Monday, December 29, 2008

Urban terrorism Vs Naxalism

The Mumbai terrorist attacks, and recent Delhi and Assam bomb blasts, like the greatly increased number of other recent incidents of urban terrorism, have coalseced and strengthened the collective anger and hatred being felt across the country against terrorism and militancy. The Mumbai attack, in particular, appears to have jolted the Government into action for setting up an institutional architecture that would work towards preventing such incidents.

In a different context, rural terrorism, in the form of naxalite attacks in remote and interior areas of many states, has been going on for many years. Major incidents of naxalite attacks are becoming increasingly commonplace, taking the lives of large numbers of innocent and poor villagers, and policemen on duty.

However, naxalite activities have never caught the imagination of the national public consciousness as urban terrorism, and has therefore not been the focus of any sustained and co-ordinated actions of the state and central governments. This despite the fact that the former has been a much older problem, claimed many times more lives, and has been more debilitating in ao far as it has contributed substantially to these areas being perpetually trapped in poverty and under-development.

To the extent that terrorism is part of an effort by its perpetrators to focus the attention of the state and its citizens to the cause espoused by them, from the perspective of its perpetrators urban terrorism has surely been much more successful than rural terrorism. It is also understandable that this should be so, given the fact that the majority of our opinion makers (media, academia, commentators, bureaucrats, and political class) and their targets (upper and middle class) live in cities and towns. There is therefore an immediacy and closeness to terrorist incidents in their backyards, which they can easily identify with. In contrast, the naxalite incidents take place in the back-of-beyond, isolated from the consciousness of these opinion makers and the middle class.

Without any intention to incite naxalite terrorism in cities, this difference in responses in the public consciousness does raise a few interesting questions of academic interest. Does it mean that naxalite planners should re-think their strategies? Would a naxalite group which focuses on urban terrorism be more successful? What effect will a shift in strategy have on their rural support base, since they rely on such incidents to re-affirm their strength and hence support among rural poor? Will this change also isolate the naxalite movement from its roots and prevent them from claiming moral legitimacy? Will a shift to urban terrorism, force governments to give more attention to the long pending problems of these areas?

However, the aforementoned shift can also be counterproductive for naxalites, given the possibility of increased attention generating more aggressive counter insurgency response by the government, thereby sowing the seeds for the end of such naxalite activites.

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