05 December, 2011

Cities Under Siege

pp 60 - 62, Geopolitics, December 2011


The increasing significance of cities hardly needs to be emphasized. According to the United Nations Population Fund, the urban-dwelling population will swell to nearly 5 billion by 2030. Presently, world population stands at 7 billion. And half of the populace lives in cities. Expectedly, with time, it can be presumed that the percentage of urban population shall be on an upward curve.

Of late, the City Mayors Foundation, an international think tank dedicated to urban affairs, presented a list of 100 ‘fastest growing’ global cities and urban areas. Interestingly, out of them, 25 belonged to India. It needs to be remembered that about 17 per cent of world’s population resides in India. Thus, simple arithmetic tells us that the growth of Indian cities is well above normal proportions than its share of world population.

Statistically speaking, India has 35 cities, each with a population of more than one million. In total, some 108 million Indians, or about 10 per cent of the national population, live in the country’s 35 largest cities.

Threats to Global Cities

Stephen Graham, professor at the Newcastle University writes: “urban modernity, despite its promises of absolute technological and material progress, is actually utterly interwoven with fragility and vulnerability.”
Extrapolating further, Spiller says: “Being chiefly human, cities can be killed.” And Lang does not provide consolation either as he asserts: “All too often, the city’s survival hangs in a precious balance.”

To refer to Graham again, “Cities, warfare and organised political violence have always been mutual constructions.”

Furthermore, on the sidelines of the September 11th attacks on New York, the old defensive responses to urban terrorism; viz. CCTV, road blocks, heavily controlled street spaces, immigration controls – seemed almost comically irrelevant. Nevertheless, it still does not overtly imply that such seemingly outmoded instruments of anti-terrorism be put in the list of obsolescence altogether.

In these circumstances, terrorism, among other things like poverty and lack of a proper environment, remain as the chief nemesis for the global cities. In this regard, it needs to be understood that all terror attacks on global cities shall not be replicas of September 11 – i.e. of the same magnitude and intensity. For instance, attacks in Karachi, Lahore, Moscow and London ask for following basic approaches in combating terror.

Hence, surveillance and monitoring with the help of CCTV, compounded with grass-roots level human intelligence can be effective tools in thwarting ‘glocal’ (thinking globally and acting locally) terrorist acts.

The peculiar case of India

It is noteworthy that Indian cities, and especially the ‘growing cities’ like Agra, Pune, Patna, Nasik and others are prone to terrorist and insurgent attacks. The repeated bomb blasts in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, with occasional hits at Agra and Pune indicate such a pattern of the non-state actors. Over and above, apart from the well-identified and deadly cross-border bred fundamentalists, Indian cities face terror threat from another quarter. And that comes from the left wing insurgents, popularly called the Maoists.

Mr Vishwaranjan, the top cop of the central Indian province of Chattisgarh, has alleged in early 2011 that the Indian Maoists are seriously building up their urban bases to create a steady supply of logistics, technological help and recruits. In fact, July 2011 reportage in the Indian media says thus: “The Maoists are planning to spread their tentacles in urban areas after years of creating terror in rural pockets.”

The report further informed that at a high-level meeting of senior Maoist leaders held in July 2011, a plan was chalked out to re-organise the set-up of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The Maoists have planned separate sections to look after the affairs of rural as well as the urban areas respectively. A source in the rebel group, according to the report, said that the new plan for urban areas were unveiled from 15th August 2011 onwards.
As per the plan chalked out for urban areas, the Maoists attempt to have separate area committee, sub-zone, zone, regional and the special area committee. The central committee of the outfit will also have a separate in-charge for the urban affairs. The committees constituted for urban affairs will hold meetings to discuss the public problems in the urban areas. One of the prominent issues that the Maoists envisaged to focus was rehabilitation of the footpath-dwelling population. It was clear from the report that the Maoists planned to raise the banner of insurrection in the Indian cities through popular activism.

Furthermore, in August 2011, while answering questions in the Parliament; junior Home Minister of Indialisted Bangalore, Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai among 10 Indian cities where the presence of guerrillas had been detected.

Hence, it cannot probably be termed as a coincidence that there have been arrests by the Indian Police (between 2007-11), of prominent Maoist leaders from cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Thane, Nasik, Kolkata, Chandigarh and other urban areas. These are pointers to the fact that the ultras are spreading their wings in cities.

R Venkatramani, a researcher based in New Delhi, articulates at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, that in the Indian cities; “instead of carrying out attacks against symbols of the state, the Maoists are attempting to reach out to intellectuals and academic scholars on the one hand and industrial workers, persons who occupy lower positions in the government and students on the other.  In this way, they are seeking to mobilize the urban populace as their patrons, supporters and sympathizers, rather than as armed cadres.”

Thus, the incursion of the Maoists in the cities, in essence, shapes up as a more deep-rooted problem than the known external threat from Islamist fundamentalists. The threat assumes further importance as the ultimate aim of the left wing insurgents is to capture state authority by defeating the government forces in the rural areas in a protracted war and finally zoom in on the cities.

Mao, Che and the Maoist document

As a matter of fact, the Ninth Unity Congress of the Communist Party of India (Maoists) held in early 2007 had resolved to take the struggle into urban areas. The document of the Maoists at the Ninth Congress read thus: “Working class leadership is the indispensable condition for the new Democratic Revolution (NDR) in India. Working class has to send its advanced detachments to rural areas.”

Thus, being the centers of concentration of the industrial proletariat (industrial workers), urban areas play an important part in the political strategy of the NDR. The task of the party in urban areas is to mobilize and organise the proletariat in performing its crucial leadership role.

According to the Indian Maoists, “the specific characteristics of revolutionary war in India is to determine the military strategy as that of protracted people’s war – of establishing revolutionary base areas  first in the countryside where the enemy (read the government) is militarily weak and then to gradually surround and capture the cities which are bastions of the enemy forces.”

Thus it is clear from the Maoists’ document that the armed struggle and the movement in the rural areas will play the primary role; whereas the work in the cities will play a secondary role, complementary to the rural work.
In fact, legendary Mao Tse-tung had said: “the final objective of the revolution is the capture of the cities, the enemy’s main bases, and this objective cannot be achieved without adequate work in the cities.” The charismatic Che Guevara too opines: “The importance of the urban struggle is extraordinary.”

The Maoists assess that presently, India has a larger proportion of the population in urban areas and a much larger working class than at the time of the Chinese revolution. This increases the relative importance of urban work in the particular conditions of the Indian revolution.

Nevertheless, in cities, the counter-insurgency state forces are very strong and hence the Maoists are careful while establishing bases.  Since a steady supply of urban cadre is necessary to fulfill the needs of the rural movement and to fuel the protracted people’s war, establishment of urban bases is imperative for the Maoists.

Why an Urban Base for the Maoists?

An urban base provides logistical support to the armed struggle, i.e. technical and medical help. It further helps to send cadre to rural areas. The Maoists also plan to infiltrate into enemy organizations like the police, para-military and military. They attempt to do so by conducting propaganda warfare; viz. upholding the problems of the ordinary constables and soldiers.

Thus a favourable condition exists in the urban areas in India for the building of broad mass fronts against the state structures. At least that is the evaluation of the Indian Maoists. It may also be inferred that the Maoists are venturing into the Indian cities with obvious intentions of solidifying and extending their networks and in addition to that, they are in the process of colluding with other terrorist outfits based in the Northeast, Bangladesh and Nepal, which have grave security implications for the Indian state.

In sum, it may be stated that though the fast growing Indian cities are vulnerable from cross-border terror attacks and the blasts may be heard from far off places like New York, yet a much more lethal attack on their very existence comes from the local insurgents. India, at present, finds itself enmeshed in a confrontation of capital-liberalism vs Mao’s communism, entangled in a showdown between city culture and rural squeaks and entwined with the competing branches of growth in gross domestic product and a subversive tendency which wishes to wreck from within the democratic ethos of the nation.


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