[Marxism] People's war in India

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 13 07:52:03 MDT 2006


NY Times, April 13, 2006
In Villages Across India, Maoist Guerrillas Widen 'People's War'
By SOMINI SENGUPTA

BHANUPRATAPUR FOREST RESERVE, India — The gray light of dawn broke over the 
bamboo forest as the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army prepared for a new day.

With transistor radios tucked under their arms, the soldiers listened to 
the morning news and brushed their teeth. A few young recruits busied 
themselves making a remote-control detonator for explosives.

The company commander, Gopanna Markam, patiently shaved.

"We have made the people aware of how to change your life through armed 
struggle, not the ballot," said Mr. Markam, who is in his mid-40's, 
describing his troops' accomplishments. "This is a people's war, a 
protracted people's war."

Mr. Markam's ragtag forces, who hew to Mao's script for a peasant 
revolution, fought a seemingly lost cause for so long, they were barely 
taken seriously beyond India's desperately wanting forest belt. But not 
anymore.

Today the fighting that Mr. Markam has quietly nurtured for 25 years looks 
increasingly like a civil war, one claiming more and more lives and slowing 
the industrial growth of a country hungry for the coal, iron and other 
riches buried in these isolated realms bypassed by India's economic boom.

While the far more powerful Maoist insurgency in neighboring Nepal has 
received greater attention, the conflict in India, though largely separate, 
has gained momentum, too. In the last year, it has cost nearly a thousand 
lives.

Here in central Chhattisgarh State, the deadliest theater of the war, 
government-aided village defense forces have lately taken to hunting 
Maoists in the forests. Hand in hand with the insurgency, the militias have 
dragged the region into ever more deadly conflict.

Villagers, caught in between, have seen their hamlets burned. Nearly 50,000 
are now displaced, living in flimsy tent camps, as the counterinsurgency 
tries to cleanse the countryside of Maoist support.

The insurgents blow up railway tracks, seize land and chase away forest 
guards. They have made it virtually impossible for government officials, 
whose presence here in the hinterland is already patchy, to function. 
Police posts, government offices and industrial plants are favored targets. 
Their ultimate goal is to overthrow the state.

Today the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which exists solely as an 
underground armed movement with no political representation, is a rigidly 
hierarchical outfit with toeholds in 13 of 28 Indian states. It stretches 
from the tip of India through this east-central state to the northern 
border with Nepal, where the Maoists have set off full-scale civil war.

Estimates by Indian intelligence officials and Maoist leaders suggest that 
the rebel ranks in India have swelled to 20,000, though the number is 
impossible to verify. One senior Indian intelligence official estimated 
that Maoists exert varying degrees of influence over a quarter of India's 
600 districts.

The top government official in one of Chhattisgarh's rural Maoist 
strongholds, Dantewada, acknowledged that the rebels had made some 60 
percent of his 6,400-square-mile district a no man's land for civil servants.

Not that there are many civil servants. His district's police department 
has a vacancy rate hovering around 35 percent; in health care, it is 20 
percent.

A Durable Rebel Movement

The Maoist insurgents are also known in India as Naxalites, after 
Naxalbari, the town north of Calcutta where an armed Communist rebellion 
first erupted 38 years ago. It was quickly put down, then quietly reappeared.

Local police forces, with their feeble jeeps and outdated guns, have been 
largely unable to stanch the rebellion. Nor, students of the conflict 
argue, is that rebellion likely to vanish soon.

Rather, they say, the Maoists may pose at least as great a challenge to the 
country's health as the far more talked-about Islamist insurgency in 
disputed Kashmir.

India offers a most fertile ground: a deep sense of neglect in large swaths 
of the country and a ballooning youth population, set against the backdrop 
of economic growth rates of up to 8 percent elsewhere.

The Maoists, meanwhile, survive niftily by extorting taxes from anyone 
doing business in the forest, from bamboo merchants to road construction 
companies.

"It is one of the most sustainable anti-state ideologies and movements," 
argued Ajai Sahni, a security analyst and executive director of the New 
Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management.

"Unless something radical is done in terms of a structural revolution in 
rural areas, you will see a continuous expansion of Maoist insurrection."

Attacks have become more brazen and better coordinated.

Last June, an apparently synchronized set of nine attacks in Bihar State 
left 21 people dead as Maoists robbed two banks and looted arms from a 
police station.

In November, also in Bihar, hundreds of Maoist troops orchestrated a 
jailbreak, freeing more than 300 prisoners and executing nine members of a 
private militia raised by upper-caste landlords.

In February, here in Chhattisgarh, rebels attacked a warehouse of a 
state-owned mining company, killing nine security officials and making off 
with 19 tons of explosives.

Later in February they set off a land mine under a convoy of trucks on a 
remote country road, instantly killing seven and then, according to wire 
reports, butchering several others. All told, 28 civilians were killed.

So far this year, the conflict has killed nearly two Indians a day.

The People Fight Back

Chhattisgarh, home to many of India's indigenous people, or adivasis, is 
most gripped by the war.

Sitting at the bottom of the Indian heap, the adivasis here make a living 
selling items of value that can be found in the forest: bamboo, leaves to 
make hand-rolled cigarettes, flowers to distill into country liquor.

They also bear some of the country's worst rates of poverty, health and 
malnutrition.

But there are riches here, too. Chhattisgarh is negotiating roughly $1.8 
billion in private Indian investment, mostly in mining industries, which 
the insurgents violently oppose. In the heart of the state, in thick 
forests of valuable sal trees and bamboo, terror has now spawned terror. 
Last summer, an anti-Maoist village defense movement was born, calling 
itself the Salwa Judum, or Peace Mission.

The group has coaxed or hounded thousands of people out of their forest 
hamlets and into the squalid tent camps, where suspected Maoist 
sympathizers are detained.

The camps are guarded by police officers, paramilitary forces and squads of 
local armed youths empowered with the title "special police officer."

The Delhi-based Asian Center for Human Rights, in a report in March, found 
children in the ranks of the Salwa Judum. The center also accuses the 
Maoists of recruiting child soldiers. It calls the conflict "the most 
serious challenge to human rights advocacy in India."

Baman, a resident of a village called Kotrapal, who like many adivasis uses 
one name, narrated the story of how life had sunk so low.

Last summer the Salwa Judum called a meeting in a neighboring village, 
where they threatened to beat Baman and others if they did not divulge the 
names of Maoists and their sympathizers. Baman said he was scared. He named 
names. He did not care for the Maoists anyway.

Two days later, he was summoned to another meeting, this time by the 
Maoists. There, he was beaten. Had he refused to attend, Baman said, the 
Maoists would have simply come to his house and thrashed him. They had 
already executed a village priest whom they suspected of being a government 
informant; Baman said his killers had cut off the priest's ears and left 
him along the road.

Last September the Salwa Judum, backed by the local police, swept through 
Kotrapal with a clear message: Move to the camps or face the Salwa Judum's 
wrath.

"We finished off the village," said Ajay Singh, the Salwa Judum's leader in 
a nearby town, Bhairamgarh. Then he clarified: "People were excited. Of 
course they destroyed the houses."

Baman and his clan moved out. Today, Kotrapal, an hour's walk from the 
nearest country road, is an eerie shell of a village.

Baman pointed out the charred remains of several homes. One was burned by 
Maoists because they suspected the owner to be a police informant, he said.

Another was burned by the police because they suspected its owner to be the 
brother of a Maoist.

The school was shuttered. The community hall's doors lay open to the wind. 
The only signs of life were a few women and children, who were gathering 
flowers from the forest floor to sell to the country liquor maker.

Before nightfall, they would all to go back to their tent camps.

Salwa Judum leaders say they have waged their campaign with a singular goal 
in mind: to clear the villages, one by one, and break the Maoists' web of 
support.

"Unless you cut off the source of disease, the disease will remain," is how 
the group's most prominent backer, an influential adivasi politician named 
Mahendra Karma, put it. "The source is the people, the villagers."

There is little doubt that in carrying out its agenda, the Salwa Judum 
enjoys government support.

State governments are "advised to encourage the formation of local 
resistance groups," the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs states in its 
latest annual report.

The Chhattisgarh government has begun to allocate land and money to 
villagers who agree to abandon their forest homes and build new houses 
along the road to Bhairamgarh.

It also supports the "special police officers" who work arm in arm with the 
Salwa Judum.

So far, 5,000 have been trained, given uniforms and offered what counts 
here as a generous salary, about $35 a month.

As it lapses deeper into an undeclared state of emergency, Chhattisgarh is 
now poised to enforce a stringent new law that would allow the local police 
to detain anyone who belongs to or aids "an unlawful organization" for up 
to two or three years, without facing a court of law.

A Forced Enthusiasm

Mr. Markam and his Maoist forces appear undaunted. They drill in their 
forest redoubts. They haul villagers to propaganda meetings. They build 
their own weapons, including crude pistols and mortars.

To see them in their jungle camp, sleeping on tarpaulins, armed with 
antiquated rifles and pistols, with no real territory under their full 
control, it is difficult to fathom how they have maintained their movement 
for so long, let alone expanded it across such a wide swath of the country.

They sustain themselves on food given by the villagers, plus a share of the 
annual rice harvest. To speak to people who live in the area is to realize 
quickly that they have little choice but to comply.

As the forest woke up on this recent morning, the rebels prepared for the 
next phase of their revolution. Birds began to chatter. A dozen young 
people practiced song-and-dance routines for an afternoon rally, like 
cheerleaders marooned in the Indian forest.

A boy in a fighter's uniform, who looked no older than 12, horsed around 
with a homemade rifle. Mr. Markam said the boy was just visiting.

By late afternoon, with the rally about to get under way, long rows of 
villagers came up the dirt paths, accompanied by armed Maoist cadres.

Under the wide arms of a mango tree, the cheerleaders sang a version of the 
"Internationale." They danced with bells around their ankles, promising 
"people's rule." They denounced the Salwa Judum, chanting "Death to 
Mahendra Karma."

The audience for the most part sat still, some breaking into giggles only 
as the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army began military drills, at one 
point charging ahead with weapons pointed as a hapless chicken scurried 
across the field.

One man, Maharishi, who was among those who had come on the long afternoon 
march, said his village had been informed of the rally the night before.

Yes, he said, speaking reluctantly to a stranger, everyone from his village 
had come. Yes, everyone always comes. "They say you have to come," he said.

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