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'Red' spread

Brewprint of a revolution

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The deprived and disaffected in several parts of the Northeast, especially Assam's tea gardens, are being targeted by Maoists eager to expand into this strategic part of the country.

The Assam Police finds itself unable to penetrate the Chakravyuh. Only, this Chakravyuh is not the impregnable battlefield formation deployed by the Kaurava army in the Mahabharata, but the 2012 Bollywood political thriller by Prakash Jha. Maoist rebels, who had heartily endorsed the film last year, are now using this movie to indoctrinate tea garden workers in Assam and establish a strong base in this northeastern state, say police officers and experts.

"We have recovered CDs and DVDs of this film from some 'overground' Maoist sympathisers. We also have information that the movie is being screened in the tea gardens, especially in Upper Assam and the Barak Valley. But there's nothing much we can do since the movie had been cleared by the Censor Board. There's nothing illegal in screening or distributing CDs of the movie, " a senior officer in the Assam Police's intelligence branch told TOI-Crest.

Chakravyuh shines a light on the stark living conditions of a group of adivasis who are brutally displaced in the name of development, their land and forests and resources snatched away by the government to allow big business houses to exploit these resources without any benefits accruing to the adivasis, the original owners of these resources. The resultant deprivation among these tribals soon gives rise to anger and the Maoist who believes the only way to counter this gross injustice is with a gun is born. "The tea garden labourers in Assam are mostly adivasis who also face poverty and deprivation. They're thus connecting instinctively with the marginalised tribals depicted in the film. This is a very clever ploy by the Maoists to win over the tea garden labourers to their cause, " the police officer points out.

FERTILE GROUND

The adivasi tea garden labourers of Assam have their own militant outfit - the All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA) that was formed in 2006. The Maoists are learnt to have established strategic linkages with this fledgling AANLA and also trained a few of its cadres at Maoists bases in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The AANLA also has links with the United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa), the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah faction) and the Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA).

Assam and the Northeast have been the focus of Maoist groups for a while now. Maoist leader Kishenji famously visited Assam and Manipur in 2005. According to Maoist ideologues the abject poverty and deprivation faced by large segments of the people in the Northeast, coupled with their sense of alienation from the Indian state, are just the right factors for the 'red' spread in this sensitive region. The Maoists entered into a strategic tie-up with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of Manipur in October 2008 for mutual help in procuring arms and ammunition, 'safe' bases and training. The ultras also have an arms deal in place with the NSCN (I-M ). In fact, Anthony Shimray, its leader Muivah's nephew and the 'foreign minister' of the insurgent outfit, was arrested at Patna railway station by sleuths of the National Investigating Agency (NIA) in October 2010. The Bangkok-based Shimray's primary responsibility was to procure arms and ammunition from China for insurgent groups in India, including the Maoists. Shimray confessed to the NIA that he had procured rocket launchers, rifles and communication equipment for the Maoists from China. Plans were afoot to procure Chinese surface-to-air missiles for the reds when Shimray was arrested. Soonafter his arrest, sophisticated Chinese communication equipment was recovered from Maoist leader Sandeep Chongdar, alias Kanchan, who was arrested from Kolkata.

It makes eminent sense for the Maoists to set up bases in the Northeast. Sustained anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand have put them largely on the defensive in many parts of these states. Which is largely why northeast India, with its deep forest cover, inaccessibility and proximity to Myanmar, China, Bhutan and Bangladesh now provides for an attractive hideout. It is also easy to procure arms and ammunition through the porous international borders, especially India's boundaries with Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Also, with many militant groups in the region inking ceasefire pacts with the government, the Maoists feel that the vacuum left by these groups can be easily filled by them. "Though many militant groups in the Northeast have given up arms or are in the process of doing so, the basic causes that led to their rise still exist and the Maoists know that very well. Ceasefire agreements, after all, don't end or even address the basic issues of poverty and deprivation. This is exactly what the Maoists plan to cash in on by taking up the causes of the poor and marginalised, " said Bhaskarjyoti Lahkar, a security analyst.

PEOPLE'S WAR? NOT YET

The eastern bureau of the CPI (Maoist) has been tasked with the responsibility of establishing bases in the Northeast. However, it is still early days for the Maoists, both in Assam and the rest of the region. According to police assessments, the total strength of the Maoists in Assam would not be more than 300. Besides, a number of them, including CPI (Maoist) central committee members Anukul Chandra Naskar alias Paresh and Aklanta Rabha alias Mahesh, have been arrested. Relentless anti-Maoist operations have also been launched in the Upper Assam districts, a potential Maoist hotbed. And the Assam government has even requested New Delhi to declare as many as nine of the state's 27 districts as Maoist-affected.

Still, one cause for alarm, say experts, is militants from outfits like Ulfa joining the Maoist fold. A former Ulfa regional commander, Aditya Bora, is said to have now become a key Maoist functionary in Assam. He was arrested from the Orissa-Jharkhand border while on his way to attend a meeting with senior Maoist leaders two years back, but secured bail and disappeared. Exactly a year ago, Bora's close associate Pallabh Borbora (again a former Ulfa militant) was arrested from Assam's Golaghat district. Borbora revealed that Bora has already recruited 150 youngsters from the tea gardens of Upper Assam and facilitated their training in the forests of adjoining Arunachal Pradesh. These new recruits are being given a monthly stipend of Rs 2, 500 - a princely sum for youths from poverty-stricken families.

Governments across the region with help from the Centre claim to have strengthened the security grid to tackle this threat. "There is already a huge presence of police, paramilitary and Army units well-trained in counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast. Troop deployment along the Indo-Myanmar and Indo-Bangladesh borders has also been improved to check the flow of arms and militants. The Maoist plan to spread its network to the Northeast will not succeed, " states a senior official in the home ministry's Northeast desk.

But as our experience in other Maoist-affected states show, tackling this menace with brute force is never enough. The Northeast, too, with its long history of insurgency and more than fair share of poor and marginalised communities, is likely to prove fertile ground for India's red menace to try and embed itself. Unless, as experts say, these root causes are addressed.

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