The Evolution of Maoist Insurgency in India

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Context

More than 1,000 Maoist fighters, armed with sophisticated weapons and mines, recently killed 75 Indian paramilitary soldiers and one policeman in the insurgency-hit central Chhattisgarh state, an event that stunned New Delhi and the 1.3 billion people of India. The shockwaves reverberated around the world. PoliTact has previously pointed out the seriousness of this insurgency in its November and December 2009 forecast.

The massacre brought to light the decades-old insurgency that started in West Bengal in 1967 with a peasant’s movement and which, spreading to 22 states of the country’s total 28, has mushroomed into the biggest internal security threat that India today faces. Meanwhile India continues to divert the focus of the country way from the domestic challenges while blaming Pakistan for most of its problems.

Analysis

As Indian paramilitary forces try to eliminate some 20,000 Maoist insurgents, who are active from the Nepalese border to West Bengal and central India to the shores of seas in the south, the loss of so many soldiers at the hands of Maoists raises many troubling questions for the Indian internal security apparatus besides generating serious controversy at home.

Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram blamed West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya for the political violence in the state. Then, coming under pressure, Chidambaram himself offered his resignation, which was rejected by the Indian prime minister. At the same time, the Indian Army chief V K Singh blamed the 62nd battalion of the CRPF company for the disaster. Saying the attack was a matter of concern, Singh added: “In what has happened, there were some internal deficiencies, which may be in their training or some other things and they (paramilitary forces) are thinking over it.” Immediately, Chidambaram denied this, claiming the men were properly trained. CRPF’s Special Director General N K Tripathi also claimed that the men were suitably trained, including in jungle warfare, and were given all the weaponry available.

The killing of Indian soldiers is a major embarrassment for a country that thinks and acts like an emerging superpower. India, no doubt, is a nuclear state, which also boasts one of the world’s largest air forces and militaries. It has state-of-the-art fighter aircraft, tanks, submarines and ships. It is planning to launch its own spacecraft and talking about launching moon missions. The Indian military is also making preparations to take on Pakistani and Chinese militaries simultaneously, at least on paper. For a country like this, an insurgency that results in the killing of so many paramilitary soldiers with such ease in one go is a shocking development, a moment of truth. It is something that has dented India’s image abroad and shattered the confidence of the Indian government and its people in its own paramilitary forces.

The massacre will now convince New Delhi to take the Maoist threat much more seriously and the country will be forced to employ more resources to deal with the problem. At the moment, the Indian air chief has opposed the role of air force in countering the insurgency and the government may also not want to employ the Indian Army. However experts say it has to look into why the incident took place and ensure that it should not be repeated in future. In this regard, there are lots of questions that need to be answered. How did valuable intelligence leak to the Maoist guerrillas about the route to be taken by the CPRF personnel? Why were the CPRF personnel not moving in small groups and in vehicles? Why had the troops not considered booby traps, landmines and deadly ambushes? Besides the hosts of questions that need to be probed, the points of reference given for the inquiry include determining the sequence of events as well as analysing and establishing levels of decision making, command structure and hierarchy.

While India has seen a decade of high economic growth, more than 40 percent live below the World Bank poverty line of $1.25 a day and almost half of all children under the age of three are malnourished.

It is clear the insurgency has its roots in deprivation and poverty. Even if the Indian government kills the Maoist guerillas, it is unlikely that it will finish off the insurgency. For a long term solution, India will have to mount a major infrastructure development program for the downtrodden people, who have been neglected for too long by state governments and New Delhi. However, following the slowing down of the economy after a decade of growth, it will be a more difficult task to bring into the mainstream the people of the states where Maoists are most active. An agrarian revolution and social justice are the keys to resolving the issue. But can New Delhi deliver when it has done little for the concerned people and allowed the Maoist problem to aggravate over the years?

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