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Eastern Front

Chinese whispers in North East

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COMRADES IN ARMS? The Assambased Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity has long been suspected of having ties with the CPI (Maoist)

Many states in India's easternmost periphery have, for decades now, been wracked by an insurgency that's primarily the result of neglect, lack of governance, poverty and a sense of alienation from 'mainstream' India. But while insurgency in the Northeast has, of late, been brought down to 'manageable' levels, a far greater danger is knocking on the door of this strategically important region. The very factors that fuelled insurgency are now being leveraged by Maoists to extend their area of operation to the Northeast. Worse, say the intelligence and security establishments, this has the tacit blessing, if not proactive encouragement, of China.

The Maoist outreach to the Northeast and lurking suspicion of the China hand has, in recent times, been an increasing source of worry for the states. With Takam Sanjay, one of the two Lok Sabha MPs from Arunachal Pradesh, issuing a statement earlier this week alleging that China is funding the protests against India's largest hydroelectric project - the 2, 010-MW Lower Subansiri project - and Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi also alleging that an organisation spearheading the protests has strong Maoist links, the whole issue has come to occupy centrestage in the political and security discourse in the region.

Says water security expert and research fellow at the Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis in Delhi, Uttam Kumar Sinha, "China's covert support to the protests against big dams in Arunachal Pradesh is a clever way of sending a message to India that the concerns it is voicing as a lower riparian state against construction of mega dams on the Brahmaputra in China are the very same that the protestors in Assam are raising. "

Intelligence agencies have long suspected that the Assam-based Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity (KMSS), especially its leader, Akhil Gogoi, is close to the CPI (Maoist). "We have evidence of his ties with the ultraleftists. And look at the language he uses, his manner of speaking and his body language;they're all inspired by the 'red book' (the Maoists' Bible), " a senior officer of the Assam Police who did not wish to be named told TOI-Crest. "We're closely monitoring Akhil Gogoi and Maoist activities in some parts of Assam, " says chief minister Tarun Gogoi.

According to the Intelligence Bureau and other agencies monitoring such activities, the Maoists have established a strong presence in Dhemaji, Lakhimpur and Tinsukia districts of Assam and Tirap district of Arunachal. Says a senior IB officer, "They (the Maoists) also have a fledgling presence in the interior areas of the Khasi and Garo Hills of Meghalaya, as well some parts of Tripura, and are actively working to strengthen it. They're capitalising on the abject poverty in such areas as well as the fact that there is not even a rudimentary healthcare or education system, roads or bridges. The state has no presence at all. These are the very factors that helped the Maoists entrench themselves in a wide swathe of Central India consisting of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and eastern Maharashtra. If left unchecked, the Maoists will, in no time, pose a strong threat in the Northeast and a big headache for Delhi. "

The CPI (Maoist) has already joined hands with Assam's ULFA and Manipur's leftist insurgent groups like the Kangleipak Communist party (KCP) and People's Liberation Army (PLA) for procuring sophisticated arms from China through Myanmar and for help in gaining a foothold in the Northeast. "This tie-up between Maoists of mainland India and some insurgent groups in the Northeast is a win-win situation for both. The Maoists are getting sophisticated weapons and access to the Northeast, and the insurgents are not only getting help from the Maoists' considerable intellectual pool, but also training in tactics and psychological warfare that the Maoists are so adept in, " says the IB officer. The dominant faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) led by Isak Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah who have, as is well known, received plenty of material and moral support from China in the past, and are still suspected of retaining 'fraternal' ties with Beijing, is also suspected of playing a major role in this collaboration.

China, says Takam Sanjay, is playing a pro-active role in stoking the bushfires in the Northeast quite like it encourages Pakistan's adventures against India. He claims it suits China to ignite protests against hydro-electric power projects that have the potential to generate 50, 000 MW and thus drive India's growth. If China manages to derail some of these projects or at least delay them, it will help it maintain its hegemony in Asia, says Sanjay. For the same reason, adds Sanjay, China is "godfathering" the links between India's Maoists and the insurgent groups of the Northeast.

Nepal's Maoists, who are very close to China, are said to be aiding this collaboration. Says the Assam police officer, "We have information that the forests of south Bhutan, which are contiguous to the forests of north Bengal, where Indian Maoists are already very strong, are being used for frequent meetings between the insurgents of the Northeast and the Maoists of both India and Nepal. Since Nepal's Maoists would not do anything without the approval of Beijing, it is quite apparent that China is actively encouraging the spread of Maoist insurgency in the Northeast. "

A top army officer at the Eastern Command's headquarters in Kolkata fears that an extended red corridor from Andhra Pradesh and Central India to Bengal's 'Jangalmahal' is a real and imminent danger. China granting a safe haven to ULFA military chief Paresh Barua in Yunan province is also proof of Beijing's policy of containing India and stoking trouble for Delhi, he says. "Despite China's protestations, a large part of the sophisticated arms and ammunition being used by insurgents in the Northeast and, of late, the Maoists, are made in China. Beijing cannot pretend not to know about the arms it manufactures finding their way to India, " says the army officer.

Assam CM Gogoi says his government is "alive and alert" to these threats. But the intelligence and security establishments rue that there is very little evidence of New Delhi sanctioning any concrete steps to counter these threats.

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