Oped

Industry of terror

  • Abduction, extortion and looting have been the backbone of insurgency and terrorism in India
- MAHENDRA P LAMA

Jul 25, 2018-

Most of the recorded conflicts in India have been the offshoots of a particular malaise. Several factors have triggered conflicts and violence. They vary from strident assertion of group identities and poor post-independence adjustment as manifested in their demand for political independence like that of the Nagas, Mizos and Khalistanis to changes in demographic equations triggered by migration from across the border like in Assam. The practice of internal colonialism as manifested by constant regional disparity like in Darjeeling by the West Bengal Government and economic alienation as reflected in poverty, forced land colonisation and landlessness in the Maoists affected Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Bihar are other facets of conflict generation and perpetuation. The attributes ranging from religious persecution and fundamentalist indoctrination to non-functioning or mal-functioning of democracy and protracted mis-governance to environmental dislocation also figure rather prominently in many of these theatres of conflicts in India.

Modus operandi

An acutely related horrifying agenda in all these conflicts has been the ‘industry of terror’ where one finds a complex matrix and intriguing modalities of abduction, extortion and looting. This has actually been the backbone of insurgency and terrorism in all the theatres of militancy and conflicts in India. Besides the massive funding by the diaspora communities and overt and covert assistance by the hostile neighbouring countries, the extent and implications of extortions and lootings have been enormous.

The conflict participants have used diverse instruments and modus operandi in the perpetration of crimes. These techniques are sometimes highly complex and sophisticated and to a large extent institutionalised. Some of them loot banks and and kidnap people and ask for  ransom. The Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi estimated that during 1990-2001 alone, money looted by terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir amounted to over Rs88 million.  

Others serve notices to the companies and agencies for the contribution and to establish linkages with the contractors or profiteering agencies for a commission on deals and projects mainly related to the government. Many of them impose a tax on the movement of vehicles and threaten the households, politicians and professionals of extermination and demand for their contributions. Yet, they raise the contributions from particular localities, communities and groups in the form of tolls and taxes and practice an open extortion by forming a gang and going around the town from shop to shop.

They do it in the name of cleansing the system and to ‘get rid of corruption’ mostly in government departments like public works, roads, power and health. Most of these incidents have taken place where there is a marked decay in political culture, steady erosion in the faith and confidence of the people on the systems of governance and when the ultra rich phenomenon among certain sections becomes very conspicuous. These extortionists are fully aware of the addresses of the partners in this supra-economy at a town, city and industry level. They have therefore, targeted these opulent homes accurately and at the least cost in terms of self inflicted injuries. These terrorists-insurgents have also used the local sentiments to provide credibility to their operations. They even raise environmental questions.

The implications of extortions have been devastating. The most debilitating has been the sharp erosion in the people’s faith and confidence in the ability of the government and the state to provide them protection and security. Many of the private companies have now designed their own private armed security system. Or many of the companies have now tacitly started giving protection money to the terrorists, insurgents and extremists who in turn protect their business interest. The owner of a coal field in Borsora of West Khasi Hills in Meghalaya once complained that “receiving demand notes, negotiating on the amount and the nature of payment has become a part of our business skill. When even the laborers working in the coal business are not spared, I can’t think of defying the militants demand not only for the continuation of my business but also for my own safety”. It is also found that the militants no longer send its own men to collect the ransom. They engage students, auto rickshaw drivers, common people and some of it’s over ground members for this purpose. They even maintain bank accounts across the border. In a country where government is omnipresent and is the sole custodian of public security, this is a very dangerous trend.  Human insecurity therefore, becomes a widespread concern.

The nexus

In many parts these extortionist operations are based on the tacit support, sophisticated nexus and complementary patronisations between the militants and the politicians. In some states in the North East, it is believed that no cabinet discussions and decisions can be kept a secret. Most of the decisions are known to the militant outfits much earlier than the implementations of the decisions are carried out. Besides making insurgency and terrorism a major rent seeking activity, these militants in many sense have emerged as true multinational actors with investment and business interests spread over a large number of countries and sectors. This sustains their operations.

Conflict perpetrators, institutions and agencies thrive in negative situations. One finds conspicuous pre-existence of vested constituencies in protracted militancy and insurgency. They actually promote violence and instability. For instance in the Kashmir valley, three way finances are poured in by the Indian government, the cross border donors and foreign donors in the name of ensuring security and stability; instigating and supporting terrorism and freedom fighters and contributing to people’s welfare respectively.  Direct beneficiaries naturally would like the instability to protract.

The government’s failure to provide security makes the relationship between militant outfits, business groups and company mutually beneficial. It is found that the payment of ‘maintenance grant’ of the terrorist groups or ‘security expenses’ by the private companies has been well institutionalised. This was revealed when in 1997 cultural secretary of the United Liberation Front of Assam was arrested in Mumbai where she had been hosted by Tata Tea Limited for delivery of her baby in a local hospital.  

Many of the militant group leaders face income tax proceedings for having massive undisclosed incomes.  They have accumulated wealth, funded foreign tours, and maintained a large number of staff in their offices. They call it ‘legal collections’ with which they fight the security forces and maim and kill cadres of rival factions. “When a battalion of NGOs’ representatives (funded by the militants) goes to Bangkok, it involves a huge expenditure. We have received complaints of such forcible collection of money at Dimapur. It is a terrible burden on the business community,” the former Nagaland Chief Minister S. C. Jamir had stated in May 2002.

In some cases the strategy has been to displace the local minority population through violent actions so that in the short run they are able to mobilise resources for instant use. The acquired movable and immovable properties could also be used for more violence in the long run. These have brought fortunes to the militants and even the local majority people.  

A typical case example is that of the Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir valley.  The ‘ethnic cleansing’ by the Bodos through plunder, arson, massacre and persecution has forced a large number of the non-Bodos particularly Adivasis (Santhals), Nepalis and Biharis in Kokrajhar district to flee the area on a large scale. Various provinces in India have played down all these deleterious impact by both statistical manipulations and also by not releasing detailed information.

Lama, a senior professor in Jawaharlal Nehru University, is a former Member of the National Security Advisory Board, Government of India

Published: 25-07-2018 08:07

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