Maoist massacre at police “picnic” shakes India

17 Feb 2010 09:42:09 GMT

Source: Reuters

By Matthias Williams NEW DELHI, Feb 17 (Reuters) – A daylight Maoist rebel attack on a police camp that killed at least 24 people has raised a storm of criticism that India is unable to guard against rising militant violence in some key industrial and mining areas.
Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, who came to the post after his predecessor quit over failing to prevent the Mumbai massacre in 2008, said there were signs of failure in how police were caught off-guard in a camp described as a “picnic spot.” The Maoists struck just two days after a bomb blast hit a tourist hangout in the western city of Pune, the first major militant strike since Mumbai. An unknown Pakistan-based group claimed responsibility. Public anger has flared against both the federal government and the administration in West Bengal state, where the camp is located, for failing to equip police to tackle Maoist rebels. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the rebels the biggest threat to India’s internal security. The revolt started off as a peasant-based uprising in the 1960s, but has now spread to large swathes of countryside in more than 20 out of 28 states, especially around mineral-rich eastern and central India. Monday’s strike was 60 km (40 miles) west from where India’s third largest alloy maker, JSW Steel Ltd <JSTL.BO>, wants to build a massive steel plant. “The attack … was a blatant warning that Maoist violence has no intention of stalling and going into a huddle while the central and state governments firm up strategic and logistic details of countering the menace,” said the Hindustan Times. Three newspapers used the phrase “sitting ducks” to describe the encampment, which reportedly lacked proper sentries, and was host to a public market and toilet. Home (Interior) Ministry Secretary G.K. Pillai said the site was tantamount to a “picnic spot”. Security issues are the latest problem to hit West Bengal’s ruling communists, who have governed the eastern state for more than three decades. Protests by families of the slain policemen erupted on Tuesday, and effigies of the chief minister were burned.
The communists face the prospect of losing the next state election in 2011 to the state’s main opposition party, which is is allied to India’s Congress party-led federal government. It’s also a setback to the left’s ambitions to industrialise the state amid Maoist attacks and farm protests. “The left government’s lack of security preparedness is sending shivers through industry circles and the people at large,” said an editorial in the Financial Express.
India’s 22,000 Maoists are also a headache for the Congress party, which won a second term last year. Maoists feed off the resentment of millions of rural poor and landless who have not shared the benefits of the boom in India’s economy, which, after the global slowdown, looks set to climb back to more than 8 percent growth in the next fiscal year. A coordinated government offensive against the Maoists could further alienate those caught in the crossfire. “The government … must distinguish between Maoists and the rural poor in whose name and for whose support they carry out attacks against the state,” said an Economic Times editorial. “Failure to do that would breed further violence that spins into a civil war with the rural poor on one side and the mighty Indian state on the other.”
(Additional reporting by Sujoy Dhar in KOLKATA and Bappa Majumdar in NEW DELHI; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Raju Gopalakrishnan) ((matthias.williams@thomsonreuters.com; Reuters Messaging: matthias.williams.reuters.com@reuters.net, +91-997-111-0254)) ((If you have a query or comment on this story, send an email to news.feedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com))

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