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THE INDIA DOSSIER: The next Iran?

Worried about Iran? Well, as shocking as it may sound, you may be talking about India in the same breath within two short years. The world’s largest electoral process will enable a conglomerate of 21st century fascist to take control of the Indian parliament, if the existing government persists with its fatally flawed anti-terrorist policy. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in agreement with Washington that terrorism poses the biggest threat to the stability of nation states. But, in his view, the primary challenge does not emanate from Islamic extremists. On the contrary, the Prime Minister appears convinced that India’s Maoist (Naxalite) groups are poised to destroy the country’s social fabric. “In many respects the Muslim radicals can be contained, if not eliminated,” a senior Indian intelligence source argued yesterday.

“It is the far-left activists who are openly and directly challenging state authority, on a daily basis.” In recent months, cadres affiliated, directly and indirectly, with the Indian Maoist Communist Party have led marginalized tribes and landless peasants in assaults on police and paramilitary forces in at least six Indian states. “We are taking the armed struggle to the next stage, a New Delhi-based Maoist spokeswoman stated over the weekend. “That involves attacking those who collude with what are essentially criminal gangs, sponsored and protected by well-known politicians, who have been engaged in illegal logging, land grabbing, coal smuggling and human trafficking.” The Maoist spokeswoman pointed out that the central government should be more focused on checking right-wing Hindu organizations.

“It is people like Narendra Modi (the Chief Minister of Gujarat state) who are taking India towards modern-day fascism,” she warned. Mr. Modi is widely believed to have at least condoned, if not actively directed, the massacre of hundreds of impoverished Muslim residents of Gujarat in 2002. Over the Christmas holidays, orthodox Hindu enforcers orchestrated the killing of dozens of Christians in the eastern state of Orissa. “For how long can we continue to live in fear?” the respected head of a Christian advocacy group asked in anguish at a press conference last week. Not that the Islamic extremists have been inactive of late; since mid-2007, terrorist cells have been concentrating on the heavily-populated state of Uttar Pradesh. India’s intelligence agencies continue to blame Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (the ISI) for funding and ordering acts of terrorism inside the Indian heartland. Intelligence assessments have charged the ISI for many things over two decades: the ongoing violence in Kashmir, the support provided to the Sikh Khalistan movement, the bombings in Bombay and Hyderabad, and the low-intensity wars in the North Eastern region. There is little doubt that Prime Minister Singh is looking at an exceptionally broad terror matrix whenever he speaks to his intelligence officers. Nevertheless, the facts on the ground show that his priorities are completely misplaced, regardless of the intelligence files he is reading.

The pick-up in Maoist activity is due, almost entirely, to his government’s failure to comply with promises made to India’s poor by parties within his coalition. More than 800 million Indians live on less than 50 cents a day. Almost 50% of Indian children under the age of three are malnourished. Despite the much-touted growth rate of 10%-plus, income inequality is increasing year after year. And, by conservative estimates, the size of the underground economy has reached 35% of national GDP. In addition, criminal gangs dominate the urban landscape, particularly the shanty towns packed with migrant labourers and factory workers; and armed militias control huge sections of the countryside, particularly areas rich in natural resources. “The role of crime syndicates in the democratic process has been known for many long years,” a veteran Indian journalist conceded earlier today. “The link between crime and politics has been a matter of common knowledge too.” But the matter of terrorism has obviously been plagued by the lack of any type of credible knowledge (and analysis) whatsoever, at least in the public domain. “Manmohan Singh can rely on India’s intelligence operatives to determine the significance of the expanding Maoist influence, but he needs to contextualize the information he receives from his spy agencies,” said a member of the politburo of the Maoist Communist of Nepal in a web posting last November.

In other words, it does not make sense to target Indian Maoists if the economic conditions which allow the Maoist ideology to prosper are not addressed, and have not been addressed since Indian independence in 1947. More specifically, there is indeed a clear solution to the Maoist uprising—start solving the evils of poverty. On the other hand, it is difficult to see how Prime Minister Singh’s cabinet will confront the danger of religious extremism, from both the Islamic and the Hindu segments of Indian society. While Muslim radicals may be drawing on the ISI for support, the right-wing Hindu entities are actually positioned to take over power at the Centre, via an electoral process, on the back of an increasingly vocal, and thoroughly misguided, middle class. India needs to search its soul before deciding which is the greater threat to its existence as a secular state: the Maoists who are advocating an armed revolt to eradicate poverty and marginalization, or the fanatics who keep re-interpreting religious texts to justify terrorism of a frightening variety. The Indian nation is now on the brink of completely surrendering the elite Gandhian principles on which it was founded. It is unclear if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition, which includes the mainstream left parties, has the ability and the will to effect a fundamental change in direction.


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