India’s Naxal map is changing — and expanding. The Maoist writ ran large in nine states — West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. But now Maoists have also set up bases in Assam, Manipur, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, said sources in the intelligence bureau.
A skirmish with bows and arrows that began in West Bengal’s Naxalbari in 1967 has become a pan-Indian insurgency. Over the last three years, it has left 2,604 people — 1,829 of them civilians — dead.
In September 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh identified Maoist terrorism as the biggest threat to internal security. Later that year, while drawing up a blueprint for a grand offensive against Naxals, home minister P Chidambaram warned it would be a “long haul”.
But the last two years have not been good for the Maoists. The security forces have killed or captured several top Red leaders. The deaths of Cherukuri Azad and Kishenji have been heavy blows.
For the government, the idea of a coordinated offensive involves moving in forces to wrest control from Maoists, injecting a generous dose of development and moving out the forces to repeat the process elsewhere. “But it hardly ever goes according to script,” said a CRPF officer in Jharkhand. “We are waging a futile war... the Maoists return the moment we shut down a camp,” he said.
“The problem is that the forces who can enter these areas don’t have powers to develop and the authorities who have the power to develop the areas do not step out of their offices,” a Jharkhand police officer said.
It was a complaint that echoed in Delhi’s security corridor as well. Worries were rife that Jharkhand and Bihar could be the next hotspots of Naxal violence due to their inability to deliver on the development promise. “Bihar started governance reform on a promising note, but it appears to be floundering,” said a government official in Delhi.
And given the loopholes in the system, the Maoists are regaining lost ground — hitting back in Odisha last month with three abductions that have shaken the establishment.
a second wind
The Maoist movement, which was down and out in the early years of this century received a boost in March 2004 when two factions of Naxals — the Maoist Communist Centre and the People’s War Group — joined hands to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
The upheavals thereafter were engineered in tribal areas and forest land, which the government had neglected for decades. There was also Nandigram of 2007, the demonstrations against the Nano plant in Singur in 2007 and 2008, statehood protests in Vidarbha and Telangana... the list goes on.
The bloodbaths had gone hand in hand: in Bengal’s Lalgarh and Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada.
“It is these struggles that are shaking the system,” said Ram Anna alias Narendra, a member of the Maoist central committee, who had taken part in the 2010 massacre of CRPF men in Chhattisgarh.
Now, the Maoists are looking to expand in new directions, said intelligence sources. Its leadership believes the movement, which started from the city and is restricted to the jungle, must be taken back to the cities.
In January 2010, a release from Ganapathy, general secretary of CPI (Maoist), asked Maoist cadre to turn urban areas into support centres to make up for losses in its rural strongholds. But it is not easy to head back to the cities because of the intense scrutiny. There is no foolproof method yet to recruit urban youth.
“We will have to build fast, and secretly,” said Ram Anna.