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India’s Battle against Its Maoists


Nick Clark: India says it’s adamant to finish off what it calls “leftist extremism” as its army prepares for an all-out assault on Maoist rebels. . . .   The conflict between the two sides has been going on for more than four decades, and now the government hopes an all-out assault would end the insurgency once and for all.  It’s expected some troops will be withdrawn from the troubled Kashmir to fight the so-called Naxalites in an operation of more than 100,000 troops. . . .  The Maoists have been active since the 1960s.  According to the Indian intelligence, up to 22,000 Maoist rebels are active in more than half of the country’s 29 states, creating what’s known as the “Red Corridor” from the country’s northeast to the deep south.  The movement is fragmented into several disputing factions: some of them are politically inclined, while others are involved in armed guerrilla fighting.  In recent years, they’ve dramatically stepped up their attacks; thousands have died in Maoist campaigns right across the country.  They say they are fighting for the rights of the poor, but the Indian government considers them terrorists and recently banned their political wing from Parliament. . . .

Radha D’Souza, Reader in Law, University of Westminster: Yes, the Indian government is throwing resources at it.  One only wishes that the resources were thrown at the issues that Maoists are raising.  If you look at the national debate on this issue, everybody, across the political spectrum, agrees that there has been a serious failure of social justice, of development, and serious injustices to the poor.  On this I think everybody agrees.  But the thing is, what are we doing about it?  Instead of sending the armed forces there, if the government were to spend that money in actually doing something for the people there, I think they will have less of a problem on hand, but they’re not doing that.  They see the military solution as the only option. . . .  This operation, what is called the “Green Hunt,” has been planned for one year now.  They were planning to send 20,000 troops.  35,000 troops are already there.  This is on top of 75,000 to 100,000 paramilitary forces, like the border security force and others, who have already been deployed there.  Plus the state police.  Every state police is a pretty large force. . . .  I know that, some years ago, the Andhra Pradesh High Court — I’m not talking about intellectuals here — the High Court said that, increasingly, people are seeing Naxalism as their only political option.  In 2006, the Planning Commission set up a special committee — the Planning Commission is an advisory body to the federal government — the Planning Commission said that there is institutionalized violence against the poor.  Now, the point is, when these, the government’s own advisory bodies, are saying this, when the judges of the High Court are saying this, what was the government’s response?  They set up on a trial basis, they tried to set up, the militia group called Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh, which was financed and trained by the paramilitary forces and the state.  Actually, the Supreme Court had to say in a recent judgment that the government can’t arm paramilitary forces.  Therefore, having failed in that attempt to privatize terror and to privatize repression, they have now had to directly come into confrontation.  The point is that these are the issues that have been raised for a long time, but the government cannot deal with it in any other way, because democratic political spaces in the country have shrunk.  We talk about violence and Maoists, with regard to the Maoists, but look at all political parties in India: the BJP engages in violence; we have the memories of Gujarat and all the atrocities against Muslims fresh in our minds; we have Shiv Sena, which engages in violence; we have a large number of Members of Parliaments who engage in violence. . . .  [The Maoist] movement operates within the violent context of India’s political environment, and today the reality is that it is not possible for people, for ordinary people, to engage in the political process if they do not have the support of some armed militia or some armed group somewhere.  The BJP, as I said, has a number of MPs in Parliament with criminal record.  It has been a longstanding debate.  The point is all political processes have been criminalized, they have become violent, and India has become increasingly a violent society. . . .

Mamata Dash, National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers: It is a political issue, and it has to be dealt with politically.  Staging or waging a war against whether Maoists or resistances brings no solution.

Radha D’Souza: You can’t fight your own people.  That is a fair point.  As far as I’m concerned, I’m a lawyer — my obligation is to defend the Constitution.  The Constitution says the institutions of the state are obliged in the first instance to enforce the Constitution, which says that we will strive for justice, social, economic, and political.  That’s what the Indian Constitution says.  It doesn’t just say Liberty, Equality, Fraternity; it defines what justice means, and justice is social, economic, and political.  Now, when, for sixty years, the people have not seen any of that, and when we find that political space is shrinking and that political means for alternate solutions have not worked for whatever reasons, and, on the one hand, the government is sending the military — look at today — the government is sending the military one the one hand, on the other hand, it has enacted the Special Economic Zones Act, which is going to acquire land in 552 Special Economic Zones throughout the country, it has nominated land acquisition for nuclear plants in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh and so many other places, and now it has introduced a new bill on the Land Acquisition Act, which is going to redefine the meaning of “public purpose” for land acquisition. . . .  As far as social statistics are concerned, we have seen an alarming rise in malnutrition.  I think if the government is serious about engaging with this issue politically and serious about its claim to do social justice, first it must demonstrate that it is serious by taking some concrete action.  For example, most of the recent struggles are around land and the Special Economic Zones Act.  Let them repeal that act, let them withdraw it, let them withdraw the bill on the Land Acquisition Act, and then the nation will know that they are serious about political justice and that they can come forward to engage with the process.  But they are not doing anything.  On the one hand, they’re sending the military; on the other hand, they’re having more and more legislation to take more and more land.  Why should people believe in that?  This is the problem because we talk about economic issues in a separate box and we talk about military issues in a separate box.  Simultaneously the government is doing both things.  It is saying that they are for social justice, but it is introducing legislation and now the current bill pending.  Let them withdraw all these things.  Let them demonstrate that they are serious about social justice.

This video was brought online by Al Jazeera on 29 September 2009.  The text above is a partial transcript of the video.

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