part of an ongoing offensive against the rebels in the area. The operation was launched in June last year after the Maoists overran an area called ‘Lalgarh’ in West Bengal, and drove out police forces from there. The police took control of the area and since then the operation has continued.

“There has been a massive loss of life. Besides, more than 40 weapons were reported to have been looted,” admitted Chidambaram.

West Bengal’s communist government admitted the loopholes in security, leading to the massacre, one of the most audacious in recent times.

“There was a breach of security. There was a lack of alertness on the part of our policemen,” conceded West Bengal’s chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. A top police official and the state’s home secretary even bickered over intelligence input about the attack.

While West Bengal’s top cop Bhupinder Singh said police had no inkling of an impending attack, home secretary Ardhendu Sen said a gathering of the rebels was known, though not the specific target. “We will continue our operation against them. We are reviewing our strategy,” said Singh.

A top Maoist leader, who identified himself as Kishenji, called up local TV stations in Kolkata shortly after the West Bengal massacre, claiming responsibility for the attack.

“This is our ‘Operation Peace Hunt’. It is our retaliation against the ‘Operation Green Hunt’ of the government,” he said, referring to an ongoing offensive in the jungles of the country by the central forces against the rebels. “We would continue to bleed them till the offensive against us is withdrawn.”

Defence analysts flay the government for failing to tackle the Maoist challenge in right earnest. Ajay Sahni of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management finds the West Bengal police too weak to fight the Maoists.

“Unless the forces are retrained, combating the rebels is impossible. The Maoists must not be able to move from one Indian state to another after a strike in one. They have to be trapped inside,” said Sahni.

“There should be sufficiency of force and resources. If the forces are dispersed, it is vulnerable. The forces must reach a saturation point at a place,” he said. “There should be quick reinforcement too. The Maoists mine these areas and often attack forces on the edges of the main deployment areas.”

According to economists and social commentators, the menace can be tackled partly by force and largely by development in the backward areas where the rebels gain ground owing to grinding poverty and hunger.

“The threat is real and growing. We need a cold-turkey policy now, and all eastern states must come together to counter the rebels” said Abhirup Sarkar, an economist with the Indian Statistical Institute. “But development is only the real answer to solve the problem at its root.”

He expressed concern that the threat would largely affect industrialisation in rural India. A steel plant touted as one of the biggest in India is expected to come up in an area barely 60 kilometres from the scene of the Maoists’ latest attack.

Lack of coordinated political action is also hampering the fight against the Maoists, said analysts. During a recent meeting of chief ministers of four eastern states – West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa – convened by home minister Chidambaram in Kolkata, only two were present.

While the Maoist movement began in the late 1960s in a northern town of West Bengal state called Naxalbari (they have been called Naxals since then after the town) and then subsided in the 1970s, the dreaded gangs of rebels known as Maoists now function under an outfit called Communist Party of India (Maoist).

CPI (Maoist) was formed following the merger of the Maoist Communist Centre of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War (also known as the People’s War Group) in September 2004, inheriting the ‘annihilation of class enemies’ ideology and use of extreme violence as a means to secure organizational goals.

The Maoists have sympathisers in the big cities of India. According to Kabir Sumon, an intellectual, singer and songwriter and now a member of Parliament, military offensive is not going to stop the violence.

Maintaining that the villagers live in grinding poverty and plight, he said the Indian government, which is shored up by his Trinamool Congress party, should stop the offensive to bring the rebels to the table for talks.

“I would request the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, and my party chief to stop the offensive,” said Sumon.

But the government remained firm in its stand on the operation against the rebels. “We can talk only after they shun violence,” said Chidambaram. “I would like to hear the voices of condemnation of those who have erroneously extended intellectual and material support to the CPI (Maoist).”

“It is only if the whole country rejects the preposterous theses of the CPI (Maoist) and condemns the so-called ‘armed liberation struggle’ that we can put an end to the menace of ‘naxalism’ [India’s extremist communist movement] and bring development and progress to the people in the conflict zones.”

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