Maoist terror: Paying for past follies

Manmohan Singh By Amulya Ganguli
Two recent incidents of Maoist violence have confirmed that the country is still far from being able to contain this menace.
On Feb 15, as many as 24 security personnel and a civilian were killed when the Maoists attacked a camp of the paramilitary Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) in West Bengal’s West Midnapore district. Two days later, 11 villagers were killed and their huts set on fire in Bihar by Maoists acting on the suspicion that they were police informers.
The killings showed that although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in 2006 that the Maoists posed “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country”, the government had been unable to respond adequately to the threat posed by this group of left extremists.
The reasons for the failure go back to the period of former home minister Shivraj Patil, who had refused to recognise that the Maoists were a problem. A similar lackadaisical attitude before him enabled the rebels to establish themselves in the jungles of several states, befriend the poverty-stricken tribals and build up an army of sorts without the officials noticing anything.
That lapse has now been compounded by the support which liberals like Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy, Sahitya Akademi awardee Mahasweta Devi and other intellectuals have extended to the Maoists along with human rights groups and short-sighted politicians on the ground they are fighting for the poor against an oppressive state.
The result has been that these communist insurgents have gained in strength and are now evidently capable of attacking their targets at will. Since they follow guerrilla tactics, they have the advantage of selecting the time and place of their attack and then melting away into the forests when the security forces start retaliating.
Since the latter are unused to such tactics, the Maoists have had a fairly easy run till now in the matter of destroying rural health centres and primary schools since the police tend to camp there, and blowing up rail lines and transmission towers.
Besides, not all contingents of the security forces seem to be aware of the danger posed by the rebels. As the West Bengal incident showed, the EFR personnel were “relaxing”, as an official later said, or were busy in the kitchen when the Maoists launched their attack with grenades and self-loading rifles.
Although current Home Minister P. Chidambaram has laid stress on properly trained and well-equipped paramilitary outfits taking on the insurgents, the so-called Operation Green Hunt launched with his blessings hasn’t met with any notable success till now.
One reason is that not all politicians agree with his proactive policies. The three prominent dissenters are the chief ministers of Bihar and Jharkhand, Nitish Kumar and Shibu Soren, and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, who belongs to West Bengal.
Their view, like that of the civil libertarians, is that the Maoists should be tackled not with guns, but by weaning away the tribals by undertaking development work in their areas. But that is not their only argument. It is also no secret that both Soren and Mamata Banerjee have used the Maoists to fight their political opponents in Jharkhand and West Bengal.
While Soren fielded former Maoists as his party’s candidates in the recent assembly elections, Mamata Banerjee was helped by the Maoists during her agitation on behalf of the peasants who had been uprooted during the West Bengal government’s industrial drive.
Since she considers the Marxists in the state her main enemies, she is perceptibly soft on the Maoists. The latter, on their part, are as virulently anti-Marxist as Mamata Banerjee because they are, after all, blood brothers of the Marxists, having left the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) four decades ago to form their own outfit.
When they walked out of the CPI-M in 1969, they were known as Naxalites because of the peasant uprising which took place in West Bengal’s Naxalbari area under their aegis. One of their favourite slogans at the time was: China’s chairman is our chairman. However, a combination of internal dissent and ruthless police action, which included “fake encounters” or cold-blooded killings, decimated them within a decade.
Few believed at the time that they would be able to raise their heads again, especially after the death of their leader, Charu Mazumdar, in 1972. But the formation of the CPI-Maoists in 2004 with the merger of two main Naxalite organisations - the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre - has enabled these supporters of an armed revolution to become a formidable force.
However, their true mettle hasn’t yet been fully tested. If their eviction from Andhra Pradesh as a result of a concerted police operation is an indication, it is possible to rout them through a determined drive by paramilitary forces. Operation Green Hunt envisages this, but if it hasn’t yet begun in right earnest, the reason (apart from the objections of the human rights groups) is the fear of the loss of innocent lives, mainly of tribals, who are bound to get caught in the crossfire. Besides, the Maoists are likely to use them as human shields.
But as the killing of the villagers in Bihar, the beheading of several police officers and the abduction of a block development officer in Jharkhand show, the Maoists may have begun to feel the heat and have started lashing out in desperation. As it is, they are believed to have established their bases by terrorising the local people. If they now resort to more atrocities, they are bound to lose ground.
Although no one, including their sympathisers, seriously believes that the Maoists will be able to achieve their objective of militarily defeating the Indian government and establishing a communist dictatorship, there is little doubt they have the potential to create considerable trouble, especially if they team up with the Islamist terrorists.
Since the Maoists look upon the jehadis as allies because of their common antipathy towards US “imperialism”, the possibility of covert links cannot be ruled out. The sooner the Maoists are weeded out, therefore, the better.
(20.02.2010 - Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at