Despite India’s demonstration of its military and economic prowess beyond its borders, very recent events have demonstrated the extreme vulnerability of its internal security. On February 7, India test fired its nuclear capable Agni 3 missile from Wheeler Island in the Bay of Bengal.
This missile has a 3500 km range and its range covers vast areas of China and Pakistan. Reports said that: ‘pin point accuracy was achieved’. Defence Minister Antony announced recently India’s plans to raise two mountain divisions in North East India ‘not against China but as a part of the policy to strengthen armed forces in that region’. Meanwhile India has committed $ 1.3 billion in development assistance and infrastructure in Afghanistan.
Home grown threat
On February 10 in a remote camp in Midnapore (West Bengal) 24 jawans (soldiers) of the Eastern Front Rifles in the Sildha camp were killed by Maoist guerrillas who arrived on motor cycles and four wheeled vehicles. Reports said that these poorly trained soldiers deployed to combat the Maoist guerrillas in an operation launched by the central government known as Operation Green Hunt against the guerrillas were sitting ducks.
Naxal Leader Kiserji had said that the attack was an answer to the government operation against them and asked that it be called off.
This movement that commenced in 1967 following the split of the Communist Party of India was recently described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the greatest security threat to India. The movement has spread to 220 districts across 20 states and affects 40 per cent of the geographical area of the country. It controls a region known as the Red Corridor extending over 92,000 sq miles and the Indian intelligence organisation, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) estimated the strength of the Naxalites last year at 50,000 regular cadres in mass organisations with millions of sympathisers. The affected states are: West Bengal, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Andra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jhakarland, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Wretched of the Earth
This movement that has lasted for over four decades comprises the Wretched of the Earth of India. They are tribals, untouchables, and other spurned castes but also include radical students in large numbers as well as intellectuals. Some of the Naxals identified have been alumni of well known colleges whose products include leading Indian politicians. But the movement has failed to attract the support of mainstream political parties.
Reports speak of the state machinery systematically annihilating student supporters. Human rights groups have expressed concern about disappearance of such students and some estimates speak of 5000 Bengali students and intellectuals being killed. At the inception of the movement it was declared that assassination of ‘class enemies’ was an objective and that revolutionary warfare was to take place not only in the countryside but everywhere. Well known leader Majumdar was arrested and died in custody under ‘mysterious circumstances’. The movement poses a serious challenge to the Indian state but can it be eliminated by the use of force as is being presently attempted?
To those observers of the rise of India under free market capitalism the high rise buildings of Mumbai with vast areas of slum land around demonstrates the paradox of modern India.
The Naxalite movement originated during the days of Nehruvian socialism under Indira Gandhi. Socialism it is said has the capacity to make every one poor and did little to alleviate the abjectly poor. Now under free market capitalism, the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer. How long will it take for the wealth to trickle down from the high rise buildings to the slum lands of Mumbai?
Al Qaeda threat
An incident of even graver threat to the security of the Indian state was witnessed on February 13 when a bomb went off in a popular restaurant in the western city of Pune killing eight and injuring 33. This was the first such attack in India after Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008. The Pune attack was significant in that responsibility for the attack was claimed by an organisation styled the Indian Mujahideen. This group has been identified by the Indian media as a front created by the Islamic terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba ( LeT ), operating from Pakistan and another Islamic terror organisation Harkat-ul-Jihad to cover the tracks of the radical Students’ Islamic Movement of India.
It is now suspected that most of the bombings that took place in Indian cities last year were directed by LeT and carried out by the Indian Mujahideen.
A consolation for the United States and other western countries has been that even though India ranks third in terms of Muslim populated countries it has been largely left untouched by Islamic terror of the al Qaeda variety. President George W. Bush made specific mention of this in his speeches as president. If Islamic radicalism grips the Indian Muslim population of 160 million (13.3 percent) of the total Indian population, it could have immense destructive potential not only for India but entire South Asia.
Al Qaeda last week also threatened India against staging international sporting events such as the World Hockey Cup and the Commonwealth Games. A leading commander of the organisation Inlays Kashmiri had warned the world not to send sportspeople to India, Asia Times an online internet channel said. However indications were that most countries were ignoring the threat.
India’s perennial problem of Kashmir remains unresolved. Kashmir is the font of most of South Asian ills and continues to be so. The two countries last week decided to hold talks at foreign secretary level on February 25 despite strong objections made in certain quarters in India that the talks should not be held in view of the Pune bombing. Indo-Pakistan talks that commenced in 2004 came to a halt after the Mumbai attacks but the Indian government and most of India’s geopolitical strategists held that nothing could be lost by holding the talks.