India: discontent, poverty fueling Naxalite rebels

A government-appointed committee says violence by the Maoist insurgency is growing and urges the government to talk with rebels.

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Amid increasing violence sparked by India's Maoist insurgency, politicians and observers have called for leaders to tackle the causes of the rebel movement: poverty, landlessness, and unemployment.

India's Maoist revolt, or Naxalism, is thought to have killed thousands since it began in the 1960s. Some 13 of India's 29 states have been affected by the insurgency. India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has previously described the movement as the biggest domestic security threat facing the country. Since surprise Maoist wins in Nepal's general elections last month, there have been fears in India that the Naxalites would be emboldened by that victory.

New government figures also show that Naxalite violence is on the rise, reports the website of Zee News, an Indian TV channel. Some 698 deaths were reported in 2007, compared with 678 the previous year. The rise was attributed to a greater use of improvised explosive devices and land mines by the rebels and more attacks.

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On Monday, the Times of India reported that a high-level committee appointed by the central government had urged the government to focus on the discontentment that fuels Naxalism. The report was written by members of the Planning Commission, an Indian policy think tank. It also urged the government to seek peace talks with Naxalite leaders.

Naxalites have found willing recruits among some rural poor, who feel left behind as India rushes to modernize. Forest-dwelling tribal people, in particular, have suffered displacement by large development projects – including dams – and a government failure to ensure food security.

Last week, the chief minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi, said that efforts should be made to dissuade young men from joining the Naxalites, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI), a domestic news wire.

And over the weekend, Rahul Gandhi, heir of India's Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and a probable future leader of the ruling Congress Party, toured insurgency-hit areas of the eastern state of Chhattisgarh, where Naxalism is especially prevalent. Security was tight, says the News Post India, an online newspaper, which also reported that Mr. Gandhi had wanted to spend a night with a tribal family but was cautioned against it.

Gandhi asked why Maoism was on the rise in the area, reports the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS).

In the meantime, the violence continues. Over the weekend, Naxalites murdered three policemen in the eastern state of Jharkhand, reported the Telegraph, a paper published in Calcutta . A rebel and a villager were also killed in the crossfire.

Last week, a group of armed Naxalites attacked an iron ore plant in Chhattisgarh and set fire to 53 trucks, reported the Business Standard, India's leading business newspaper. Sources suggested that the attack was a protest against the exportation of iron ore outside the state.

And while some urge the government to address the causes of Naxalism, others call for might to fight the "Maoist menace" as Indian reporters have dubbed the rebels' armed struggle.

The Khaleej Times reported last week that a senior Maoist leader told journalists the rebels would never back down from their armed struggle. The rebel leader said that unlike Nepal's Maoists, who triumphed in last month's general election, the Naxalites would continue to believe "in capturing power through armed struggle."

In an editorial in the Bihar Times, P.V. Ramana, an analyst at New Delhi's Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, wrote that the Naxalite movement had brought funds to the rebels.

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