INDIA: by Joseph PoprzecznyNews Weekly
India's 'Red Corridor' and the Naxalite threat
, May 29, 2010
Observers of Indian affairs can be forgiven for fearing that the world's second most populous nation risks joining the ranks of failed states.
New Delhi's announcement early in April that Maoist rebels had killed 75 Indian soldiers in a series of attacks on security convoys in eastern Chhattisgarh state may have stunned many Westerners. But those following Indian affairs closely were not surprised.
The perpetrators, Maoist rebels known as Naxalites, have since their formation in the late 1960s been responsible for the deaths of some 6,000 Indian soldiers and government officials.
Last year's death toll exceeded 1,100, up by more than 300 on 2008.
The Chhattisgarh attack came two days after rebels had killed 10 policemen and injured 10 others in a landmine attack on a police bus in the eastern state of Orissa.
But the Chhattisgarh clash proved far more deadly. One report said that over 1,000 Naxalites were involved in two separate ambushes. As well as the 75 soldiers killed, 50 others were wounded.
Almost every tree within a three-kilometres radius of the battle-zone was mined so that whenever soldiers used trees for cover they were blown up.
According to BBC reporter Soutik Biswas: "It is clear it will not be easy for security forces to defeat the rebels in their stronghold - vast swathes of remote mineral-rich jungles, home to tribes people who form the main support base for the rebels."
Indian Home Secretary, Gopal Krishna Pillai, confirmed the Naxalites had booby-trapped a large area for the carefully planned ambush. He said: "Preliminary reports indicate that the Maoists planted pressure-bombs in surrounding areas at places where the security forces might take cover. As a result of this, the bulk of the casualties have arisen from the pressure-bomb blasts."
The action is evidence of a further stepping up of attacks over recent weeks in response to a major government offensive across what is called the "Red Corridor", a huge swathe of eastern India comprising up to 40 per cent of the country.
A force of some 50,000 federal paramilitary troops and tens of thousands of policemen took part in the operation across several Red Corridor states.Two divergent Indias
Observers now claim that what has happened on the sub-continent since 1970 is that two divergent Indias have emerged: the western segment that's rapidly developing, and the eastern Red Corridor that's increasingly resembling Mao Tse-tung's Kiangsi soviet, which he used as a base to begin militarily toppling the Kuomintang or Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949.
Mao's Kiangsi soviet existed as an independent government between 1931-34, after which he fled to isolated northern China.
Like India's Red Corridor, Mao's soviet was a state-within-a-state that he used as a base to refine guerrilla, or people's warfare, tactics and administering of peasant organisations to later help occupy China's cities and communise the entire country.
The fact that Mao had to flee northward to Yenan, in the face of a concerted clearing action by Chiang's forces, shows that soviets or enclaves like those created by the Naxalites can be disbanded.
But the manpower required certainly exceeds what the Indian Government has used against the Naxalites up to the present. Moreover, Chiang used German military advisers to draw-up his plan of attack.
India's Naxalite leadership regards those now leading China as backsliding revisionists, not as true Maoists.
Although it would be premature to write off India as a potential failed state, it is beginning to resemble Mexico whose central government has lost control of its northern regions adjacent to the US-Mexican border, which are now controlled by powerful drug cartels. India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, described the spreading Naxalite insurgency as India's "greatest internal security challenge".
The Naxalites claim to be struggling for the rights of the rural poor who, they say, have been neglected by central governments for decades. The name Naxalites hails from Naxalbar, a West Bengalese village where a far leftist splinter group within the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), led by Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal, launched a violent uprising in 1967 in opposition to their party's leadership.
Like Mao during his Kiangi soviet period, the rebels or Naxalites took the side of peasants in their disputes and confrontations with landlords, thereby being able to portray themselves as progressive land-reformers.
By 1969 the dispute within the CPI (M) saw the formation of a new Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), or CPI(M-L).
Although the Naxalites are now a complex network of disparate groups and factions - about 30 were operational by 1980 - all trace their beginnings to the CPI(ML), which harbours a hard ideological core of at least 10,000 cadres.
In 2006, Judith Vidal Hall, editor of Index on Censorship
, the international magazine for free expression, estimated that the movement had some 15,000 core members. She said Naxalite fighting units controlled 20 per cent of India's forests and were active in 160 of India's 604 administrative districts.
Others put these figures far higher and see the Naxalites as a "growing insurgency", which suggests that India is on a path to a drawn-out civil insurgency.