An offensive by Maoist rebels in India that killed 76 security forces sets the stage for a huge counter-insurgency drive by the government. The dire need of addressing the grievances of indigenous people will, however, sustain a blow as hawks in the media and the military demand nothing short of annihilation of the nagging security threat.
Not every thing is fine inside the world's most populous democracy. And a modest to rapid growth in Gross Domestic Product is not all that matters when it comes to the over-all social well-being of the state. And the maladies of a perfect-looking market capitalism cannot be hidden forever. The rise of the leftist insurgency in India reflects these things more than anything else. The latest incident in which the Naxalites wiped out 76 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel comes as a harbinger of the bloody days ahead. And the population of the impoverished and marginalized parts of the country is going to bear the brunt of the major counter-offensive that the Indian state is all set to roll over.
The outrage of the 'legitimate' political parties including the Marxist ones, the ideological siblings of the Maoists, towards the Naxalites is perfectly understandable. The media industry is justifiably more aggressive towards the 'savage' rebels and is hell-bent at creating the maximum negative publicity for the rebels. The security agencies have assessed the leftist insurgency to be a genuine threat to the Indian state for long and opined for an approach to eradicate them at the earliest rather than depending upon deceptive negotiations. This has created a significant consensus among all those, whose opinion matters, that the menace of the Naxalites should be ended at the earliest by using whatever amount of force required. The state has already made clear that it may not keep depending solely on the police forces indefinitely to fight the rebels. The editorials of major newspapers and magazines have unambiguously demanded the government to promptly take the action of 'appropriate' magnitude. The political parties across the spectrum have consensually rallied behind the option of using more intense brute force against the rebels so that they can be crushed once and for ever.
That is, however, easier said than done. And that is quite what the politicians involved in the task of taming the insurgency in different parts of India over past many decades have understood well. Inflicting even a huge loss to the rebels could be a not-so-difficult task for the state like India with the mighty security apparatus. Compared with the resource and the manpower the Indian state has been spending to curb the activities of the 'Muslim Terrorists', the demand of a modestly effective anti-Naxalite operation may not be that big. Now that the massive assault by the insurgents has created an intense hatred against them in the public, the political calculation may find this time to be ideal to start a major counter-insurgency operation, much bigger than the fateful 'Operation Green Hunt'. That may well spell the end of the beginning instead of a beginning of the end as commonly believed, however.
First, there is little doubt such an offensive is going to further batter the population of the insurgency-hit areas that has already sustained insurmountable misery at the hands of negligent if not overtly anti-poor and pro-corporate state. The fact that the rebels come from the poor people mostly among the indigenous communities makes whole of those communities vulnerable to the suspicion of the advancing state security forces. And the presence of 28 commercially exploitable minerals including coal, diamond and gold below the dense Naxal-infested forests is what will keep the state obsessed to decimate the resisters till the last kilogram of the asset is harvested. The eagerness of the prestigious private companies like Tata and Essar to invest in the minerals is something that would benefit everyone except the poor people.
The formation and mobilization of the notorious 'Salwa Judum', a formidable militia force created by recruiting and training mainly the tribals who converted to Hinduism, to fight against the rebels by the state showed the typical example of what could be achieved in reality when the state attempts to contain the insurgency at whatever cost. In words of Krishnamurthy, an assistant editor of the Tamil newspaper 'Dinamalar': ….What followed was the carnage by the Salwa Judum that burnt, killed, raped and looted its way through Dantewada and Bijapur Districts of the Bastar region, leaving in its wake 644 destroyed villages, 60,000 tribals in government-run refugee camps, and another roughly 150,000 refugees who fled to the bordering state of Andhra Pradesh."
Furthermore, the rebels pursued by the security forces in case of any future large-scale offensive by the state inevitably disperse themselves in the communities to tolerate the 'intensive' phase of the operation that can not last forever. That further increases the vulnerability of the common people to the state offensive. Adding to all this the rebels have the time-tested practice of recruiting from the relatives of those who are killed or tortured by the state forces. And often in their zeal to perform the task at the earliest, the security forces terrorize the civilians by forcing them to choose either one of the fighting side at the barrel of gun.
Secondly, the tussle between the indigenous people on one side and the politicians, the security forces, and the corporations on the other side has already caused an indelible polarization. In most of the resource-rich places, one side sees the other as an inevitable enemy. The grandiose plans of the state and the politicians to achieve and sustain the double digit growth for decades ahead can not materialize without exploiting the treasury that lies beneath the troubled land. With any offensive on behalf of the state, the polarization is only going to increase with the potential to spread to the larger population. This fact will pose a major obstacle to any process in which the state attempts to win over the 'non-insurgent' populace in an attempt to isolate and weaken the insurgents.
Meanwhile the media houses create a near-hysteria among the 'mainstream' public that depends on the unavoidable TV channels for every other vital information as well as the opinions. People are thus preoccupied by the sequence of specific events, mostly the 'flabbergasting' offensives with high casualties and keep gasping while the meaningful discourse about the root causes of the extremism never get proper attention. Indeed the major role played by the media in the whole mess is to demonize the rebels tooth and nail by innovations ranging from exaggeration to the creation of the false facts; skewed coverage being the routine job.
Thirdly, the temptation to weed out the insurgents from the treasure troves in the jungles may not always have a positive or constructive impact on the outcome of the operations by the state. The ill-fated operation 'Green hunt' might have been the victim of this pressure as the CRPF was tempted to send the forces when they were literally unable to anticipate their strategic disadvantages vis-à-vis the rebels. The last attack by the Naxalites that had killed around 21 security personnel was enough to make the politicians and the corporations wary of the security situation and a breakthrough was urgently needed. With each successive incident of confrontation, the prospect of negotiating with the rebels was pushed further down the priority of the state, let alone the painfully slow and costly process of reversing the centuries-long alienation of the tribal and the indigenous people.
And this time the Union Home Minister Chidambaram was even more unambiguous with this statement: "To talk of talks now would be to mock the supreme sacrifice made by the 76 Jawans." With that little doubts remain about which course the government would pursue given the bipartisan calls to decimate the nasty rebels at any cost.
Even the Indian establishment now cannot refuse that the fight with the leftist rebels is not as easy as once popularly believed and asserted. The crux of the discourse is, however, that whether the government should simultaneously listen to the genuine socio-economic grievances of the 'backward' populace harboring the nasty lot of the rebels. Significantly, the latter task may prove far costlier than the former one in which only a proportion of the Indian population would suffer. The official assessment seems to have concluded that the glorious path of the nation towards resurgent India through near-miraculous economic growth should in no way be decelerated by a rebellion that promises to provide a vague and inconspicuous thing called 'justice' to some people that were allegedly alienated by the state in the past.
Now with the Congress-led coalition in its full swing with the neo-liberal agenda, the issue of 'distributive justice' is being driven further towards oblivion as that is just what irritates the corporations that have entrenched themselves strongly inside the state establishment. The policy of more brute force against the rebels and the non-armed populace as and when necessary will now face no major obstacle although it may not draw applause from every quarter. And what is inevitable is a major confrontation inflicting huge loss to the rebels as well as the populace of the troubled region. And with that the constructive issues like negotiating with the rebels or addressing the genuine grievances of the under-privileged lot of people will be pushed further away in the priority. The approach may turn out to be pretty myopic with ominous long-term outcomes but that possibility can all but deter the determination of the stakeholders in the Indian establishment to crush the rebels for the sake of a greater good that will eventually translate as a sustained high rise in GDP and an increased number of billionaires from India. Anyway the developments ahead will be worthy watching intently.ss