Growing threat of Maoist violence

K. Srinivas Reddy

THE RECENT hijacking of a passenger train in Latehar, Jharkhand, and the attacks on tribals in Chhattisgarh and Bihar point to the naxalites upping the ante. So much so that the death toll in naxalite violence has begun to rival that in Jammu and Kashmir.

Thirteen States, including Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, and Maharashtra, are affected by naxalite violence in varying degrees. Provisional figures put out by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) for 2006, up to March 12, put the death toll in naxalite-related violence at 168: 74 civilians, 49 security forces, and 45 ultras. SATP put the deaths in Jammu and Kashmir during the same period at 199: 31 civilians, 48 security forces personnel, and 120 militants. What is disquieting is that the civilian deaths that have occurred in the Maoist violence are far higher.

Analysts say the Indian Maoists are trying to emulate their counterparts in Nepal, where the decade-long armed struggle has made the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) Maoist so powerful that its writ runs in a majority of the districts. Despite the vast difference in the socio-politico-economic conditions in the two countries, the Indian Maoists, it is said, are "slightly" disappointed over the "results" of their three-decade-long struggle, as the Nepal Maoists have made "fantastic strides."

The increase in violence has to be understood in the backdrop of the merger of the country's two major revolutionary parties the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) and the CPI-ML People's War (PW) to form the CPI (Maoist). The MCCI had a strong presence in Bihar and Jharkhand, while the PW had its base in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and parts of West Bengal, Haryana, Karnataka, and Bihar.

Of the two, the MCCI was known for its brutal methods while the PW in comparison was considered "moderate." This "moderate approach" of the PW leaders was resented by their own comrades. Of late, they have been denouncing the leadership and had almost held it responsible for the near-collapse of the movement in Andhra Pradesh, when such a trend was not visible in the `Dandakaranya' region.

Moderate approach criticised

The Maoist leadership in Andhra Pradesh believes the "moderate" approach led to irreversible losses, especially in North Telangana where the party had to face the ignominy of withdrawing the Central Guerrilla Squads from the plains. In a bid to infuse new blood, the leadership expanded the North Telangana area by including adjoining Sironcha and Ahiri in Maharashtra, and some parts of Bastar adjoining Khammam district.

In the meantime, the Maoists started facing an unexpected enemy in the Salwa Judum (peace rallies) campaign launched in the Bastar forests by Chhattisgarh Opposition leader Mahendra Karma. As the campaign picked up pace, it began attracting the tribal youth. With cracks developing in their control over Bastar, declared their base area, the Maoists decided to react in their way. The result: 40 tribals were killed in the last two months alone.

This was in stark contrast to the spectacular successes being enjoyed by Maoist cadres (belonging to the erstwhile MCCI) in Bihar and Jharkhand.

Faced with such a scenario, a section of the Maoist leadership in Andhra Pradesh is said to have argued in favour of adopting the MCCI tactics and emulating methods of the Nepal Maoists and the LTTE in Sri Lanka. But the arguments were shot down by the "moderate" leadership, which countered that the Nepal and Sri Lankan rebels were succeeding because of the local conditions and that such strategies might not work in India.

These differences have become sharp and some leaders have even criticised party general secretary Ganapathy, attributing the movement's losses in Andhra Pradesh to his "moderate" stance.

It is believed that this issue will come up for discussion at the next Maoist Congress to be held this year.

In this context, New Delhi's reaction to the emerging situation appears confused. The Centre despatched a huge National Security Guard contingent to Chhattisgarh following the attacks on Salwa Judum activists. NSG teams were also sent to Bihar after the sensational Jehanabad jail attack. However, the Centre seems to be little aware of how ill-suited the NSG is for anti-guerrilla warfare. Its teams had to return without participation in the anti-extremist operations in Bihar; they had no specific intelligence inputs to act upon.

While another meeting of Chief Ministers of the naxalite-affected States is being called for, there has been no positive outcome of the earlier meetings held on September 19, 2005, and September 21, 2004. Interestingly, every Chief Minister who attended these meetings had advocated for more coordination among the States but this is yet to be done.