NEW DELHI: Sixty four years ago Jawaharlal Nehru had made a frantic effort to clear the corridors of government offices of chaprasis. He even sent a senior diplomat to London to study how the British government managed without them. A detailed report was submitted. And then nothing happened. India's effort to deal with armed rebellion within its borders is almost as old as Nehru's failed clean-up. The Maoist attack last Saturday in Chhattisgarh'sjungles which claimed the lives of Congress leaders and ordinary people show how lethargy and myopia have helped establish India's reputation as home to some of the world's oldest insurgencies.Saturday's massacre is neither the last assault of a dying movement nor the resurgence of an old one. It is just yet another chapter in an insurgency that began over four decades ago in a West Bengal village, quietened down for a few months in the '70s and then resurfaced in the '80s in Andhra Pradesh and now, continues to wreak havoc across central India's tribal belt.
The Naga insurgency in the North-East will definitely figure among the world's oldest active insurgencies, if not as the oldest. The Indian Army deployment to suppress the armed rebellion by Naga groups continues till this day, and efforts to find lasting peace in the region is yet to yield stable results. Over the years, the government has left the task of negotiating with Naga representatives to retired bureaucrats and insignificant politicians.
Elsewhere in the North-East, the story isn't very different. The United National Liberation Front, the oldest Meitei insurgent group formed in 1964, is still alive in some form in Manipur. The United Liberation Front of Asom ( Ulfa) formed in 1979 continues to be a headache for the security forces.There have been some political responses to the problem, and in the 1980s, under prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, the last intense political effort was made to broker peace in the North-East. India's reaction to insurgencies is to 'securitise' the problem by deploying paramilitary forces, and often the army. This is an inorganic response to the problem.
Securitisation has also had its ripple effect on the army, which is supposed to defend the national boundaries against external enemies. With its extensive deployment in the North-East and Kashmir, the army has lost more men in counter-insurgency operations than in wars with Pakistan and China. India has the highest number of war widows, thanks mostly to this.Except for very few exceptions, the insurgencies in the North-East are treated as small bush fires. The only time they capture the nation's imagination is when the body count in a violent incident is really huge. Many of these armed movements have now been reduced to kidnapping and robbery, but the fact is that Delhi has not shown the political will to deal with the issues comprehensively.In Kashmir, militancy is now over a quarter-century-old. Though its fury has abated somewhat, the violence continues. Even today, there is no visible political effort to find a lasting solution. Over the last 25 years, whenever popular militant leaders, such as former chief of Hizbul Mujahideen Abdul Majid Dar, or the doves among Hurriyat leaders made overtures, Delhi did not respond with enthusiasm. The result has been killing of several of those pro-talk separatists, and suppression of their voices. Delhi finds it easier to blame Islamabad for Kashmir troubles than to look within.
Statistics don't lie
The world has been witnessing increasingly longer civil wars since World War II, especially since the Cold War resulted in both the blocks fermenting violent movements in inimical states. Civil wars with external support tend to have longer life spans. Academic studies have shown that after World War II the average civil war has lasted over four years, compared to just a year-and-half before. A Rand Corporation study of 89 insurgencies concluded that modern insurgencies last approximately 10 years, and that a government's chances of winning may increase slightly over time. A typical insurgency that hits a clear tipping point at around 10 years gradually ends in 16. But India defies these trends. The only possible explanation is that despite its imposing military and security infrastructure, growing economy and huge population, India is a state with a weak central authority.