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Growing Maoist Activism in Assam: Sinister and Calculated Moves

Nihar R Nayak is Research Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • February 24, 2012

    The Government of India has, in recent years, suggested to states affected by left-wing extremist/Naxalite/Maoist movements to follow the so-called “Andhra model”. This is because the strategy followed by Andhra Pradesh has resulted in drastic decline in Maoist violence in the state during the past two years. At the same time, it must be noted that the Maoists have changed their tactics and have spread to new areas, Assam being one such area. Maoist presence and organisational activities in Assam are confirmed both by government and private sources, including the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom). Anticipating a further consolidation of the Maoists and their linkages with North-East based insurgent groups, possible arms support from China and, ahead of the visit of CPI-Maoist central committee members to Assam, the Union Home Ministry on February 16, 2012, asked the North-Eastern states to intensify their vigil against the growing Maoist menace.

    Most worryingly, some arrested Maoists have disclosed that the CPI-Maoist, in particular, has been trying to establish contact with arms traffickers in Dimapur, Nagaland, for Chinese- and European-made arms. This information confirms that the Maoists are meticulously executing their plans. A 2006 government document indicated that a CPI-Maoist blueprint proposed to step up their presence in Bengal and break new ground in Assam, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh by 2011. A few recent incidents indicate that the Maoists are now in a position to set up guerrilla zones in Assam.

    So far, Assam has not witnessed Maoist violence. There are reports, however, of Maoist organisational activities in the 22 police stations of upper Assam districts like Tinsukia, Golaghat, Dhemaji, Dibrugarh, Sivsagar, Lakhimpur, Jorhat, and Dibang Valley, and the Lohit district of neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh. Their activities are currently mostly confined to the river islands of the Assamese districts. Poor policing in the area aids the Maoist cause.

    The Upper Assam districts are within the Maoists’ sights not because of governance issues, but due to their strategic location. According to police sources, the Maoists have established three guerilla zones—the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh, Assam-Nagaland, and Assam-West Bengal border areas—in Assam. The outfit has around 78 regular cadres and has been supporting anti-dam protests in the state. Quoting intelligence reports, the TV channel Times Now claimed on October 31, 2011 that China has been backing the Maoists. J.B. Pattanaik, Governor of Assam, confirmed this piece of information on the same day. He said, “Naxals have started organizing themselves in some parts of the State, particularly in Tinsukia and Dhemaji districts. There is a possibility that the Paresh Baruah group of ULFA may help them with weapons, so the State Government and Government of India must be alert.”1

    There is a prevalent view that given the competition for influence between India and China at the regional and global levels, China would logically be expected to keep India tied up in internal matters in order to stifle its global ambitions. The CPI-Maoist and other insurgent groups who have declared a “strategic united front against India” can become a handy tool for China in this endeavour. In the event of any conflict between the two countries in future, China can employ them as a fifth column. As it is, these groups are already engaged in destabilising the Indian economy. For example, most of the iron ore being extracted via illegal mining in India, with the connivance of the Maoists, is reportedly being exported to China. Indian government sources claim that they have “concrete proof of certain elements from the Chinese establishment aiding North-East militants. The Chinese government, at least at the prefecture (provincial) level, was involved in such activity.”2

    From the Chinese point of view, a perennial internal conflict in India will slow down its economy and indirectly help China’s rise to superpower status over the next 25 years. The Maoists expect China to actively support their efforts to effect a total regime change in India. In this regard, West Bengal and Assam together are strategically important for the Maoists. Their presence in these states serves as a meeting point with ULFA, NSCN-IM (National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muviah), and the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) of Manipur for purposes of training and weapon acquisition. This region also provides an opportunity for them to forge an alliance with the Maoists in Nepal, Philippines, and other South Asian nations. Kishenji, Eastern Regional Bureau Chief of the CPI-Maoist, was the main architect of this project.3 In March 2010, CPI-Maoist cadre, Telugu Deepak, reportedly told the police that some “members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of Philippines (CPP), camped in dense forests in September 2007 near the Bengal-Jharkhand border for over a month.”4 The Maoists’ link with China was disclosed by two arrested cadres of the Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) of Manipur, who talked about forming a “strategic united front” with separatist groups active in various parts of the country. Irengbam Chaoren, chief of the political wing of the PLA, is also reportedly being harboured by China. According to media reports, his organisation has also been planning to liaise with terrorist outfits based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, including Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and separatist groups based in Jammu and Kashmir and India’s North-East.5

    Before embarking on a full-fledged violent movement, the Maoists usually carry out a feasibility study, which is known as the “documentation stage” in Maoist parlance. One such study was carried out in 2010 in different areas of Assam analysing the socio-economic and cultural aspects of the state. The arrest of three suspected Maoists belonging to Dibrugarh district of Assam on February 12, 2011 in the Sundergarh district of Orissa indicates that the Maoists are in the second sub-stage, where they focus on establishing zonal committees, opening cultural organisations, and infiltrating agitations that break out over local issues. The suspects also confessed to have undergone training at a Maoist camp in Orissa for three months.

    Law enforcement agencies have been receiving timely reports about growing Maoist activities in Assam. But it appears that they do not pay much attention to the issue. Granted that the Maoists have been receiving external support; but this cannot be used by the law enforcing agencies as an excuse to hide their inefficiency.

    The Naxalite movement in India has been the second-longest conflict in South Asia, continuing from 1967 till date. The sustenance of the movement has been caused by its own determination, aided by factors such as poor governance, support from certain political leaders, and a blurred analysis of the conflict by policymakers. It has repeatedly been said that one of the tragedies of history is that the people concerned refuse to learn its lessons; in this case, the lesson not learnt is the gravity of the threat that Maoism poses to India’s future.