Mumbai, the Indian elite and the naxalites
Mumbai, the Indian elite and the naxalites
by Alberto Cruz, Ceprid, 10th December 2008
The attacks in Mumbai at the end of November have led to every kind of analysis, especially geopolitical. One must remember that the strategic alliance between India and Israel has much to do with the recent surge in Islamist movements in India. Without doubt the interests of the United States, Britain and Israel are in play, for example, in the attempt to "balkanize" the region, particularly Pakistan.
This country is the key to the region, since it has frontiers with Iran, Afghanistan, India and China as well as being located close to the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, rich in energy, especially in gas. Afghanistan, like Iraq and, despite the war and the Taliban surge, is sufficiently de-structured as to present no problem as regards energy matters. Only Iran and Pakistan remain. They are the long term targets of the imperialist-zionist axis. Of those two countries Pakistan is the weakest
However, few analyses, perhaps none, have dealt with the internal front in India. And here, too, one has to pay special attention. The Mumbai attacks have been a blow to the symbols of the Indian economic élite. For the first time this privileged sector has been put in fear directly. In a country where 80% of people live on less than US$2 a day it is not surprising that when the essence of the Indian oligarchy has been touched, all hell has broken loose.
Political violence in India
Much the contrary has happened on other occasions. In the same city of Mumbai in 1993, two massive indiscriminate attacks killed 257 people in poor districts of the city. In 2006 a series of coordinated attacks against the rail network caused 186 deaths in the same city. Neither the Press nor the political elite showed any concern at all. In the end, these deaths were of the others, the ones who always die, the poor. If they are not killed in attacks like those, they will die in the end from hunger, so it makes little difference, they thought.
Very few voices have managed to break the class barrier set up around the Mumbai attacks. One of them, Farzana Versey, writer, artist, freelance alternative journalist, resident in Mumbai (1) puts her finger on the issue when she refuses to join her colleagues in condemning the attacks. That has cost her space in the media she writes for, who no longer publish her analysis and articles.
Farzana Versey does not highlight the luxury hotels or the chic cafés that were attacked, but the train station, or the hospital or the police confronting the attackers with what people describe as virtually stone age weapons. And that displeases the political and economic elite : they have been attacked so please show solidarity with them and only them. The other victims are unimportant. ¿Why concern oneself with people who are disposable?
Agence France Presse notes a similar feeling in one of its reports when it states, "the millions of privileged people in this country of 1.1bn people feel that those tragedies (attacks with more victims than the latest ones in Mumbai) barely concern them because they affect mainly the poorer classes". (2)
Before the attacks in Mumbai, other Indian cities - Varanasi, Jaipur, Bangalore, New Delhi, Surat and Ahmadabad) had suffered massive indiscriminate attacks in September without the current media lamentations. For those attacks, a brief lone mention on the inside pages and nothing on the television. Islamists were responsible for those attacks too, but the victims were not representatives of the economic elite.
Nobody is talking, or spoke then, about why the Islamists had begun, since at least 2003, a series of indiscriminate attacks throughout the country. Nobody has remembered, as Farzana Versey has made very clear, that in 1992 the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh caused a revolt costing 900 lives, that the senior police officers responsible were promoted and not a single police official was fired; nor that, in Gujarat in 2002, the massacre took place of more than 2000 muslims.
In India there are 160 million muslims who are the pariahs of the pariahs, in other words regarded as much lower than the Untouchables, the Dalits in the caste system. No government has done much to change things, as Kavita Srivastava, president of the Public Union for Civil Liberties has denounced. The same happens with the Christians, the adivasi (indigenous people) or the Dalits.
All because unspoken hindu fundamentalism is spreading through society,resulting lately in the detention of soldiers, one of them a lieutenant colonel, in a Hinduist cell that had carried out an attack in the city of Malegaon, one attributed to Islamists. Here we are dealing only with the religious aspects, not the routine police repression against popular movements, like the repression in May this year in Rajastan. It caused 16 deaths, still uninvestigated. That is to mention just one attack with a high number of victims. But there have been more, many more, without the Indian State, let alone the Indian oligarchy, having rent its garments in lamentation.
India's "enviable development"
India as the biggest democracy in the world. India the country with the most enviable development on the planet. Democratic India, counterweight in this part of Asia to authoritarian China. India all aboard the train of western modernity. India and Bollywood. These are the clichés and stereotypes of the well off kids of the comfortable middle class in Delhi, Mumbai or any other of their satellite cities .
They eat their hamburgers or pizzas as they might in any Western eatery, because they refuse to eat local food or to drink the traditional tea with cream because they prefer to drink cola . They buy their clothes in Versace or Mango, their watches in Cartier. Speaking in English, flashing the latest mobiles, they drive out in luxury cars or on high powered motor bikes. Not for them the train or the impossible public mass transport. Condescendingly, they toss a coin to whoever does them a quick turn on the sidewalk, a dance or some other performance so as to be able to eat that day.
They are the privileged ones, these fewer than 250 million out of a total population of 1,097 million who, ever since 1990-1991, have made of India their personal playground. They took advantage of the fall of the Soviet Union to throw overboard the socialising, if not Socialist, country developed by Nehru so as to embrace economic liberalism with all the faith of the converted. The current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was Minister of Finance then.
By promoting neoliberalism the State abandoned in practice any pretence of social equality in the sense Nehru had always worked for. Their political economy, so highly praised, has dissolved the local network of interdependence, weakened family and community links and placed consumerism at life's centre for anyone who wants social recognition. Spanish business people say as much themselves when they assert, in an extensive report praising investment opportunities in India, (3) that "the increase in central government investment in the rural economy means that the purchasing power of this large segment of the population will increase and this is good news for mobile phone makers, local and foreign mortgage providers for house purchases and too for manufacturers of durable goods like electro-domestic appliances and other electronic goods."
The Spanish business report also regards as "signs of progress" the elimination of "obsolete labour laws in India that in the previous decade deterred foreign investment". They praise the 339 Special Economic Zones the central government wants to set up around the country. Right now there are 40 SEZs in operation. Thanks to exemptions, companies pay no tax, enjoy fiscal and economic advantages to increase productivity and are able to elude the country's normal labour, trades union and environmental laws, so as to attract local and foreign investors.
So India's "enviable development" is seated on another much less well known reality. Let us put it in the words of Arjun Sengupta, President of the National Commission for Businesses in the Non-Organized Sector: "77% of India's population of 853 million is poor and vulnerable with a consumption capacity less than 20 rupees a day" (about US$0.52 cents). Sengupta classifies the population in six groups : the extremely poor, the poor, the marginally poor, the precarious or vulnerable, people with middle incomes and people with high incomes. He says that the percentage of the extremely poor has declined from 30.7% in 1994 to 21.8% now, but only so as to swell the ranks of the marginally poor and the precarious groups whose index of consumption sits on or around those 20 rupees a day. These are the dispensable people, the victims of the periodic mass attacks that India has suffered over the last five years or so.
The gap between the enormous number of those 853 million impoverished people and the remaining 244 million is total and absolute. They do not mix. And it is the privileged groups who control the country. They can be divided into a more or less comfortable middle class (about 200 million) and the rich (about 44 million). They control the parliament. They control the communications media.
We can put a recent example. Recently, in mid-November, before the Mumbai attacks, various states held elections. In one of them, Chhattisgarh, a bastion of the naxalite guerrillas, of the 687 official candidates, 42 were millionaires (in India a millionaire is considered to be someone worth at least 10 million rupees). Of those 42, 19 belonged to the Congress Party lists (the local state government party self-described as centrist to which Nehru belonged), 7 belonged to the Bharatiya Janata (the right-wing hindu People's Party) and 5 to the Bahujan Samaj (a middle class party). In addition there were 53 other candidates involved in corruption trials.(4) As in other places, India's history is a history of class.
And it is the economically most powerful class, the oligarchy and the landlords which, prior to the Mumbaa attacks that affected them directly, felt most threatened by the naxalite expansion amd pressed the central government for the army to join the fight against the Maoists. The Indian army has a long tradition of being a lay and apolitical force. In contrast to the police, which in inter-communal conflicts usually supports the hindu nationalists (Hindutva, hindu supremacy) The army has always acted as a neutral force. But for the economic elite, faced with the growth of the naxalites, that had to change. Their long term interests were at risk.
The Indian Maoists fill their ranks with fighters from every ethnic, caste and religious group. For example in Orissa, the majority of the naxalites come from Christian communities, while in other states they are Dalit or even muslim. The use of the army against the Maoists is a problem for the Indian government but not for the oligarchy.
On November 23rd, three days before the Mumbai attacks, Prime Minister Singh spoke to a select audience of high-ranking officials from the police and other security organizations in which once more he considered the naxalites as India's main internal problem.(5) He recognized that "despite the efforts that have been made and continue to be made, the measures adopted up until now have not given the desired results."
He was referring to a government plan to contain the guerrillas advance, starting a development programme in the most impoverished parts of India, modernizing the police, creating road infrastructure as much for rapid transit of police forces as for the population and the creation of six war colleges to train anti-guerrilla units so as to be able to attack and destroy the naxalite camps in the forests.
At the same time he asked for more forthrightness from the communications media against the Maoists. Interior Minister Shivraj Patil, also insisted on the issue. For him, "an adequate policy from the communications media would help the police win citizens' confidence" (6) in the struggle against the Maoists.
Two reasons explain the failure of the central government's measures. Firstly, the naxalite expansion looks unstoppable, acting in 14 (or 15 according to the Asian Human Rights Centre) of India's 28 states (Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Asma, Uttaranchal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra y Bihar).
That means that out of a total of the country's 602 administrative districts the Maoists are in control in 182. Furthermore, the naxalites are beginning to reach into the cities, especially into the industrial working class areas of Delhi, Mumbai, Raipur, Pune and Jammu, alternating propaganda actions with military actions. Even the Indian government considered a year ago that between 30% and 35% of India's teritory is controlled by the naxalites (7). That percentage is greater now and which explains the frantic concern of the Prime Minister and the Indian oligarchy.
The second reason is that the Maoists have managed to create their own system of public distribution across wide rural areas in at least four of the states in which they operate, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and West Bengal. This in effect means a government of popular power. Landlords in those states are shocked at the very real possibility that rural workers and their families will seek Maoist protection in land disputes, as has already occurred in Uttar Pradesh.
And recent weeks have seen a substantial increase in Maoist attacks against police units (the latest on December 6th in Jharkand with 5 dead) or ordering armed strike action ( as in the districts of Gajapati, Kandhamal y Rayagada, in the state of Orissa) in protest at police repression against rural workers and their families. Those strike actions have had mass support. And too, in the local elections held over the last few weeks, in areas where the naxalites operate the boycott has been huge, especially in Chhattisgarh. There, despite the usual percentage of people voting being about 53% (and here the Salwa Judum militia have played a leading role, threatening people who do not vote), in certain districts, the vote barely reached 21%, as happened inBijapur, to mention just one case of that boycott.
The economic elite, the Indian oligarchy, is more and more worried by the naxalite surge. The Indian Maoists wage a prolonged people's war while the Mumbai attacks happened without warning. But for the Indian economic elite and oligarchy there is a clear order of priorities, "despite the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the nation has another threat, more serious, more sinister represented by the extreme left wing naxalites...The Maoists are not an enemy to be taken lightly. Unless they are eliminated they could cause great damage." (8)
(1) www.farzana-versey.blogspot,com , December 5th 2008.
(2) AFP, December 7th.
(3) "La empresa española ante el reto de la India", Casa Asia, 2007. Pág. 15 y 16.
(4) Prensa Latina, November 19th 2008.
(5) AFP, November 23rd 2008.
(6) Times of India, November 24th 2008.
(7) Alberto Cruz, "La Izquierda en India (I): la revolución naxalita" http://www.nodo50.org/ceprid/spip.php?article278
(8) The Pioneer, 8 de noviembre de 2008.
Alberto Cruz is a journalist, politicla analyst and writer specialising in international relations – albercruz[at]eresmas.com
Translation copyleft Tortilla con Sal