Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

War du jour: India

Posted by Charles II on May 12, 2008

One thing can be said about the Bush years: they have surfaced every conflict known to mankind out into open warfare. When the era comes to a close, mankind may well lapse into an exhausted peace. The latest, from Manjeet Kripalani of Business Week:

The assault on the Essar [iron ore processing] facility was the work of Naxalites—Maoist insurgents who seek the violent overthrow of the state and who despise India’s landowning and business classes. The Naxalites have been slowly but steadily spreading through the countryside for decades. Few outside India have heard of these rebels, named after the Bengal village of Naxalbari, where their movement started in 1967. Not many Indians have thought much about the Naxalites, either. The Naxalites mostly operate in the remote forests of eastern and central India, still a comfortable remove from the bustle of Mumbai and the thriving outsourcing centers of Gurgaon, New Delhi, and Bangalore.

Yet the Naxalites may be the sleeper threat to India’s economic power, potentially more damaging to Indian companies, foreign investors, and the state than pollution, crumbling infrastructure, or political gridlock. Just when India needs to ramp up its industrial machine to lock in growth—and just when foreign companies are joining the party—the Naxalites are clashing with the mining and steel companies essential to India’s long-term success. The threat doesn’t stop there. The Naxalites may move next on India’s cities, where outsourcing, finance, and retailing are thriving. Insurgents who embed themselves in the slums of Mumbai don’t have to overrun a call center to cast a pall over the India story.

Rare for our press, Business Week actually allows a bit of explanation to seep into its coverage:

Undeniably, the Naxals are viewed as Robin Hoods for many of their efforts. “The tribals have benefited economically thanks to the Naxals,” says human rights lawyer K. Balagopal, who has defended captured Naxalites in court cases. In Maharashtra, tribals pick tender tendu leaves, which are rolled to make a cigarette called a “bidi.” Contractors used to pay them the equivalent of a penny for picking 1,000 leaves from the surrounding forest. The contractors would then take the leaves to the factory owners and sell them for a huge markup. But the Naxals intervened, threatening the contractors and demanding better wages. Since 2002 the contractors have increased the price to about $4 per 1,000 leaves….

the Institute [for Conflict Management] estimates there are already 12,000 armed Naxalites, plus 13,000 “sympathizers and workers.” This is no ragtag army. It is an organized force, trained in guerrilla warfare. At the top, it is led by a central command staffed by members of the educated classes. The government also fears the Naxalites have many clandestine supporters among the urban left.

Increasing wages from a penny to $4 is the kind of stuff that tends to be popular, as does teaching people to read and write, and other things reported by Business Week. If they do much of that, I would bet the number of their sympathizers is significantly larger than the ICM allows. And, if the Naxalites manage to force reforms in Indian society to allow wages to rise, it might well be good for the economy over the longer haul. Destroying machinery, no.

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