Tech world of Maoists mined in Jharkhand
Two Samsung tablets, five ICOM walkie talkie sets, 14 cellphones, uncovering of a propaganda website suspected to be based out of the Netherlands, and their familiarity with Google Earth were unearthedindia Updated: Mar 18, 2018 23:02 IST
On March 3, troopers of Central Reserve Police Force’s COBRA battalion recovered a carbine, a .315 rifle and a few hand grenades from the cadres of the Maoist group, People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PGLA), in Jharkhand’s Gumla district.
However, little did the security forces know that the trove unearthed then and in follow-up raids in the next week would bring them face-to-face with more than just arms and ammunition — the raids would give the force a peek into the left-wing insurgents’ technologically savvy operations and digital findings of the kind not seen before. In the mix of the items confiscated were two Samsung tablets, five ICOM walkie talkie sets, 14 cellphones, uncovering of a propaganda website suspected to be based out of the Netherlands, and their familiarity with Google Earth — a computer programme that uses satellite images to bring access to any geographical location down to your fingertips.
“They (the Maoists) have begun to record their meetings. The videos are forwarded and shared across their armed network. The tablets consist of a trove of phone numbers of the cadres, their handlers and overground workers,” a senior CRPF official said, requesting not to be identified. The digital tablets are currently in possession of the Jharkhand police, which is investigating its contents.
“Maoists are using Google Earth for navigation as it does not maintain a log of areas navigated by them like other software such as Maverick. The cadres are intentionally using Google tools so that in case they are caught, they can conceal their movements,” said an intelligence official, who also did not want to be named. There is, however, a major challenge — poor network connectivity in their regions.
“We have credible inputs that the cadres come down to the railway junctions, such as the one in Giridih, for better internet connectivity, make notes and head back,” the official said.
Maoists have also taken to holding ‘jan adalats’ (people’s court) where cadres resolve local disputes and give out “punishments” to individuals who went against them, which could include locals, the CRPF official cited above said, adding that these meetings are recorded and then used as “propaganda material”. Maoists have also been understood to have taken tips from BTech students belonging to Telangana’s Warangal district.
While it can be argued that Google Earth is far from being a sophisticated tool to display Maoists’ technological prowess, there is something else that the investigative agencies are looking into to determine the insurgents’ media outreach not only in India but abroad — the website suspected to have an IP address originating from the Netherlands.
Officials say that the use of technology to propagate the extremist ideas was first learned about when banned Maoist literature was found on the website. The use of internet for propaganda decreased in 2015 after the arrest of one of the most-wanted Maoist leaders, Ajith, from Pune but the usage witnessed an uptick in 2017 with several materials found on the website.
In 2018 so far, there has been only one statement issued —the condemnation of Bhima Koregaon violence in Maharashtra on January 1.
Internal security expert Ajai Sahni said while Maoists using internet is something that needed to be looked into, it was attacks like the one in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma, where an IED blast on March 13 killed nine CRPF men, which must be avoided as these incidents give the cadres “more firepower and confidence” to launch similar attacks. “The source of the problem has to be neutrialised,” Sahni said.
While officials have not connected the Sukma incident to the developments in Jharkhand, they are not ruling out the action as fallout of the central government’s crackdown. “They are certainly ratted after the causalities they suffered in the past two weeks. We won’t budge,” said home ministry’s senior security advisor K Vijay Kumar.