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Are Maoists using religious festivals to expand their support base?
Santa turned up in a different shade of red in the jungles of Jharkhand this year. This Christmas, CPI (Maoist) cadres landed up in villages bearing gifts like blankets and school textbooks which they distributed among villagers.
This was quite unusual since the ultras are normally seen with guns slung on their shoulders, threatening and sometimes killing villagers who do not bow to their wishes. But on Christmas day, they mingled with the people and participated in the festivities.
"This time the Maoist cadres who live in the villages and nearby forests brought meat for the Christmas feast in the village. They, however, disappeared into the forest soon after the feast, " says a villager in the Chainpur block of Gumla district, where there is a considerable population of tribal Christians.
Christians account for about two per cent of the state's population and though they are scattered in almost all the districts of the state, a concentration of tribal Christians can be found in the districts of Khunti, Simdega, Gumla and Ranchi. Villagers, especially the youth who have joined the outfit leaving their homes and villages are, not surprisingly, keen to celebrate Christmas. And though the CPI (Maoist) outfit ideologically does not believe in religion, it has not imposed a blanket ban on the cadres going home for any festival, be it Durga Puja, Chhat or Christmas. "There is a carte blanche from the Maoist leadership for the cadres to celebrate the various festivals either with their families or individually if they so wish, " says IG, special branch, S N Pradhan.
However, due to recently-intensified police action and anti-Maoist operations in the districts, the cadres deliberately avoid going to their native villages fearing arrest. "Normally the cadres of the Jharkhand regional committee celebrate Christmas by themselves, only coming out to offer prayers in churches, " Pradhan adds. They leave their guns with the non-Christian cadres from the platoon who wait outside.
Notwithstanding the gesture of the Maoists, most people do not view this as an act of magnanimity. "It is not that the Maoists show a friendly face to the villagers without reason, " says former Congress MLA of Simdega, Niyel Tirkey. He argues that the rebels cannot afford to antagonise the villagers with whose support they survive in the villages.
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