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Rays of the Red Sun

The Maoists will re-group in the reclaimed areas and spread to newer ones as long as the State fails to provide development, writes Sudeep Chakravarti.

india Updated: Apr 23, 2012 22:48 IST
Sudeep Chakravarti
Sudeep Chakravarti
Hindustan Times

And so, tribal Abujhmad is breached. The 4,000 or so square-kilometres of these forests in southern Chhattisgarh - a large patch extends to eastern Maharashtra - is where the Communist Party of India (Maoist) have for years sought sanctuary and laboratory. Where its experiment in rural administration for the 'people', the Janatana Sarkar, has some purchase. Where Maoists are, to an extent, able to meld barefoot doctor, agricultural advisor and political overlord into an ideological whole.

The ingress in mid-March began with a sortie by security forces. In this case, police units working with CoBRA, or Combat Battalion for Resolute Action, the giddily named anti-Maoist arm of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). With this operation it is tempting to sound a requiem for left-wing extremism, especially as it follows a rash of arrests, deaths and surrenders of senior- and mid-level leaders of the CPI (Maoist); but that will be premature.

Abujhmad has never been 'out of bounds' for the government or its forces. A simpler explanation is that administrations don't bother with a place unless there is commercial or political capital in it. Security forces are entering it in an attempt to clear Maoist rebels from a refuge earned more out of India's administrative abdication than seduction by Mao Zedong's overbearing spirit. South Bastar - now better known as mineral-rich Dantewada - has faced similar attention since 2005 with the formation of brutal vigilante groups by the Chhattisgarh government. Vast stretches of Andhra Pradesh experienced it in the early to mid-2000s with greater efficiency of the Greyhound force, that state's specialised 'anti-Naxal' outfit. Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Karnataka… the list is depressingly long.

It wouldn't come as a surprise were the CPI(Maoist) to break along its lines of formation. In late-2004, even as peace talks floundered in Andhra Pradesh with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People's War and its allies - and a parallel overture from Naveen Patnaik-led Orissa led nowhere - this group came together with the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) to form the CPI (Maoist). Whatever the assertions of teamwork and sharing of positions in the politburo, it has never been a seamless union. The Andhra-centric leadership continues to call the shots, coordinate work in other areas of southern India, and reinforce the rebel presence in southern Chhattisgarh. Northern Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, some of Orissa and West Bengal largely remained the patch of the erstwhile MCC. Control of territory and funds have led to disagreements.

Factional pressures remain even within territories. Jharkhand has multiple armed left-wing formations. Bihar has de-facto rebel satrapies. In Orissa, the government is negotiating with two separate, and evidently divergent, CPI (Maoist) groups over the ongoing hostage crisis. But, were it to come to the worst - from the rebel point of view - and more breakaways occur as a result of repeated battle, arrests and fragile revolutionary egos, the rebellion won't disappear.

This has always remained a guerrilla war. Rebel leaders are acutely aware of the fact that they are outnumbered - indeed, have always been outnumbered. So, unless local guerrilla squads are set upon by security forces, the rebel playbook has remained focused on precise attacks. Hitting an armoury to loot weapons and ammunition; the stores or trucks of a mining company for explosives; a jail to free comrades. Luring police and paramilitary into traps. Taking advantage of errors, like when 36 Greyhound personnel died in June 2008, as they packed into a boat on a reservoir in Orissa and travelled close to a vantage where the rebels were perched. Or as happened in Dantewada in April 2010, when 76 CRPF personnel were killed as they rested in the open without any fear of being ambushed. Or, in Maharashtra on March 27, when rebels triggered a landmine explosion that tore apart a bus carrying CRPF personnel. The instances are numerous. When the tide has turned, rebels have licked their wounds, and waited.

They know how to wait. The Naxalbari conflagration of 1967 has never really died, in spite of arrests, torture, staged encounters, amnesty, surrender and splits. From three villages, left-wing extremism today has its emphatic footprint over six states; in eight others, activity ranges from propaganda and recruitment to logistical support.

Even with the current phase of rebellion in decline, there will be other, future, phases. Such movements persist as those who rebel find reason to persist. Underdeveloped regions reclaimed by security forces have largely not been seeded with solid development and administration. More places, in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, among others, are now treated to aggressive, state-aided displacement of people on account of projects: more negative energy. Unless governance is delivered, rebel groups will take on new names, leadership and cadres, re-emerge in old places and spread to newer ones; as history has shown, always better organised, more determined.

And Abujhmad? What will the Government of India do once it's in its hands? Merely add this geography to a long list of places diminished by administrative apathy and arrogance, warped development, and corruption?

Sudeep Chakravarti is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and the soon-to-be-published Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Apr 12, 2012 21:21 IST