Tuesday, June 24, 2008

India’s missing links

Recent attacks on police posts, announcement of de facto ministries by the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a raid on Essar’s factory in Chhattisgarh to protest the state’s signing several billion dollars worth of memoranda with corporations for mining and power — all these have raised a flutter of questions. The key one: are Maoists in a last-gap phase or are they ever more powerful?

"It’s do or die," a Maoist sympathiser told me last week, during a conversation in which he spoke passionately of ‘social reconstruction’. Rebuild. Whatever the polemic, the statement is based on the abysmal state of play in India beyond the space taken for granted by middle India and its ruling classes, and India’s propensity to create great anger and resentment.

Maoists are not only in the forests of India. They are spreading influence in non-forested areas of Vidarbha and Marathwada in Maharashtra, industrial hotspots in Orissa, the villages of West Bengal, plantation areas of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and even in Punjab and Haryana. Maoists are today allied with civil society groups, from those protesting displacement on account of large projects to those protesting ill treatment on account of caste. Besides several thousand armed cadre, Maoist sympathisers number several tens of thousands.

A former Karnataka Home Minister estimated at least 5,000 families in Bangalore to be sympathetic to the Maoist cause.

India is witnessing what could be termed Naxalism Mark IV. This comes after Mark I in the late 60s and early 70s across West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Orissa; a stubborn Mark II in the 80s; a prescient Mark III in the 90s with the spread into the Dandakaranya region in central India and the seed of a guerrilla force; and the largely consolidated, organised conglomerate of the CPI(Maoist) of today. There will likely be a Mark V even if the Indian State steamrolls the Maoists. Putting down is not the same as staying down.

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