Dialogue April-June 2008 , Volume 9 No. 4
Maoist Movement: Current Trends and State Response
The Communist Party of India (Maoist), Maoists in short, is the largest and most lethal Naxalite outfit in India. The estimated underground cadre strength of the outfit is 15,000 men and women. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has described, more than once, that they pose the single largest challenge to India’s internal security.
Terrorist outfits operating in the States of Jammu and Kashmir and in the North-East of India have political ambitions limited to the geographical area of their operations, i.e. a single State. On the other hand, the Maoists have a pan-India presence and have a pan-India objective –– of capturing political power through waging an armed revolution / protracted people’s war, on the lines propounded by Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader.
This paper would seek to make an analytical presentation of the current trends in the Maoist movement in India and make a preliminary assessment of state response to the challenge being posed by the rebels.
In 2004, the CPI (Maoist) held a Congress to commemorate its founding following the amalgamation of the Maoist Communist Centre of India and the Communist Party of India –– Marxist-Leninist (People’s War). At that Congress a provisional Central Committee –– the apex and all-powerful body of the rebels –– was elected and a programme of action adopted. The maiden Congress of the outfit following the merger was held in January 2007 in the Bheembandh reserve forest in Mungher district of Bihar. This Congress is known as the Unity Congress, as also the 9th Congress. At this Congress several decisions were made, many ‘Resolutions’ were adopted, and a full-fledged Central Committee was elected. Largely, it is on the basis of these decisions and resolutions that the rebels have been conducting their activities since then. Some of the ‘actions’/activities of the outfit are, in fact, a continuation of the trends that became visible in the past three to four years. These trends are analysed in the succeeding passages.
During the closing days of 2007, two imprisoned rebels in the Dantewada district jail, in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, organised fellow inmates, overpowered the guards, and fled the jail. Practically, all prisoners escaped in this daring jailbreak incident. All along, the Maoist position has been that their arrested comrades should be treated as ‘political prisoners’. In fact, one of the resolutions passed at the 2007 Unity Congress was on political prisoners. In that resolution, the rebels had warned, loud and clear, that they would attack jails and set free their comrades. The difference, however, in the Dantewada jailbreak incident was that the Maoists did not launch an attack on the jail, but the entire operation was planned and executed from within. Thus, as Prakash Singh, former Director General of the Border Security Force (BSF) and a renowned authority of the Naxalite-Maoist movement in India, told this author in an interview, “the Maoists have thrown an open challenge to the authority of the Indian state”.
In fact, way back in November 2005, following Operation Jehanabad, in Bihar, the rebels said in a press release that they would execute similar attacks and set free jailed Maoist prisoners. The press release was issued on November 14, 2005, a day after the Maoists laid seize to the district headquarters town of Jehanabad, and during which the Jehanabad Central Jail was the ‘principal target’. The Central Committee of the CPI (Maoist) held in that press release: “The Jehanabad operation is an answer to [the] brutal campaign unleashed by the Central and state governments led by the recently set-up Joint Task Force. It is a turning point in the ongoing people’s war in the country… No wonder, the people were overjoyed by the Operation Jail-break by the Maoists that saw at least 431 prisoners escape from the dark dungeons of the Jehanabad jail.”
It further warned: “The CPI (Maoist) once again pledges that the heroic PLGA guerrillas under the CMC will secure the release of the hundreds of comrades languishing in various jails such as the Bewoor jail of Patna, Gaya, Buxar, Bhagalpur, Muzafarpur, Hazaribagh, Ranchi, Betia and Bagia jails of Bihar and Jharkhand; the scores of comrades imprisoned by the fascist YSR government in AP, Jayalalitha government in Tamil Nadu, Dharam Singh’s government in Karnataka; the comrades lodged in Banpada, Sambhalpr, Koraput, Jeypore, Raigada, Koraput jails in Orissa; Jagdalpur, Dantewara, Kanker, Ambikapur in Chhathisgarh; Gadchiroli, Chandrapur, Gondia, Nagpur in Maharashtra; Balaghat in MP, and in various prisons all over the country, just as they had freed the prisoners in Jehanabad.” Thus, practically, every jail in the country –– Central Prison, District Jail and Sub-Jail –– is a potential Maoist target. Clearly, the rebels have unambiguously stated that they would successfully exploit just one moment of complacency on the part of the authorities in any of those jails. Only, the Indian state did not take this warning seriously enough!
Thus, in the Dantewada incident, on December 16, 2007, 299 persons, including 110 Maoist prisoners, escaped under the leadership of Sujit Kumar. Thereafter, the rebels issued a press release in which the Central Committee of the CPI (Maoist) praised the incident as “heroic”, and “vowed to help prisoners in other jails to escape as they were unjustly held captive.”
The effect of the Dantewada jailbreak was seen immediately thereafter. The very next day, Maoist inmates in the high security Beur Jail in Patna, Bihar, launched protests and shouted slogans against the authorities over one of their comrades committing suicide inside the jail. Soon, they captured a large portion of the jail. The jail guards quickly retreated to safety and contingents of the Bihar Military Police had to be rushed-in to restore order.
Similarly, according to a media report of December 19, 2007, Maoist prisoners sat in strike across jails in Bihar –– in Jehanabad, Gaya and Bhagalpur protesting against the suicide death in the Beur Jail. A few days later, common prisoners –– not Maoists –– in the Jalandhar Jail in Punjab tried to overpower the guards and flee. Force had to be applied to bring the situation to normal.
Town and cities in different parts of the country are likely to witness greater Maoist activity in the months and years ahead. Until now, towns and cities were being used for logistics support, and as safe havens. Apparently, the rebels have drafted an “Urban Perspective Plan”. Reportedly, the 2007 Unity Congress debated at length on the issue of launching the ‘urban movement’. It is believed that Sumanand alias Somen, the West Benagl State Committee Secretary, and four other senior Central Committee members were put together as the Urban Sub Committee members and tasked by the Central Committee with making recommendations on launching and spearheading the urban movement.
In any case, the Maoists have been operating in towns and cities since a number of decades, but were using them as safe havens. Several times senior Maoist leaders were taken captive from towns and cities. In 2007, prominent among those arrested included Malla Raji Reddy alias Sattenna in Angamaly town, Ernakulam district, Kerala. Misir Besra alias Sunirmal, a member of the Polit Bureau and Central Military Commission of rebels, was arrested in Jharkhand. In February 2008, Sumanand alias Somen, the West Bengal State Committee Secretary, was arrested in Kolkatta.
At the same time, the logistics needs of the rebels were being catered to in towns and cities because of the availbility of infrastructure there and because the huge quantities of requirement could be bought in towns and cities. Thus, in 2007, the police in Bhopal, detected a R&D and arms making unit in the city and arrested middle-rung Maoist leaders. Another arms-making unit was unearthed a few days later in Rourkela, Orissa. A year earlier, in September 2006, police in Andhra Pradesh seized huge quantity of empty rocket shells and rocket launchers in two separate raids. The probe into the seizures revealed that they were manufactured at seven different units in Ambattur industrial estate in a suburb of Chennai. They were subsequently transported to different locations in the country. Investigations lead the police to five States: Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa.
It is clear that the rebels have plans to launch the urban movement in a big way. Besides, they would also seek to gain a presence in industrial centres. The detection and arrest of some Maoist activists in Surat, Kurukshetra, Jhind and Sonepat are pointers towards this end. In industrial towns they hope to infiltrate the trade unions and gain control over them. In all towns and cities, the unemployed youth and students are potential targets for Maoist recruitment.
According to classical understanding, a strong Party, strong Army and United Front are the ‘three magical weapons’ of a Communist party.
The United Front would help the rebels to build linkages with a cross section of the society, work with them to expose the acts of omission and commission by the state, and, thus, undermine it.
The nature of United Front activities would be political. This perfectly fits into the Maoist scheme of things, because for them both political and military activities are equally important, and there is a symbiotic relationship between the two. To explain, supporters and sympathisers who participate in the United Front activity are potential recruits for the rebel underground. On the other hand, successes on the military plane would draw greater number of people on to the side of the Maoists, because the general public are essentially fence sitters and would jump-on to the winning side.
As stated earlier, at the January 2007 Unity Congress, the rebels passed a number of resolutions on a variety of issues. These Resolutions indicate the kind of United Front activity that the Maoists have undertaken/would undertake. Among the Resolutions adopted at the Unity Congress included those on Dalits, Special Economic Zones and farmers’ suicides, Thus, one would notice that the Central Committee of the CPI (Maoist) issued a press release, subsequently, condemning in strong words the massacre of Dalits in Khairlanji, Maharashtra, and was reportedly involved in organising the agitators in the Nandigram, Singur and POSCO agitations against land alienation.
Some of the political activities of the rebels are spearheaded by an organisation known as the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF). In other words, the RDF is a Maoist front that was founded by merging the All India People’s Revolutionary Front –– a front of the erstwhile PW –– and the Struggle Forum for of People’s Resistance (SFPR) –– an affiliate of the erstwhile MCCI. The RDF has been proscribed by the Union Government under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, along with the CPI (Maoist). However, the RDF continues to operate in the country. It went on to play a pivotal role in founding the People’s Democratic Front of India (PDFI) –– a conglomerate of a number of civil society groups. Its key leaders include eminent public persons such as Medha Patkar and BD Sharma. The pro-Maoist leaders of the PDFI include ideologue Vara Vara Rao and activists such as Darshan Pal and Raj Kishore of the RDF. The PDFI and its constituents had through the year 2007 hosted a number of programmes in their respective regions of operation, including in the national capital Delhi. There, commemorating the 1857 First War of Independence, on May 12, 2007, the PDFI hosted a conference to debate on the ‘need to initiate third wave of independence struggle’.
Infrastructure Destruction & Economic Disruption
Indeed, a cause for serious concern is the Maoist tactics of disrupting life and economic activity through destroying infrastructure, or through issuing shut down (bandh) calls. At the time of going to print, the rebels have just about done that in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. Therefore finer details of the damage/loss are yet to come in. However preliminary information reveals the following:
· The Maoists issued a call for a day-long strike, on March 31, 2008, in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, to protest the killing of 17 comrades on March 18, 2008, in Bijapur district, in a joint operation involving the police of Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. The call brought iron ore mining in the Bailadila mines in Dantewada district to a grinding halt and had badly hit transport services as no trains plied on the Jagdalpur-Kirandul route during the strike. Even in the Kirandul area, dozens of mining workers did not turn up for work fearing the rebels.
· Besides, again in Chhattisgarh, on March 30, 2008, the rebels blew up six 133 KV high tension towers plunging 150 villages into darkness. According to the Bijapur district Superintendent of Police, the entire Usoor block and parts of Bhoopalapatnam block were experiencing a ‘blackout’. A day later, on March 31, in a similar act of destruction, the rebels blew up eight high tension towers in Narayanpur district, Chhattisgarh, in the Bastar region, plunging 100 villages into darkness.
These acts of destruction and disruption should be seen as a continuum of a tactics that became more visible lately, while these were, earlier, either isolated or limited to a particular pocket. In 2006 and again in 2007, the Maoists issued calls for a 48-hour total shut down in various States. The rebel circulars issued on both the occasions called upon cadres to impose an “economic blockade”. While the economic blockade in 2006 was enforced in their strongholds in six States; in 2007 it was enforced in their bastions in five States on June 26 and 27, 2007, –– in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. The cost of the destruction apart, businesses suffered a huge loss. In Jharkhand alone the shut down resulted in a loss of an estimated over Rs 140 cr1.
In fact, this author’s databases on the Maoist movement in India reveal that there were a total of 37 attacks on infrastructure in 2007 ––
including destruction of telecom towers, cellular telephone towers, electric poles, high tension towers, goods wagons of railways, burning
of railway stations and blasting of railway tracks, etc. The most
spectacular of the infrastructure attacks in 2007 has been the blasting of three high tension (HT) towers in Narayanpur district, Chhattisgarh, on May 31. While the state-owned National Mineral Development Corporation suffered a loss of Rs 160 cr as a result of mining activity coming to a grinding halt, the privately owned Essar Steel incurred a loss of Rs 25 cr. The Railways, too, suffered a loss –– approximately Rs 20 cr as it could not carry freight on the Kirandaul-Visakhapatnam line. In what came to be known popularly as Bastar Blackout, in all it is estimated that the destruction and blackout caused a total loss of a whooping Rs 2000 crore2! By engineering a black out the rebels have demonstrated their destructive capacities of being able to nearly paralyse life, and hit at the economy. Thus, they sought to convey the message that they can hold a few districts to ransom, at will, for nearly a fortnight3.
At the Unity Congress, held in January 2007, the rebels decided to launch a Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign (TCOC). In the wake of ebb in the movement, during a TCOC the rebels seek to unleash violence on an unprecedented scale; in short, the objective is to bleed the state white. Also, there is no fixed time-frame for a TCOC. Through the TCOC the Maoists hope to boost the morale of cadres and undermine the morale of the state, and its security forces (SF). Its ongoing phase began with the killing of Sunil Mahato, Member of Parliament belonging to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha on March 4, 2007 in Kishanpur village, near Ghatsila, Jamshedpur district, Jharkhand. This was followed by numerous killings of many people and local-level political activists and leaders after branding them ‘police informants’.
The most spectacular offensive as part of the TCOC was the failed attempt on the life of N Janardhan Reddy, former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, on September 7, 2007. Reddy became a rebel target because he ordered a ruthless crack-down when he was Chief Minister. Another high profile killing was that of Anup Marandi, son of Babulal Marandi, former Chief Minister of Jharkhand, on October 26, 2007. Reportedly, at least 15 more persons were also killed, while four others were seriously injured, in the incident.
On the other hand Maoists had also killed security force (SF) personnel. One of the most gruesome of these killings included the massacre of 56 policemen and special police officers (SPOs) in Rani Bodli, Chhattisgarh, on March 15, 2007.
Fatalities in Maoist Violence, 2005-2007
2005 2006 2007
AP 208 47 90
Bihar 96 45 69
Chhattisgarh 168 388 435
Jharkhand 119 124 170
MP 3 1 2
Maharashtra 53 42 30
Orissa 14 9 24
Uttar Pradesh 1 5 4
West Bengal 7 17 6
Kerala 0 0 0
Karnataka 8 0 7
Source: Adapted from the Reply of the Union Home Minister to “Lok
Sabha Starred Question No. 2”, answered on February26, 2008..
Note: Data till October 31, 2007. AP = Andhra Pradesh; MP = Madhya Pradesh.
In 2007, as the above table illustrates, there have been a total of 837 fatalities in Maoist related violence. Chhattisgarh recorded the highest number of deaths, followed by Jharkhand. In fact, these two Sates together accounted for 71 per cent of the total deaths across the country. Lately, on December 19, 2007, there has also been an incident in Tamil Nadu’s Theni district, bordering Kerala, in which five Maoist rebels were arrested after an encounter. According to their confession, reportedly, they were making attempts to establish training camps at Varusanadu and Muruganmalai in the district, as well as find recruits.
Kerala might have not recorded any violent incidents, but it does not mean that the Maoists have no presence or influence there. In fact, Malla Raji Reddy, Central Committee and Polit Bureau member of the CPI (Maoist) and the Secretary of the South West Regional Bureau was arrested from Kerala, on December 17, 2007.
Simultaneous Attacks involving People’s Militia
A continuing trend that was first unveiled in February 2004 is large-scale attacks involving the participation of members of the people’s militia. These are synchronised attacks on multiple targets in a given town. Since then, the rebels have staged a few attacks involving the participation of hardened underground cadres and several hundred members of the people’s militia – the base force, which is also the largest component of the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA). Eventually, as the strength of the base force increases with a larger number of people joining in it, the Maoists hope to convert it into the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Presently, this seems to be the ‘immediate task’ of the Maoist party.
In 2007, there has been only one large-scale attack on multiple targets within a given town. On March 31, a few hundred militia members and an unspecified number of hardened guerrillas of the CPI-Maoist staged an attack in Riga block, Sitamarhi district, Bihar. They raided the local police station, block headquarters and two branches of banks. During the attack, a security force personnel was killed and a bank employee injured. On the other hand there have been numerous attacks –– at least 37 –– in different States involving the participation of the people’s militia.
Besides, on February 15, 2008, a total of 600 attackers, including guerrillas and members of the people’s militia, staged a daring raid, believed to be code-named Operation 22, in Nayagarh, a district headquarters town in Orissa. They had looted 200,000 rounds of ammunition and 1,100 weapons –– including pistols, SLRs, AK series rifles, INSAS rifles and LMGs –– and fled away in a bus and a few trucks. The town was seized for approximately five hours. Those familiar with the Maoist method of organising its armed fighters and weapons think the rebels would be easily able to raise three battalions, given the number of weapons looted. Also, during the raid, the rebels snapped electric and telephone lines, blocked all approach roads, attacked the district headquarters complex and bottled-up both the District Collector and Superintendent of Police at their respective residences.
While these are the more important of the trends in the Maoist movement in India in the past years, state response –– either of the Union government or of the various affected States –– has been rather disappointing. It is marked by confusion, vacillation, lack of consistency, and faulty planning. In some States it is marked by utter inaction while there have also been instances of the affected States working at cross purposes.
Besides, even after it has been recognized within the Union Ministry of Home Affairs that state response has tended to lay excessive
emphasis on militarily crushing the Maoists, which would prove to be counter-productive in the long run, rather than initiating rapid socio-economic development measures, sadly, no corrective steps have been taken. Thus, even as the Maoists have suffered severe reverses in Andhra Pradesh, and have received a set back in some other areas, their presence and influence at the pan-India level has continuously been expanding.
Therefore, if urgent steps are not initiated in a comprehensive manner to address the challenge thrown-up by the Maoists, it is likely that the consequences could be grave. Necessarily, state response has to be people centric, and area specific. Thus, state response in Narayanpur district of Chhattisgarh would have to be quite different from state response in East Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh. Thus, in the wake of the trajectory of the Naxalite movement in the country, its present country-wide presence, including in towns and cities, manifold rise in lethal capacities, objectives, ideological underpinnings and socio-economic bases, it would be immature to hope that the Maoists would simply wither away, or their activities could, at least, be contained to a considerable degree, within the next few years. There is little time to lose. Quickly, the government should evolve a coherent, well thought-out, comprehensive and integrated action plan to deal with the Maoist movement squarely, which the Prime Minister has described more than once as the single largest challenge to the country’s internal security.
1 Computed from a news report circulated by IANS. The total loss was an estimated Rs 144.5 cr. See http://w.indianmuslims.info/news/2007/jun/27/jharkhand_economy_hit_maoist_blockade.html.
3 See PV Ramana, “The growing Maoist menace”, Deccan Herald, Bangalore, June 25, 2007, and “Maoists ’ designs: Target infrastructure, paralyse economy”,
The Tribune, Chandigarh, July 2, 2007.
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