Who do you think is more dangerous, the Naxal or the jihadi?
I just counted the total number of people killed by both groups of extremists between January 2007 and February 17, 2010. The results:
- Jihadi attacks claimed 436 lives (this figure includes Pakistanis who died during the firebombing of the Samjhauta Express in 2007).
- The Maoists claimed 1,524 lives, more than three times the number killed in urban, jihadi bombings.
The modern, Indian jihadi is young, educated and highly motivated, communicating by coded e-mail and phone conversations, merging seamlessly into the society around him. He is likely to have access to training and assistance from Pakistan, using this expertise to launch frontal attacks on populated areas. He is, almost always, likely to be a ‘he’.
The modern Indian Maoist could be young or middle-aged, perhaps educated, perhaps semi-literate, adept at guerrilla warfare, handling arms and living a life of hardship. He is likely to use old-fashioned communication like letters, couriers and face-to-face contact (the last only when necessary), using largely homegrown expertise to launch devastating attacks against security forces in the vast Indian countryside. He is, equally, likely to be a ‘she’.
As Monday’s slaughter of 25 paramilitary soldiers in West Bengal indicates, the Maoist attack is usually frontal and brazen, aimed at overawing the Indian State, knowing the deaths of paramilitary soldiers and policemen — mostly from poorer, rural families — get little play in the media or our imaginations. The Maoist game plan, according to intelligence officers, is to physically occupy the countryside (swathes of land in seven states have already slipped beyond State control) and surround the cities until they can force regime change.
“There is clearly a (Naxal) grand design,” an official who closely tracks Maoist working in urban areas told me. He said Maoist ideologues in cities are so independent and careful that they will not even try to contact their comrades, a step above the jihadi sleeper cells who, even if they do not know of another cell’s presence, are controlled by handlers. Intelligence agencies say they have uncovered worrying signs of some Marxist organisations crossing the line into Maoism, which believes in violent revolution.
There is now a centralised command in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, against the Maoist rebellion with up to 60 paramilitary battalions (about 60,000 soldiers). The growing Naxal attacks are forcing more media coverage. But it is inadequate in depth and perspective to turn public focus on the greater threat.
Last week’s Pune attack by jihadis was the first since the horror of 26/11 in Mumbai. In the intervening
14-and-a-half months, India has seen a period of calm unprecedented since urban terrorism came of age on March 12, 1993, with 13 scooter and car bombs killing 257 in what was then Bombay.
The relative peace was the result of a) the dismantling of terror cells; many still exist, keeping security agencies on edge, b) a preoccupation in Pakistan with events in its western provinces and Afghanistan, c) a fading in the appeal of global jihad, and d) the small size of the radicalised Islamic community.
The last factor is particularly important. Every police and intelligence official I’ve spoken to agrees that Indian Muslims radicalised enough to set off bombs may not number more than 1,000, still enough to cause great damage. But it is an infinitesimal number when it comes to tarring a community of 140 million with the same brush and causing immense damage to India and the idea of India.
Though the Indian jihadi causes serious damage, both physical and psychological, he pales in comparison with the Maoist. The furtive jihadi attack aims at: revenge of some sort; the cleaving of Indian society; sometimes, to stop talks between India and Pakistan. The jihadi feeds off the grief and anger middle-class Indians feel when their own perish, and so the jihadi, and his Pakistani backers, are a clearer, more obvious enemy.
Two days ago, I faced a barrage of criticism on my Twitter feed when I posted a trend that police charge sheets and interrogators of domestic jihadi suspects repeatedly point to: nine years after the event, these radicals still flag the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat as either direct motivation or a stimulus provided by jihadi trainers who show them gruesome images of Muslims killed in the riots.
There are other inspirations, from a general sense of grievance and injustice to the feeling of alienation that arises in trying to rent a home when Muslim or being freely hauled in for rough questioning. Rage against the US, and the situation in Palestine may be boosting factors, but as jihadi confessions (whether voluntary or beaten out of them) reveal, never has global jihad ever directly driven an Indian to plant a bomb in his own country. The big brother of the primary Indian jihadi group, the Indian Mujahideen, is indeed the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, the Pakistani terror group that carried out the 26/11 attack and is now firmly one of the umbrella terror organisations arrayed against the United States.
But you can count on your fingertips the number of Indian Muslims who’ve joined the so-called civilisational war against the West. At last count, it’s less than 10.