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November 1, 2007

The rising Naxalite rage

The looming threat to India’s economic future

Shlok Vaidya

The Maoists are also organising. Over the past decade, the insurgency has come to understand the strategic value of interrupting the flows of globalisation. In addition to their traditional tactics of assassination, outpost overruns and extortion, the Naxals have repeatedly and systematically disrupted critical infrastructure networks to undermine state legitimacy. Nodes on cellular, power, road, and railway networks have been shut down or destroyed and resulted in, on several occasions, sustained failure of service and significant economic loss. Naxals have taken the systems disruption strategy to its logical conclusion by utilising economic shutdowns, called bandhs, to disrupt entire social systems.

To illustrate, a blockade of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar was declared in June of this year to protest against the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) for foreign investment. The economic cost of the bandh of the mining industry and the railway system reached upwards of 1.1 billion rupees (about US$28 million) in two days. The Naxalite tactics of systems disruption and economic bandhs have spread and made a tremendous impact on the Indian security environment.

Organised movements such as Orissa’s anti-mineral exploitation POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) have utilised bandhs to seal off the potential site of a major mineral processing facility and have begun to kidnap corporate officers of steel firms to discourage investment. Ad-hoc insurgencies such as the Gujjar campaign in early June adopted Naxalite strategy when they declared a Delhi bandh and followed up with an attempt to seal off the city, by cutting off 17 railway routes with only shovels and picks.

Though security forces have been able to claim some degree of victory by killing hundreds of Naxalite fighters in the last year alone, solutions are still far off. The leaders of the movement have declared their intention to move past the traditional guerrilla model of warfare and instead implement a strategy centred on heavy shock troops conducting fewer but massive attacks. When the lessons learned from this new model are synthesised with the hard-won knowledge of economic systems disruption, the resulting bleeding-edge variant of Maoist insurgency campaign could prove devastating to India’s economic future.


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