Who helps the Naxals?

Last Updated: Thu, Jun 25, 2009 11:01 hrs

Bhaskar Roy, who retired recently as a senior government official with decades of national and international experience, is an expert on international relations and Indian strategic interests.

The recent class-war unleashed by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in Lalgarh, West Bengal may not have been spectacular like the 1967 "Spring Thunder" in Naxalbari, but a deeper examination of the latest incident shows potential for a much larger threat to national security and stability.

Applauding the peasant revolution spearheaded by people like Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal, Asim Chatterjee and others, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece, the People's Daily wrote on July 5, 1967 in its editorial comment, "A peal of spring thunder has crashed over the land of India". This editorial offered at least moral support from the highest level of China.

It is difficult to say if there was any direct link between the Chinese communists and the leaders of the Naxalbari peasant revolution, but many revolutionary groups across Asia were inspired by the "Thought" of Mao Zedong, Chairman of the CCP. The movement in India, called the Naxalite movement, similarly drew inspiration from Mao's peasant uprising against the landlord class and imperialism.

Special: Red Terror

Direct assistance from the CCP and the Chinese government to such anti-government movements from Myanmar (Burma) to Indonesia till the early 1980s have not been denied by the Chinese authorities. The Chinese officially cut off relations with their movements when in 1982, China's paramount leader Deng Xiaoping declared that the past policies were wrong. But a question mark still hangs over covert Chinese contact with the remnants of such groups, especially those in North-East India like the ULFA and both factions of NSCN, the NSCN (I/M) and the NSCN (Khaplang), and others.

In India, it cannot be denied that the peasants and other rural populations have received a raw deal from the local satraps, and the state of affairs continues. Any meaningful land reforms were only brought about in West Bengal, where 40 percent of the people now own 80 per cent of the land.

Elsewhere, the situation is pathetic. This is a political problem. In Andhra Pradesh there are landlords who own between 1,000 to 1,500 acres of land. But politically connected and sometimes part of the government, they have stonewalled every attempt at land reform. Many of the state governments have either denied or tried to cover up deaths from hunger or suicide by farmers among the peasant or rural community.

CPI-Maoist spokesman arrested in Kolkata

In West Bengal, the left government of the CPM lost structure because of sheer arrogance on the one hand and complacency on the other. The CPM's  grass-roots units, especially in the tribal belt,  became powers unto themselves. With 30 years of unbroken left rule, the state allowed their lower levels to function without supervision or accountability as long as they brought in votes during elections. The leaders lost touch with new realities and the growing power of communication and basic education.

The situation in West Bengal has been dangerously vitiated, with the Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader, Ms. Mamata Banerjee's encouragement and support to the Maoists against the left government of the state. Ms. Banerjee must realise that while the Maoists in the state may have their reasons and deserve empathy, they are an underground movement who are avowedly opposed to the democratic institution and still believe in the power of the gun and the revolutionary path of Mao, which even the CCP has discarded in its own country.
Beijing, however, will not be unhappy with havoc unleashed by the Maoists since that weakens not just West Bengal, but the state of India.

In her myopic view of West Bengal politics, Mamata Banerjee has failed to see that the Maoists view her and her party as imperialists, but welcome TMC's support against the CPM. For the Maoists this is a temporary united front to defeat a bigger enemy. That is why  the Maoists withdrew from the Nandigram movement. They cannot be seen by their revolutionary comrades to openly work with a political party of imperialist politics. This was the common view of the Maoist Central Committee.

Hamlet and the Naxals

In a recent interview with a national daily, Koteshwar Rao, also known as Kishenji, revealed some very disturbing aspects of the united front strategy of the movement. Rao, who is a politburo member of the CPI (Maoists) and in charge of their West Bengal, Orissa and Jharkand operations, disclosed they had joined forces with separatist groups in North-East India like the ULFA, the National Social Council of Nagaland (NSCN), the People's Liberation Army of Manipur (PLA), and others.

Even more disturbingly, Kishenji, while not supporting the "26/11" attack on Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji railway terminus (CST) because "most of the victims were Muslims", said the Maoist view was not to oppose the Islamic upsurge as it was basically anti-US and anti-imperialist in nature. He did not speak against the other "29/11" targets obviously because the victims were rich imperialists and Jews. In other words, The Maoists want  Talibanism and other forces to grow against the Union of India.

Koteshwar Rao and his senior comrades are in close touch with the Nepali Maoists or the United CPN (M). They have told CPN (M) leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, that the CPI (M) does not subscribe to Prachanda's policy of joining a democratic coalition government and that power must come from revolution only.

The CPN (M) is currently undergoing an ideological power struggle between the more moderate democratic faction led by Prachanda, and the revolutionary path faction led by pro-China hardliner and ideologue Mohan Vaidya Kiran. Proximity between the Indian Maoists and the pro-China Nepali Maoists needs no explanation.

The developing scenario must be viewed in totality from a strategic angle. The Naxalite/Maoist "Red Corridor" in India extends from the Terai region of Nepal through West Bengal, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Jharkand, Andhra Pradesh, borders of Tamil Nadu to the under developed areas of Maharashtra. The corridor snakes through the more impoverished areas of the states, which are fertile ground for the Maoists. The corridor through West Bengal passes close to Assam in Siliguri, runs along Bangladesh borders, and goes deep into the belly of India.
The Nepali Maoists have always had a free entry into India because of the porous borders. They enjoy strong and overt support from the Chinese government. The Mohan Vaidya group has especially close relations with China and is openly  opposed to India. The Maoist army and their armed youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL) are generally influenced by the pro-China group. Hence the China-Nepal Maoists' links with the Indian Maoists would be a natural outcome. Last year, the Chinese armed forces openly offered assistance to develop the Nepali Maoist army. More need not be said.

Images: Lalgarh under Maoist attack

The CPI (M)'s relationship with the North-East insurgent groups must be juxtaposed with the external support these groups receive. The on-going court proceedings in Bangladesh over the 2004 clandestine import of 10 truck loads of light and medium arms and ammunition, reveal a wide network running through three countries.

The case now involves top officers of the two most powerful Bangladesh intelligence agencies, the NSI and the DGFI. They were working with some top leaders of the then BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) government. The ULFA Commander-in-Chief Paresh Barua, who was in Dhaka till recently running the outfit's command centre from the capital city, was involved at every stage of this plan.

Pakistan's ISI, from the level of Director General was running this covert operations. Underworld criminal Dawood Ibrahim, who lives in Karachi under ISI protection, was roped in. A communication and television company, ARY, based in Dubai became an active facilitator. ARY is owned by a Pakistani and known to have worked with ISI in supporting Al Qaeda and Taliban networks in the past.   

Finally, one of the NSI senior officers confessed to interrogators earlier in June that the entire consignment of arms and ammunitions was procured from China. It is a well established fact that ULFA and NSCN (I/M) leaders visit Kunming in China periodically to procure arms, ammunition and communication equipment. To travel abroad ULFA and NSCN leaders are given Bangladeshi passports under assumed names by the NSI. This was a most devastating terrorist plan to destabilise India.

The discovery of the consignment at the Chittagong port was purely fortuitous. Even then, the case was kept under cover by the BNP-JEI government. The new Awami League government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina re-opened it in order to wipe out terrorism from the country.

If the Indian Maoists are in an alliance with the North-East insurgents,  it is highly likely they would be directly or indirectly in touch with the mentors of these insurgents. The Laskar-e-Toiba's (LET) king pin in Nepal, Mohammad Omar Madani, who is currently in Indian custody, has confessed that his task was to win over Naxal activists and send them to Pakistan for military and terrorist training. He had a substantial amount of money at his disposal for the job.  

Centre bans CPI-Maoist, Left dithers

Coming to a full circle, the Maoists appear to have gone down to the depths from being a people's revolutionary movement to evolving as a terrorist organization with foreign assistance. The banning of the Maoists by the central government could not have come sooner. Indian intelligence agencies and security organizations have much more to do to unravel the much bigger story lurking under the surface.

But on the other hand, the state governments must undertake their responsibilities seriously and restore to peasants and tribals their right to live and work as enshrined in the constitution. Otherwise, this will remain an unfortunate problem which will bleed the country slowly.

By the same author: The politics of perception | BDR mutiny and India's obligation | Questions for the Nepal Maoists | Why is Pakistan Indo-centric?

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