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#2332, 6 July 2007
Economic Blockade: Will the Maoists' New Strategy Succeed?
Devyani Srivastava
Research Officer, IPCS
e-mail: devyani@ipcs.org

The Communist Party of India (Maoist) called a two-day economic blockade for the second successive year on 26 and 27 June, this time in parts of six states namely Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Notwithstanding the large scale disruption of public life and economic activity of these states during the blockade, it remains to be seen whether this turns out to be a successful strategy for the Maoists.

The total loss inflicted by the blockade stands at Rs.1.5 billion. The main targets included railways, road transport particularly in the mining belts, and other economic and communication infrastructure. While public transport and commercial activity in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh suffered heavy losses, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa suffered mildly. The blockade illustrates the use of a new tactic by the Maoists - to rope in villagers and tribal groups that have been forcibly displaced from their lands due to the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) projects by capitalizing on their resentment against the government. Immediately after the violence in Nandigram, the Maoists had announced a militant struggle against the industrialisation policies of the central and state governments. On 15 March 2007, a spokesperson of the Central Committee of CPI (Maoist), called upon the oppressed masses to "transform every SEZ into a battle zone, to create Kalinga Nagars and Nandigrams everywhere and to kick out the real outsiders - the rapacious MNCs, big business houses...." Since then, there have been repeated attacks on public transport and economic infrastructure in these states. Given that so far, the Maoist attacks were mainly on police and security posts, the blockade reflects the expansion of the conflict from guerrilla warfare to urban warfare.

However, what are the chances of the dissatisfaction among the aggrieved translating into support for the armed struggle? In this light, does the immediate disruption of economic activity during the blockade guarantee the success of this new Maoist strategy? An affirmative answer to these questions might be misplaced at this point.

First, the opposition to the SEZ policy of the government by tribal groups and villagers seems to have been misconstrued. For one, a status report on Land Acquisition in Singur, District Hooghly, put up by the government of West Bengal on its website, reveals that out of the total 997.11 acres of land acquired, the government received consent from the farmers on 958.84 acres of land. A further evidence of this consent is the victory of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the 2006 State Assembly elections in West Bengal. The fact that the election manifesto of the CPI (M) clearly included the construction of SEZ for the purpose of modernizing labour-intensive industries is a pointer to the support of such plans among the masses.

Second, there have been growing instances of protests by the farmers against some of the anti-development policies of the Maoists. For instance, a kisan rally was held at Nandigram on 16 January to protest against Maoist acts such as destroying roads, attacking supporters of industrialisation and burning their houses. In this rally, the people openly supported the demand for industrialisation of Nandigram. Another example is from the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh where the Maoists attack on roads to obstruct development activities has created a stirring among the tribals. It is believed that it was partly this restiveness that led the tribals to join the anti-Maoist campaign of the Chhattisgarh government, Salwa Judum. In fact, despite an unprecedented rise of violence owing to the brutality of the campaign in Chhattisgarh, there are no reports or statistics to show that this, in effect, resulted in consolidation of support for the Maoists.

The above factors indicate that a sense of alienation among the tribal groups has not necessarily led to a sense of association with the Maoists. To this extent, it seems that the Maoists will have to offer the tribals much more than just a platform to vent their grievances against the state. The government, on the other side, must step up security at vital economic installations and railway assets across the country which faces an imminent threat of Maoist attack. Further, it must replace the 1894 Land Acquisition Act that currently governs national policy for acquisition of land for industries, and which does not include any clause for rehabilitation of those ousted from the land acquired. In order to stunt any further progress of the Maoist strategy, it is imperative for the new law for land acquisition to include a strong component of proper rehabilitation for the oustees. The suspension of nearly 23 SEZ notifications by the Union government and some seven or eight such proposed projects including Nandigram by the West Bengal government till such a national policy is evolved is noteworthy, and gives reason to believe that the Maoist strategy can be countered successfully.

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