Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The forgotten rebellion in India

Last Updated: July 13. 2009 8:46PM UAE / July 13. 2009 4:46PM GMT

This weekend’s attack by Maoists in the Indian of state of Chhattisgarh employed fairly sophisticated guerrilla tactics. The rebels killed two policemen and then a sizeable force ambushed police reinforcements as they arrived to help, killing at least 29 people including the district police chief. The latest incident is part of a worrying trend. Localised rebellions loosely united under the Communist Party of India (Maoist), referred to as Naxalites, have continued their brazen attacks in six states in the centre, south and east of India known as “the red corridor”. The government launched a fresh offensive to destroy the Naxalites in February, and officially banned them last month. But this military solution has shown little sign of winning the war.

The Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh has called the Maoist rebellion the single greatest threat to India’s internal security. Their tactics mirror those of Mao Zedong, but the insurgents have evolved into a power in their own right. They levy taxes from villages under their control and field around 20,000 soldiers. But their true threat comes from the grievances that they purport to represent. New Delhi only needs to look north-east to Nepal for a warning about the popular appeal of Maoist movements.

India’s democracy is neither Kuomintang China nor monarchical Nepal. The insurgency would collapse if economic and social injustices were addressed. That thousands of Indian farmers commit suicide every year due to debt and failed harvests illustrates the grinding poverty that still afflicts the rural majority. In addition to heavy-handed police tactics, institutional corruption and the endemic injustices of the caste system, the rural poor are begging for a saviour. And for some, the Naxalites are just that.

The Congress Party swept to victory in the last elections on a platform of rural aid and poverty alleviation programmes. At the same time they ousted communist parties from their strongholds in West Bengal and Kerala and from the ruling coalition in the lower house of parliament. The crucial test of New Delhi’s anti-insurgency policy will not be how well this recent offensive fares, but the balance between development projects that require industrialisation and poverty alleviation programmes that target the agricultural sector. And as communist parties are banned and forced out of power, New Delhi desperately needs to bring about a resolution of these grievances, not on the battlefield but in the political arena.

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