By: Our Correspondent

Repeated strikes by leftist rebels, described as India’s biggest
internal security challenge, continue to shake the country and pose an
increasing challenge for the government in New Delhi.

An
unprecedented 1,169 people died last year, the most in any year since
the armed rebellion began nearly four and a half decades back, far more
than terror and insurgency-related deaths across the country, troubled
state Jammu & Kashmir and the north east.

Nearly 15,000
people, including police, rebels and civilians, have been killed in the
violence so far. Earlier this month India's home minister P Chidambaram
said that the security forces action against the Maoist was presently in
"stalemate" in north and east India despite the a big 2010 offensive,
codenamed Operation Green Hunt.

In the latest incident, the
Maoist insurgents kidnapped a popular young officer belonging to the
elite Indian Administrative Service, the country’s top bureaucracy, in
the eastern state of Orissa in mid-February. The rebels abducted the
30-year-old R Vineel Krishna, the district collector and administrative
head of Malkangiri, prompting the Orissa government to suspend a
continuing security offensive against the insurgents. The Maoists
demanded that several hundred imprisoned rebels and a few particular
leaders be released in exchange for Krishna’s freedom and life.

Such
hostage situations involving policemen or civilians by the Maoists can
go either way. Krishna’s life did hang in the balance, even though in
the absence of a clear-cut hostage policy, the Indian state has a record
of capitulating to hijackers/terrorists/insurgents in the past.

Ironically
Krishna and an accompanying junior engineer were abducted when the two
were inspecting the success of an off grid rural electrification effort
in a remote area. One of the main reasons that the leftist rebels have
taken root in vast swathes of the country, especially the mineral rich
eastern belt, is the lack of development and economic mobility of local
tribal residents. Krishna, a graduate from India’s top engineering
Indian Institute of Technology, is known to be an efficient
administrator and popular with the local population that poured onto the
streets to demand his release.

In Malkangiri, educational
institutions, shops and offices shut down to demand release of the
abducted officer. Some reports suggested that locals familiar with the
territory planned to rescue Krishna. A show of support spread over the
Orissa state and neighboring Andhra Pradesh, adding considerable
pressure for Krishna’s release.

The Maoists freed Krishna on Feb.
24after the Orissa government conceded to most of their demands,
including release of several jailed comrades. Over the last couple of
days there have been contrary local media reports about Krishna’s
freedom.

Chosen mediators for the Naxals and senior
representatives of the Orissa government were involved in "talks" to
evolve a "consensus." In an effort to buy peace the Orissa government
said it would not oppose the bail plea of a Maoist leader in the near
future and will release a few others.

In his first statements
after his release Krishna said that he was "treated well" by his
abductors who engaged him in debates about "tribal development."

The
latest hostage crisis is another reminder that despite massive security
offensives, Maoist violence in India shows no sign of abating. The year
2010 was the worst in terms of human casualties, according to official
figures. What is even more worrying is a steep rise in civilians killed.

The
Maoists believe in armed struggle to overthrow the state and bring
about socio-economic change, especially in the northeastern and central
eastern states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, Bihar, Madhya
Pradesh, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.

India's valuable coal
and mineral industry is focused in these states, which have large tribal
concentrations. The areas score very poorly on human development as the
local population has not benefited from rich mining activities that
have instead filled state coffers, politicians, the bureaucracy and a
few "outsider" businessmen.

A link has thus been established
between the Maoist insurgency and rapacious mining in forested areas and
the exploitation of the local inhabitants. Tribals constitute more than
8 percent of the country’s population but account for 40 percent of the
50-60 million internally displaced since India’s independence in 1947
due to land diversion, particularly by state firms such as Coal India
Limited for mining.

Today, most of the top 50 mineral-rich
districts in India are affected by Naxalite violence, with repeated
attacks on any symbol of authority, both private and public, including
mining sites. Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are the worst-affected states.

Over
time, the Maoists rebels have become increasingly very well armed, with
weapons mostly obtain acquired by raiding police and paramilitary posts
although there are some instances of smuggling of arms from Nepal,
Burma and China.

Maoist cadres have developed links with other
rebel outfits such as the ULFA in Assam and the now defunct LTTE in Sri
Lanka. Security officials say that LTTE cadres have trained the Naxal
rebels in guerrilla-attack hit and run tactics against armed security
forces. Some Maoist leaders are known to have adopted the cause of a
Pan-Indian front of insurgent groups especially from the unstable
northeast India.

One consequence of the coexistence of poor
governance and Naxal rebels is the proliferation of illegal mining,
which has grown into a multi-million scam under the cover of darkness
and night bulbs to escape authority.

Ironically, many of the
heavily armed Naxals who took to violence to protect natural resources
have turned plunderers hand in glove with the illegal miners. The rebels
now demand protection money.

As matters stand the situation is
deteriorating and the malaise getting worse and deep seated. It is not a
happy scenario for India unless, more hard-working and honest officers
like Krishna come along.

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist. He can be reached at sidsri@yahoo.com