North-Eastern India And The Maoists
Tarun Gogoi, the Assam Chief Minister, was not wide of the mark, when, in the wake of ethnic clashes between the Bodos and the Muslims, he had said that Assam was in fact sitting on a volcano. Gogoi was right and he mentioned another grave threat that Assam is now faced with. Insurgencies, constant infiltration from Bangladesh and unresolved ethnic questions have led to a situation where the Maoists are finding the ground suitable for setting up their bases in the North-East.
Gogoi has given more information. According to him, the Maoists have set up bases in the Upper Assam districts of Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Jorhat, Lakhimpur and Dhemaji. Various reports however indicate that the Maoists now want to fill up the vacuum as most of the insurgent groups in the state are now holding talks with the centre. If they become successful then it will link up their traditional ‘Red Corridor’ with strategically unstable areas of South and South East Asia via Myanmar. For this purpose the CPI (Maoist) has formed an Upper Assam Leading Committee (UALC) and, according to intelligence reports, has pumped nearly three lakh rupees into it last year.
But the development, though fraught with grave danger to national security, is not unexpected as the Maoists had struck operational collaborations with several secessionist insurgent groups of the North-East quite sometime back. In 2008 the CPI (Maoist) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of Manipur had signed three joint resolutions pledging mutual support to their respective struggles against the Indian state at a meeting held in the ‘council headquarters’ of the PLA. Later, in 2011, documents recovered during anti-Maoist operations by the security forces in the Saranda forest of Jharkhand, pointed out that the Revolutionary Peoples Front (RPF), the political wing of the PLA, had imparted arms training and looked after technical upgradation of the Maoists.
The South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR), an organisation headed by the super cop KPS Gill, has done a pioneering research on the Maoist problem. According to its documentation, the Maoists’ connection has reached quite a few other secessionist organisations of the region such as the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (Issac-Muivah), the People’s Revolutionary Party of the Kangleipak (PREPAK), the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL). Thuingaleng Muivah, the NSCN (IM) leader, has admitted that the Maoists had approached his organisation for arms and ammunition. There are also reports that IM leaders had attended a Maoist meeting in the Dandakaranya area of Chhattisgarh.
Primarily the Maoists’ aim was to secure arms supply from the North-Eastern Indian insurgents and also to gain access to the international arms supply route that passes through Myanmar. Later on the exchange coalesced into ideological affinity. The view expressed by Kishenji, the deceased Maoist leader, in January 2010 and quoted in a SAIR report is an eye opener. Kishenji had contended: “We unconditionally support ULFA’s struggle for self-determination in Assam. We only want them to stop attacking the Indian proletariat….ULFA cannot ignore the revolutionary struggle of the Indians and our enormous goodwill for their struggle…I sincerely want ULFA, the PLA and other such groups fighting for separate homelands or for self-determination to fight the exploitative Indian state alongside us.”
Kishenji’s view is a pointer to many interesting portents. Which are the ‘other such groups’ mentioned by him? RK Meghen, the top leader of the UNLF, has thrown some light on this aspect. In a letter written to another Manipuri outfit, the KYKL, Meghen did talk about his series of meetings in 2009 with Kashmiri separatists and Maoists both of whom had assured him about their support. Clearly there is a grand design which envisages operational cooperation among the entire secessionist groups of the North-East on the one hand and the Kashmiri militants and the Maoists on the other.
It may not be denied therefore that the Assam government has got up from its bed a bit too late. The Maoists’ selection of Upper Assam for setting up bases is a result of careful planning and strategy formulation. Obviously they would try to indoctrinate not just the Ahom population but the vast number of dissatisfied tea plantation workers whose forefathers hailed from states of the Gangetic plain like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and also Odisha. Secondly compared to Lower Assam Upper Assam is nearer to China and Bhutan. While China has been supporting The North-Eastern Indian ultras for a long time, Maoists are known to have established their presence in the nearby southern Bhutan where dissatisfaction runs high among Nepali-speaking population. Moreover, Upper Assam borders Arunachal Pradesh which has witnessed considerable popular discontent over construction of big dams in the Dibang Valley and the Lohit district. Keeping strategic considerations in mind the Maoists have set up three guerrilla zones in Assam-Nagaland, Assam-Arunachal Pradesh and Assam-West Bengal. The difference with the past is important. The previous connection for securing of arms has now paved the way for carving out own areas of influence.
The Assam government has hurriedly woken up to the possibility of Maoist bases although grounds for it was being prepared since 2008 when the Maoists decided to penetrate popular movements involving the lives of common people. In 2010 Aditya Bora, an ex-ULFA cadre and President of the Assam Students’ Youth Organisation (ASYO), was arrested by security officials during an encounter with the Maoists in the jungles of Odisha. In January, 2011 police arrested six activists of the Mega Dam Protest Forum all of whom admitted their Maoist connections during interrogation. Moreover, in October, 2011 eighteen Maoists were arrested from several districts of Upper Assam.
The Maoist threat has put the Assam government’s credibility in some sort of doubt too. Tarun Gogoi, the Assam Chief Minister, has listed several organisations which maintain close cooperation with the Maoists. Apart from known insurgent groups like the ULFA and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), some other organisations bearing mass characters are now under government’s scanner. They are the Assam Cha Janajati Surakhsa Samity (ACJSS), the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and the ASYO. According to the Assam government’s estimate the ASYO and the ACJSS are functioning as the front or cover organisations of the CPI (Maoist). The arrest of Tingrai Oraon, the general secretary of the ACJSS, from a Maoist camp in the Saranda forest of Jharkhand in 2011, strengthens the Assam government’s contention.
But the state government has to move with caution as a sense of alienation from the mainland of the country runs high among the local people. Tarun Gogoi has been repeatedly harping on the connection between the Maoists and the KMSS. The government had earlier brought on a charge of Maoist connection against Akhil Gogoi, the president of the KMSS but ultimately failed to prove it. Gogoi is an RTI activist. However it is a fact that he had once connections with a mass organisation of the CPI (M-L)-PCC and was under the influence of Santosh Rana, the Naxalite leader of yesteryears. He however broke away from Rana quite some time back.
The recent clash in Assam between the Bodos and the Muslims has raised disturbing questions. In the last two years militarisation of the tribal people has accelerated under some new organisations. Examples of it are the Adivasi People’s Army (APA) and the All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA). Way back in 2008 two arrested members of the AANLA had admitted that large numbers of the organisation’s cadres had received arms training from the Maoists in the jungles of Jharkhand.
It would not be wrong to assume that the Maoists are trying to capture the space created by the exit of the pro-talk faction of the ULFA from the arena of armed struggle and in it the CPI (Maoist) is certain to be helped by Paresh Barua, the leader of the ULFA’s anti-talk faction who is now most probably in his jungle camp in northern Myanmar. Meanwhile, the Maoists have spread into Arunachal Pradesh also, a state so long known for its calm and tranquility. Youths arrested in the Lohit district of the state admitted that they were engaged by the Maoists to foment discontent among the local population against construction of big dams.
By Amitava Mukherjee
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