Maoists in the North East India – Reality and Myth-Making

On 9 June 2013, just before the clock struck midnight, a police contingent in Assam’s Tinsukia district boarded the Chennai-Egmore Express, minutes before its three-day long journey, and pulled out 66 youths. A critical intelligence input received by the police had indicated that these youths from tea gardens, Ahom and Moran communities were going to join the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist). Following two days of interrogation and confirmation from the employers of the youths in Chennai, all were released. To cover up a major embarrassment, the police establishment forced the parents of the youths to sign undertakings that they would produce their wards before the police whenever asked for. The incident in a way summed the mindset of the security establishment in Assam, which for the past couple of years, has been pursuing a non-existent enemy, invariably under political orders.

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Media reports on the alleged inroads made by the CPI-Maoist into the Northeast in general and Assam in particular have produced alarming narratives comprising encounters, arrests, shadowy extremist game plans, and a vision for taking over the region. While few of these incidents are real, most, like the incident narrated earlier, are unsustainable.

Arrested Maoist cadres identified as central committee members, training instructors, and key leaders of the outfit’s eastern wing have been found to be old men in the age group of 65 to 70 years, a clear departure from the mainstream Maoist movement whose leaders and cadres are much younger. Post-arrest, the so called high profile cadres like Aditya Bora have been given instant bail by the courts in view of the weak and unsubstantiated charges brought against them. The so called extortion notes recovered in upper Assam districts contain expressions such as Maubadi 147 and symbols of a rising sun, indicating the involvement of petty criminals posing as Maoists or even cadres of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), whose party symbol is the rising sun. The disappearance of 300 youths from various Assam districts has been described as a successful recruitment drive by the CPI-Maoist. The Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border region has been described as the new hotbed of Maoist activity. Hundreds of kilometres separate the area from the nearest Maoist area of activity in West Bengal violating the principle of contiguity, which the CPI-Maoist steadfastly hold on to in its expansion drive.

Such disquieting narratives, as a result, coexist with saner assessments, incidentally by some of the senior police officials in Assam. They in fact, insist that there is no constituency in Assam which the Maoists can exploit to spread their ideology. In January 2014, Assam’s director general of police confirmed that “Maoists have also not yet been able to make strong inroads into Assam.”

The purpose of this column here is not to argue that Maoists have no plans for the Northeast. They do. However, that is not a near or medium-term plan for sabotage, armed struggle and carving out of liberated zones in the region, but a more rational and realistic stratagem for using the region’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities for weapons procurement and services of the insurgent outfits for training purposes. The joint declaration between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Manipur and the CPI-Maoist goes back to October 2008. As part of the declaration, the PLA in 2010 organised arms training camps for the Maoist cadres in Jharkhand. Maoist leader Kishenji (who was killed in November 2011) traveled to the PLA and National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) camps in Manipur and Nagaland respectively to deepen partnership and explore arms purchase and joint training opportunities. The NSCN-IM purchased arms from a Chinese company intended for the Maoists. ULFA chief Paresh Baruah has congratulated the Maoists for their successful ambushes in Chhattisgarh and sent condolence messages following the killing of Maoists in encounters.

However, none of the outfits in the Northeast have ever expressed any desire to let the Maoists operate in what they consider to be their exclusive playing field. The CPI-Maoist has indeed attracted some youths from the region. But those journeys from the Northeast to Maoist camps in the Indian mainland in some ways resemble those undertaken by Muslim youths from all nooks and corners of the world to join the anti-Soviet Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The objectives of those cadres are certainly not to wage a guerrilla war inside the Northeast but to enforce the ranks of the CPI-Maoist, conforming to their personal ideological affiliation.

This, however, has not stopped Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi from repeatedly demanding the Maoist-affected status for Assam’s nine districts, which would entitle the affected districts to Rupees 30 crore additional developmental funds every year. Notwithstanding New Delhi’s rejection of the demand, Gogoi continues to label civil rights groups and anti-dam movements as Maoist-backed and calls for deployment of additional security forces. If acceded, Assam, which has not reported a single civilian and security force fatality in Maoist violence, would rank along with some of the worst extremist affected states of the country.

About Bibhu Prasad Routray

Bibhu Prasad Routray Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray is an independent analyst based in Singapore and has previously been Deputy Director, India's National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS). He can be reached at bibhuroutray@gmail.com.

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