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Understanding conflict management in India

Biswas previews new book at START Research Roundtable

Using the Indian State's responses to insurgency as an example, political scientist Bidisha Biswas outlined potential consequences a democratic country can face when responding to a rebellion.

"In a democracy, you have to strike the right balance between a policy of coercion and one of accommodation," Biswas said during her Research Roundtable at START headquarters in October.

"Democratic countries are expected to be more flexible and make things safe. This presents a number of challenges. Leaders are expected to look strong, but also show compassion."

Further complicating matters, democracies often have to address conflicts in ways that various constituencies will most approve of as opposed to ways that might address the problem most directly. During the Research Roundtable, Biswas previewed her new book, "Better to be Feared or Loved? Reputations and Conflict Management in India," which investigates India's experiences in confronting the insurgencies in Punjab, Kashmir and the continuing Left-Wing Extremist Movement.

Biswas said the Left-Wing Extremist Movement, the Maoist Insurgency - "the conflict that won't go away" - could perhaps be the gravest internal security challenge faced by India due to its widespread impact (about 196 districts in 20 states) and the considerable damage it has caused the Indian State.

Biswas said the conflict is playing out in India's heartland as Maoists seek to overthrow the current regime and establish a communist state in India. Because it is not an ethnic, religious or secessionist movement, the government has actually experienced additional challenges in addressing the conflict, according to Biswas.

After evaluating some of the strategies the Indian government has used to address the insurgency, Biswas noted that chronic poverty in the region remains and the conflict poses a massive credibility gap for the Indian State as it highlights some fundamental, structural problems in Indian society that helps to fuel the insurgency. Biswas is an associate professor of political science at Western Washington University and serves as a Franklin Fellow at the U.S. Department of State.

She researches civil conflict, terrorism, counterterrorism policies, border security and diaspora radicalization in South and Southeast Asia. She earned START's 2009-2010 Curriculum Development Award and held a post-doctoral fellowship at START from 2006-2008. Biswas is working on a project with fellow researchers, Clark McCauley and Christian Leuprecht, on measuring political radicalization in the Lebanese Muslim diaspora's support for terrorism.