There are well over a billion people in India, but whenever I read contemporary Indian media I find I know fuck-all about the place. Though much of the Indian media is in English, a language I often pretend to understand and even occasionally speak with some fluency, subcontinental English is packed with idioms that leave me bewildered. The language feels like a UK-English structure that’s transforming organically, ever more rapidly, to meet the the demands of a culturally unique region.
The same could be said of Indian politics. Today there’s a very brief article in the Times of India about three U.S.-built military hovercraft being deployed to attack Manipuri separatist insurgents like the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) in Loktak Lake, along the Indian border with Myanmar/Burma.
Manipuri separatist insurgents? I’ll get to that.
When it comes to the technology aspects of this (to me) very weird story, I was aware that many military outfits use hovercraft now, but I was pretty unprepared for how bizarre the damn things look. The U.S. Navy uses air-cushion landing craft, aka hovercraft, which can do some funky stuff to horrified people in bikinis. Sometimes when a USN hovercraft hits a public beach, the results are a little less catastrophic.
The Indian Coast Guard, on the other hand, uses Griffon Hovercraft, specifically Griffon’s 8000TD model, which is UK-built. (Griffon, incidentally, also makes “hovering cricket-pitch covers for Lord’s Cricket Ground.) Since Griffon now also makes hovercraft in the United States, I speculate that the 8000TD is the model the Manipur authorities are using. These 70-foot puppies have two crew and carry up to 68 personnel and more than 20,000 pounds of payload.
The advantages of hovercraft in a military context, of course, is that they zip right from water to land. I don’t suppose you remember all that theorizin’ I did about the future of warfare in the 21st century, and how it’s gonna all be about low-level conflicts, not them big-ass strategic or nuclear ones, and how, like, the manufacturers that are gonna run the market and in one sense determine the timber of future conflicts are gonna be the ones, like Brazil’s Embraer, that excel at making thingies used for counter-insurgency and smuggling interdiction and, you know, like, fighting zombies and stuff? Yeah, neither do I.
By the way, if you’re thinking of maybe picking up your dawgs in Bratislava and road-tripping to Zagreb for Spring Break, it’s good to know that in addition to being able to kick up a wicked dust cloud all over Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian on the beach at Cannes, the 8000TD, Griffon assures me, is almost certainly immune to land mines:
“The Royal Navy proved that, should a mine inadvertently be set off beneath a hovercraft, the air cushion will absorb the shock wave, there will be no injures to the crew, and the craft will travel back to its base under its own power.”
Um…right. Tell you what, if I’m ever conscripted into the Royal Navy, I’ll respectfully request that someone else test that theory.
Indian Navy hovercraft can be glimpsed, briefly, in this truly mind-bending video that made me either want to shout “Boo-yah!!!” or join a convent. If you’re not careful, watching this thing will suck you into a YouTube Black Hole featuring an unending parade of testosterone-pumped videos of excessively-endowed military fervor. Help!!!
Anyway, now that you’ve gotten the subcontinental Wizards treatment, back to Manipur:
According to security officials, underground rebels often put up in huts built on floating phumdis (thick bio-mass) inside the lake…Stating that floating huts inside the lake are often used by militants as hideouts, the chief minister said all those would be evicted soon. If necessary, the government will procure more hovercraft to restrict movement of militants inside the lake. Highlighting the need to develop the lake as an attractive tourist spot, the chief minister appealed to the people to extend their cooperation towards this endeavour. At present, the lake is being guarded by the Loktak Protection Force (LPF) which has three new stations around the lake, including Toubul village.
In specific counter-insurgency operations launched at Loktak and the adjoining Keibul Lamjao National Park, security forces have gunned down many underground rebels. In April, 2009, security forces conducted “Operation Summer Storm” at the only floating national park in the world and killed at least 12 rebels besides busting five of their camps.
Before procuring the hovercraft, the government had even planned to issue identity cards to fishermen living around the lake as an alternative measure to flush out militants.On Saturday, the Union home secretary inspected infrastructure development of hovercraft stations. Manipur DGP Y Joykumar Singh said the state police is the only force using hovercraft to counter insurgency in the country.
In case you care, here’s the brief background of the Manipur insurgency: The state of Manipur, in north-eastern India, rests mostly within the bordering nation of Myanmar, but avoids being an exclave through a 13-mile-wide connection with India called “The Chicken’s Neck.” Since the early 1980s, Manipur has been the site of an ongoing rebellion led by Manipuri separatists. These groups cite the facts that Manipur was an independent kingdom for 2,000 years before being incorporated into British India, and that on the departure of the British in 1947 Manipur regained its independent for two years before being reincorporated into newly-independent India. The low-intensity conflict has “only” killed about 8,000 people since it began, but a BBC article from 2007 observes that it has a large impact within the region, and has been ignored by the world:
Study any newspaper in Manipur, and it makes for grim reading. The are constant stories of brutality, bombings and murder. Yet this long-running conflict is rarely reported in the Western media. That is in part due to restrictions by the Indian Government on visiting the state.
…There are many ordinary Manipuris who are growing tired of the rebels’ influence. Several insurgent groups increasingly issue diktats and rulings on moral and social behaviour, enforced with the threat of violence.
Bollywood films are no longer screened in the state because of their allegedly “corrupting Indian influence”. Schoolgirls must wear the traditional Manipuri sarong to school.
The bloodshed is made worse by bitter rivalry between certain rebel groups, many of whom represent diverse ethnic groups or political outlooks.
Extortion is also rampant in Manipur. Most professions are forced to pay the rebels regular sums of money that are locally called ‘tax’.
In recent months, chemist shops across Manipur closed down en masse after a particularly high financial demand from rebels could not be met. Their desperate actions endangered the lives of many patients reliant on medicine. Days later, they were forced to re-open at gunpoint by the police.
In the state capital of Imphal, it is impossible to miss the presence of the Indian army. On almost every corner, I notice armed soldiers on patrol, military checkpoints and armoured vehicles.
They are there to counter the threat of rebel attack.
Yet many Manipuris claim that the army is making matters worse.