Violent Conflict in India: Issues of Contention
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 01/07/2010
Many parts of South Asia are witnessing armed conflict, the various regions of India in particular. There are a range of reasons for the occurrence of this conflict. Apart from political and developmental factors the influx of small arms and narcotics are considered as the major reasons for this conflict. Internal armed conflict has become the biggest national threat. Many groups which are active in armed insurgency in different part of India have different goals.
This paper will analyse the issues of contention on which the conflicts are fought by the different rebel groups in India. The added endeavour of this paper is to classify the existing conflict. The nature of armed conflict is not similar all around the country, but, it differs in their goals, and issues of contentions and strategy.
For this purpose, I have divided the existing conflicts into three categories:
- The armed conflict in Kashmir – fought over the issues of independence of territory
- The armed conflict of the Northeastern regions – fought over the issue of greater autonomy and reorganization of the state on the ethnic line. Few factions of this have also, although not often, demanded for independence.
- Thirdly, armed conflict in the eastern and central India – fought over the issue of converting the capitalist system of governance into the communist state.
I will take all three issues categorically. I will start with the issue of Kashmir and follow up with the Northeastern problem and then finish with the Maoist predicament of eastern and central India.
Jammu and Kashmir
The armed conflict between terrorists and military force in Kashmir started in 1989. A revolt for independence took place under the banner of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. This revolt further developed into an insurgency involving as many as 140 militant groups seeking independence. However, their demand for independence was not very explicit. Certain groups were fighting for independence; few of them wanted to merge into Pakistan, while others wanted a more autonomous Kashmir within the Indian Territory. Few militant outfits also have shown interest to join with Pakistan. Although these groups had different opinion on the fate of Jammu and Kashmir but they all were almost supporting the terror act carried out by these militant outfits. They were now convinced that they could only achieve their goal through the armed struggle. The situation became worst very soon in the province. In response, the Indian government, since 1989, deployed many troops and paramilitary personnel with estimated numbers ranging from 150,000 to 500,000. The fight between Indian armed forces and the militant outfits caused several deaths including civilians and armed forces. An estimated number of deaths range up to 77,000 since 1989. As of November 2008, over “47,000 people have been killed in militancy related incidents in the past two decades in Jammu and Kashmir. These deaths have included 20,647 militants, 7,000 police officers and special police officers and 20,000 civilians.”  Many news agencies and research bodies have given more or less similar data about the death of people in the armed conflict in the region.
The armed conflict of Jammu and Kashmir is protracted in nature and is dependent on various factors for its prolonged existence. The artillery and logistics support to the insurgents has been provided by the Pakistani spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). The militants have been using the land of Afghanistan’s to train its cadets. Afghanistan’s youths have also been recruited as cadets. Training centers have also found in the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). The continual terror activities in Jammu and Kashmir halted the day to day life in general. To curb the terrorism the Central government imposed president rule in the state and took over the law and order of the state. After almost six year of president rule a general election was hold in Kashmir in 1996 amidst violence. However, the insurgency in Kashmir is more or less continuous till date. Since the inception of violence in Kashmir many Kashmiri Pandits were killed and many of them took refuge in different parts of India. Many Sikhs and Hindu minorities have also been killed.
The other major armed conflicts persist in the north eastern states of India. Separatist movements have affected at least four north eastern states: Assam, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland. It has been estimated that since 1979 approximately 20,000 to 25,000 people have died in Nagaland alone. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, more than 13, 000 people have died in other Northeastern states since 1992. It is estimated that overall at least 40,000 people have been killed since 1979 in the region. It has also been reported that “ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) is just one of many separatist movements that have lead to the deaths of more than 50,000 people in India’s seven Northeastern states since India won its independence from Britain in 1947.”
A news agency estimates that almost 20,000 people died alone in Nagaland since the movement began more than five decades ago.
Most of the rebel groups are fighting over the issue of greater autonomy of the state and few of them have a demand of separate state based on the ethnic line. The Naga tribe of the region has a demand of greater Nagaland. For them, greater Nagaland constitutes the territory where historically Naga tribes have been living. On this line they want geographical expansion of the Nagaland into its adjacent state Manipur where Naga has been traditionally living. In order to achieve this goal National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) has been formed. Similarly, various militant outfits in Assam are embroiled in armed conflict against state. Insurgent groups like the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), Bodo People’s Action Committee (BPAC), Bodo Security Force (BSF), Bodo Liberation Tigers Force (BLTF), and National Democratic Front for Bodoland (NDFB) are the main outfits of the region which has badly affected the lives of the people. Similarly the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and United National Liberation Front (UNLF) of Manipur and the All Tripura Tribal Force (ATTP) are embroiled in armed conflict against the lawfully established government in the respective states.
Eastern and Central India
The third major armed conflict which persists in Indian society is the Maoist insurgency. The issue of contention for this armed conflict is the control over the power of government. The last decade has witnessed a resurgence of Naxal movement in certain parts of eastern and central India. Today Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal, are badly affected by the violent armed conflict.
A Canada based independent research institute estimates that “more than 6,000 people have been killed as a direct result of the conflict in the last twenty years, with an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 deaths occurring in the last decade”. According to South Asia Intelligence Review, since 1990, the Naxal insurgency has cost more than 4,500 lives alone in Andhra Pradesh. The current scenario on armed insurgency is more serious. A Delhi based independent think tank reported that in 2008 alone death count across the six states (Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh) was 794. This number included 399 civilians, 221 security force personnel, and 174 insurgents. The other Delhi based organization Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies estimates that the total count of death in the Maoist insurgency is about 864. Also, the number provided by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs was more or less same around 721.
There are two major groups People’s War Group (PWG) and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) which provide the ideological input to the Naxal movement. PWG is most active and representing the Naxal movement among all others. The dominant line within the Naxal politics today, is the PWG line of thought. It is popularly known as PWG or PW and it borrow its official nomenclature from Communist Party of India– Marxist-Leninist (People’s War). The next important group within the broad spectrum of the Naxal movement is the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). The MCC is very much convinced with the thought of Mao Tse Tung and claims that this armed revolutionary war is the war of the armed people themselves; it is ‘Protracted People’s War’.
Causes of Violent Conflict
Explanations of the causes of armed conflict have ranged from an analysis of relative deprivation and conflict; control over natural resources and conflict; ecological and demographic pressure to that of environmental scarcity and the Malthusian notion of insecurity. However, it needs to be mentioned that most of these theories have seldom come out with a conceptual understanding of the question under consideration.
There are two specific aim of the paper. Firstly, it classifies the nature of armed conflict in India concerning the power sharing incompatibility over territory and governance (the classification is originally taken from the UCDP). Secondly, the research seeks to identify the factors which have triggered the armed conflict in different parts of India. The concern of incompatibility in Kashmir and the Northeastern state of India is territory. In Kashmir few militant outfits want independence from India; while many are in favour of more autonomy of the state rather than independence. Contrary to Kashmir, the sub national outfits of the northeastern India demand the reorganization of states on the ethnic line. In this case the outfits are more vocal about the autonomy and reorganization of state rather than independence.
The remarkable feature of these movements is that they are not ideologically driven but they have their cultural root in ethnicity. Now, the armed conflict which exists in almost 13 eastern Indian states is fought concerning incompatibility about power over the government. In other words, the insurgent groups are driven by strong Maoist ideology and want to replace the liberal nature of state with a communist state.
This paper classifies the conflicts in order to help identify the nature of the particular armed conflict. Bringing any kind of conflict is a capacity of variables which often interacts. This classification helps in the identification of variables which often interacts and fabricates armed conflict in above mentioned three regions of India. Identification of causing variables also helps policy-makers to formulate appropriate policy and strategy. The problem of Kashmir, for example, is the need for different policy and strategy for their solution, as it is needed in the other armed conflict affected regions. The resurgent groups in Kashmir are in a favour of an independent Kashmir or more autonomy of the province. The Government of India has a very clear stance that Kashmir is an integral part of India. Therefore, primarily to bring the situations calm heavy armed forces are required to suppress the movement. And then other democratic process like dialogue with the rebel group may be offered to finds out the long term peace process in the region. While, the armed conflicts in the north eastern states are mainly fought over the issues of autonomy of the state.
Therefore, to contain the armed conflict in this region requires a democratic peace process. Along with economic development of the region, democratic dialogue is necessary to solve the problem. Similarly, the Naxals are not fighting for the cessation, but they are embroiled in ideological conflicts and want to hold state power. Therefore, the region needs an integral approach to resolve the problem. The police forces must be strengthened to crack down the insurgents as well as the economic development and integration of the region in the mainstream is necessary.
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Bio: Ranvijay, PhD (JNU) is an UPSAM fellow in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University for Peace.