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The anatomy of a massacre

Rahul Goswami
Filed on April 8, 2010

If this is a war in India, then the 76 paramilitary personnel who were killed on Tuesday, were misled by their final commanding superiors, senior officials and planners in the Home ministry and Government of India. The terrible attack, in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, is being considered the worst loss in recent times in the long and bloody history of the Indian state versus Leftist guerrillas.


Why is India at war with itself? And what prompts the government, less than a day after the deadly ambush, to intensify its bellicose proclamations of “we will take the offensive to the Maoists”?

A part of the answer lies within a published comment by a political prisoner in New Delhi Tihar jail. “The trouble with India’s budget and economic planning is that the funds allocated to social welfare are basically geared to the vote bank needs of the ruling parties. Instead of long-term capital development towards increasing the welfare of the people, sops are handed out on a yearly basis to garner votes. Thus, while the expenditure on infrastructure is geared primarily to meet the long-term development needs of the business community, the social welfare expenditure is not oriented towards the ultimate extrication of the masses from poverty and misery.”

That direct telling of the facts as they are come from Kobad Gandhy, a well-known Maoist intellectual and now prisoner. Gandhy’s comment is only one amongst many — from academics, activists and even conscientious bureaucrats — who have understood the reasons that give rise to armed Maoism or Naxalism in India, and in particular in those states which have high poverty and are also host to natural resources (forests and minerals, particularly).

The bald truth, one lived out every day by tens of millions in the country, is that the possible benefits of economic growth have passed them by. Denied rights, ignored by development work, marginalised by a combination of bureaucratic neglect and rank opportunism of the politician-business combine, Indian citizens in states like Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Jharkhand live miserable lives in heart-rending conditions. While the Indian government has the tax payer as the source of its funds for such counter-insurgency operations, how do the Maoists find the money to take on armed units of the state? Ajit Kumar Singh and Sachin Bansidhar Diwan of the Institute for Conflict Management have provided some answers in their explanation of the Indian Maoists’ funds flow, entitled ‘Red Money’. The evidence has come with several seizures of documents and electronic evidence made since 2007 in the Maoist-affected states.

The Maoists target road contractors, contractors for forest products like tobacco leaves, bamboo and wood. They have reportedly made deals with poachers, smugglers and liquor and timber runners in the forests. In the areas under their control, including district towns, Maoists levy a ‘tax’ on small enterprises such as spinning mills, cottage tobacco units, rice and flour mills, grocery, medical, cigarette and liquor shops, and private doctors. All ‘illegal’ operators, including private schools operating in villages and district towns, are also coerced to pay. The Maoists also secure large revenues from iron and coal mining companies.

How much money can they have collected? In November 2009, Chhattisgarh Director General of Police Vishwa Ranjan claimed that the Maoists annually extort up to 20 billion Indian rupees all over India (about $447 million). In the states of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh their collections ranged from Rs 2 to 3 billion a year, and this was in 2007. Other states that are important for the Maoists monetarily are Maharashtra (where they have been active since the 1960s in the eastern part of the state), Chhattisgarh itself, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

What happens now, after the April 6 massacre? The reactions of the Ministry of Home Affairs, judging by the statements of Minister P Chidambaram, are not encouraging. Chidambaram rejected one opportunity to depart from the spiral of violence in February, when the Maoists made an offer to begin talks on the condition that the central and state governments suspend their anti-naxal operations for 72 days. At the time he said: “It was a somewhat bizarre offer.” Chidambaram stated that he had earlier offered to facilitate talks with the Maoists “provided they abjured violence” but there “was no meaningful response” and there the matter ended.

This has been seen as a mistake by several who have been following contemporary Maoism and Naxalism in India. “We welcome the announcement by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) to observe a ceasefire and enter into talks with the Government of India,” said a joint letter to the Government of India written by a number of prominent citizens including Justice Rajindar Sachar, Randhir Singh, B D Sharma, Arundhati Roy, Amit Bhaduri, Manoranjan Mohanty, Prashant Bhushan, Sumit Chakravartty and S A R Geelani. “Given the government’s expressed willingness to engage in talks, we hope that this offer will be reciprocated. This necessarily requires an immediate halt to all paramilitary armed offensive operations (commonly known as Operation Green Hunt).”

There was no halt and there was no reciprocation. For many, the reasons are not far to seek. Any meaningful dialogue and solution will require that compulsory acquisition of tribal lands and habitats be stopped; that tribals should not be displaced by infrastructure and industrial projects (as is happening on a large scale in the affected states). This is because the central government is bound under law to comply with the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution which safeguards the rights of the tribals, including their ownership over land and resources. This is the crux of the matter, which cannot be solved by Operation Green Hunt and its tragic failures.

Rahul Goswami is a development policy analyst who lives in Berlin, Germany, and Goa, India. He can be contacted at: makanaka@pobox.com





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