By Ajit Kumar Singh
Maoist ambitions in India now extend to the farthest reaches of the country, and this is not just a fantasy or an aspiration, but a strategy, a projection, a plan and a programme under implementation. – “What Maoists Want”, February 12, 2007
At a time when the conflict profile in the North East (NE) is improving gradually, with fatalities recording steep declines, and the insurgent groups being progressively marginalised, the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) has made determined moves to fill the void, raising grave concerns within the security establishments. If recent reports are any indicator, the Maoists, who have, for long, been forging connections with the insurgents in this troubled region, have now created strong presence, and are in the process of further consolidating their base.
Indeed, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) recently asked the Police and Security Forces (SFs) across the NE to remain vigilant, as the entire region, of late, has been facing a public upsurge on different issues, and the Maoists are known to capitalize on mass movements to establish their roots. The Maoists are known to have specifically targeted victims of ethnic riots, floods and erosion, besides alienated sections in tribal communities, for recruitment and to expand their ‘ideological support bases’. In one such development, largely peaceful Arunachal Pradesh has emerged as a hot bed of Maoists activity, with people in the Dibang Valley region of the State protesting against the 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project at New Anaya.
Reports indicate that the Eastern Region Bureau of the CPI-Maoist, under Koteswara Rao alias Kishenji, national chief of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) and CPI-Maoist politburo member, has been entrusted with the task of establishing a foothold in the NE. Trends indicate that the rebels are engaged in a bid to set up a corridor through North Bengal, particularly Siliguri, linking up their primary ‘Red Corridor’ strongholds with the Northeast, to access the predominant route for weapons’ smuggling into the country. With the Maoists regaining some of their lost footholds in the Jungalmahal area of West Bengal after the elevation of Mamta Banerjee to Chief Ministership in May 2011, it has become easier for them to penetrate deeper into the NE.
Further, a February 20, 2011, report had indicated that the Maoists, in addition to their arrangements with some insurgent formations in the NE, had also taken a decision to set up their own units in the region, particularly in Assam. Some ‘modules’ of the Maoist groups are already believed to have started work. A media report citing an unidentified source noted,
There are specific intelligence reports indicating that youths from Assam are veering towards the Naxal philosophy. We have been exchanging information with all intelligence agencies and it seems that Maoists are trying to establish their base in Assam.
The arrests of the President of the Assam Students’ Youth Organization (ASYO), Aditya Bora; general secretary of Assam Chah Janajati Suraksha Samiti (ACJSS), Tingrai Orang and another NE militant at a Maoist camp in the Saranda Forest bordering Odisha and Jharkhand, on February 12, 2011, had exposed the fact that a Maoists Upper Assam Leading Committee (UALC) was already active in Assam. The UALC, floated by the CPI-Maoist, has received INR 300,000 in 2011 and INR 500,000 in 2010 from the Maoists towards “organisational expenses”.
Meanwhile, media reports indicate that at least 18 Maoists have been arrested in Assam’s Tinsukia and Sivsagar Districts just during September-October 2011. An unnamed senior Police officer in Tinsukia District stated, “What is worrying is that most of these arrested persons are ethnic Assamese youths. A few of them have received training in Jharkhand and Manipur.” Earlier, on January 29, 2011, Police had arrested six Brihat Nadibandh Pratirudh Mancha (Mega Dam Protest Forum, BNPM) activists, including two women, from various locations in Dhemaji District of Assam. All six admitted to their Maoist links.
Reports also indicate Maoists efforts to extend their base into the Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Dhubri, Kamrup, Sonitpur and Darrang Districts of Assam. According to the disclosures by Tarjan Majhi, the Sonitpur District ‘commander’ of the Adivasi People’s Army (APA), who was arrested along with five others on November 3, 2010, at Bhairabguri under Dhekiajuli Police Station of Sonitpur District, a United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) ‘sergeant major’, Das, had provided arms training to APA cadre in the Majbat area of the Udalguri District and helped them establish contact with the Maoists.
The Maoists are known to have forged links with ULFA, APA, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA) in Assam. State Chief Minister (CM) Tarun Gogoi, on September 2, 2011, observed, “Maoists have infiltrated into the State. ULFA is helping them to grow. Some youths from the State took trainings in Maoist camps outside the State.” The CM disclosed that Maoists had two ‘over ground’ or cover organizations in Assam – ASYO and ACJSS. On February 24, 2011, Gogoi had stressed that several organisations in Assam had links with Maoist groups. He particularly mentioned two organisations – KMSS and AANLA, and asserted, “I am speaking on the basis of intelligence inputs and evidence. There are several organisations which have links with Maoists. I don’t want to name all. The KMSS and AANLA have links with the Maoists. Their members have gone to take training.” Significantly, way back on July 30, 2008, two ANLA cadres, Mikhail Bina and Raju Gaur, were arrested at Golaghat. They had confessed that a large number of the outfit’s cadres were being trained by the Maoists in Jharkhand.
The links with ULFA have a long history, and were once again admitted by CPI-Maoist leader Koteshwar Rao in a media interview published in January 2010:
We unconditionally support ULFA’s struggle for self-determination in Assam. We only want them to stop attacking the Indian proletariat. We will continue to engage with ULFA on this issue… ULFA cannot ignore the revolutionary struggle of Indians and our enormous goodwill for their struggle… They have to trust us… I sincerely want ULFA, the PLA and other such groups fighting for separate homelands or for self-determination to fight the exploitative Indian state alongside us.
The NDFB has also declared its support to the CPI-Maoist. NDFB ‘chairman’ D. R. Nabla, in a statement emailed to the media on November 16, 2009, noted, “I would like to greet and congratulate the Maoists who are fighting for their legitimate rights and also extend all help to them in their fight against the ruling cliques”. Notably, a June 21, 2011, report stated that militants of the anti-talks faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-ATF) had taken refuge in the northern areas of West Bengal.
Similarly, in Manipur the Maoists have already signed an agreement with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA signed three ‘joint resolutions’ with the CPI-Maoist to carry on their respective ‘struggles’, in a two day long meeting held at the ‘council headquarters’ of the PLA on October 21-22, 2008. The ‘resolutions’ were signed by Alok, ‘political bureau member’ of the CPI-Maoist, and S. Gunen, ‘secretary general’ of the PLA. The two sides declared that, “The so called Merger Agreement of Manipur with the Dominion of India was indeed illegal and unconstitutional.” These links once again came to the fore during the month-long Operation Monsoon in the Saranda Forest in the West Singhbhum District of Jharkhand, which started on July 31, 2011. Deputy Inspector General of Police (Kolhan Range) Naveen Kumar Singh disclosed, “We have recovered as many as eight boxes of papers during the operation and verification of some has confirmed the link between Maoists and RPF. The Manipur organisation is training rebels in the jungles of Jharkhand.” Inspector General (operations) R. K. Mallick confirmed that the literature seized during the raids have revealed that the Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF), the political wing of PLA, was supporting the training and technical upgrade of Maoists in Saranda. “It is possible that the guerrilla wing of PLA is imparting training, but the documents name RPF,” he clarified.
The Maoists also have close links with another Manipur-based outfit, the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK). Rajiv Kumar, chief of Kolkata Police’s Special Task Force (STF), stated, on December 5, 2010, “The Maoists are also in contact with other organisations in Manipur, but with PREPAK these links are not limited to ideological sympathies but have reached a practical level. Maoists started procuring arms and ammunition from PREPAK, which has agreed to send its men to train the new recruits of the CPI-Maoist. Dense forests in Orissa and Jharkhand have been selected for such training camps.” An STF source added, further, “The Maoists struck deals with PREPAK as they are short of arms and ammunition after their suppliers were caught by police. The rebel group has enough funds that they squeeze out of mining companies.” These revelations were made following the arrest of the Maoists’ Bengal chief, Sudip Chongdar alias Kanchan, on December 3, 2010.
Maoist links with the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), the oldest Meitei insurgent group in Manipur, were exposed much earlier. On November 24, 2009, the UNLF, at its 45th ‘raising day’ in Imphal, declared, “The UNLF believes that there is a common interest in the fight against the Indian state by the CPI-Maoist and the liberation struggles of Manipur and the (Northeastern) region. The UNLF shall actively pursue a policy of mutual help and support with the Indian revolution through the CPI-Maoist.” UNLF ‘chairman’, R. K. Meghen, during his interrogation, confessed that the UNLF had links with the Maoists, but that he had not met any Maoist leaders personally. Meghen, arrested on December 1, 2010, however, revealed that one of his cadres, ‘Major’ Yoiheba, “had contacted Indian Maoist leaders through front organisations in Nepal.” Earlier, in a June 18, 2010, letter written to the head of another Manipur outfit Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) Meghen had said, “As part of a revolutionary struggle for Kashmir and us (sic), it is necessary to help in strengthening the Indian Maoist structure. This concept seems to be very new to them. I sat with them many times.” In the letter, he also wrote about a series of meetings in 2009, where Kashmiri separatists and Maoists had assured him of cooperation and support. On April 24, 2010, the KYKL, in a statement, extended support to the CPI-Maoist and declared that, if like-minded people of the Northeast were united, they and the Maoists could extend support to one another.
The Maoists have also established links with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland- Isaac Muviah (NSCN-IM). On May 9, 2010, then Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai stated that the Union Government was aware that the CPI-Maoist had been in touch with NSCN-IM. He contended, further, that IM leader Thuingaleng Muivah had confirmed, “a few years ago, the CPI-Maoist had approached his outfit, apparently to help them with arms”. The meeting had taken place at the NSCN-IM’s camp in Hebron near Dimapur (on the Assam-Nagaland border). Reports also indicated that IM leaders attended a Maoist meeting in the Dandakaryana area in Chhattisgarh. It is also suspected that NSCN-IM might be training Maoist cadres.
Meanwhile, Arunachal Pradesh has emerged as the latest hotbed of Maoists activity in the NE. On August 17, 2011, SFs arrested four Maoists from the Mahadevpur area under the Namsai Circle of the Lohit District in the State. A .32 pistol, nine rounds of ammunition, two magazines and various documents were recovered from their possession. Two writing pads with Maoist and UALC letterheads were also recovered from them. Further, a September 28, 2011, report noted that the Arunachal Pradesh Police had found evidence of a Maoist presence in the State after the arrest of nine youth from different parts of Lohit District, in connection with a case of arms robbery. The arrested youth, who hailed from Sadiya in neighbouring Assam, confessed to be influenced by the Maoists. They claimed they had been entrusted with the task of mobilising locals against the construction of mega dams in the Dibang Valley. Nang Sati Mein, member of the State Legislative Assembly from Namsai in Lohit District, urged in the State Assembly that her constituency be declared a ‘disturbed area’ in view of the growing threat from the Maoists. She alleged a Maoist hand in the September 21, 2011, killing of a contractor in the Lohit District.
The Maoists have made no secret of their objective of extending their “people’s war throughout the country”, and plans to fill up the emerging vacuum in the NE have long been afoot. These efforts have gained greater momentum because of the Maoists search for a reliable source of weaponry, with the NE rebel groupings offering access to the smuggling routes through Myanmar and Bangladesh, and a new flood of Chinese small arms that appears to have been released into the region. An unnamed intelligence source, cited in a September 4, 2011, report thus noted, “ULFA’s Paresh Barua faction recently received a huge cache of arms from China and there were serious apprehensions in the intelligence and security establishments that the outfit may sell these weapons to the Maoist… as ULFA has struck an alliance and has assured them of a steady supply of arms and ammunition.”
If the transfer of weapons actually takes place, it would have serious repercussion on the fight against the Maoists elsewhere in the country.
Further, an official source cited in one media report, stated, “ISI and PLA are in touch and supplying Maoists with arms. They are supposedly using China as the alternative route.” These revelations were made by two top PLA leaders – N. Dilip Singh and Arun Kumar Singh Salam – who were arrested in New Delhi on October 1, 2011. Reports indicate that PLA is trying to forge a ‘Strong United Front’ along with CPI-Maoist and Kashmiri militants, backed by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and China.
The Maoist foray into the NE is fraught with grave security risks. While insurgent violence by local groupings is on a clear decline, bad governance, fractious tribal politics, and a poor developmental profile combine with the rudderless remnants of failing insurgencies, provide an ideologically focused group like the Maoists an extraordinary opportunity to harness the abiding grievances of the region to their wider disruptive venture.
Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management