Responding to the Maoist Spread in India’s Northeast

Two-day National seminar

Guwahati, 3 & 4 february 2014

a BRIEF REPORT

 
 
The Inaugural session of the two-day Seminar titled Responding to the Maoist Spread in India’s Northeast. Sitting from left: Mr PJ Baruah, Jt Secy (hony), CDPS, Mr Scott Furssedonn-Wood, British Deputy High Commissioner to Eastern India, Mr P. C. Haldar, Member, National Security Advisory Board and Mr Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director, CDPS.
  Highlights of the Seminar
 
  • Speakers and participants at the Seminar unanimously agreed that the spread of Maoism to the Northeast of India has added a new security dimension to the conflict affected region
  • Mr P. C. Haldar, Government of India’s Peace Interlocutor for Assam, said that the presence of Maoists in the Northeast has the potential to create serious ‘strategic security complications’.
  • The Maoists deciding to set up bases in eastern Assam, along the border with Arunachal Pradesh, has assumed added significance because of its proximity to the international border.
  • There is possibility of forces inimical to India using Maoists as a pawn
  • Belief by many that the Maoists cannot work together with ethnic identity movements described as misconception.
  • Security establishments, both at the Centre as well as at the State level, have been urged by all concerned to consider seriously the attempts by the Naxals to consolidate themselves in the northeastern region of India
  • Poor governance, lack of equitable development in the region and the absence of basic facilities have created ‘fertile grounds’ for Maoists to lure people into its fold and recruit youth
  • The Government should not wait for the Maoists to consolidate and the situation to go out of hand before putting a development strategy into operation
  • The Maoists have links with insurgent groups in the Northeast like the PLA, ULFA (independent) and NSCN (IM)
  • An effective anti-Maoist strategy for any government would have to be a combination of security measures and focused development with a mechanism to address the genuine grievances of the people
 

Day 1: February 3
SESSION - I: Inaugural

 
 
Mr Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director, CDPS, welcoming the speakers and participants at the Seminar and delivering the Introductory address
 

Welcome and Introduction

 

Mr Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies, welcomed the participants and delivered the introductory address.
Mr Hussain said that CDPS has decided to hold this dialogue for the simple reason that the spread of Maoism to the Northeast of India has added a new security dimension in the volatile region. The deliberations by the speakers and the participants would help to understand the pull factors for the Maoist spread in the region, besides helping in preparing a roadmap to deal with the problem before it transforms into a full blown insurrection, he said. Mr Hussain thanked the British Deputy High Commission Kolkata for supporting CDPS to hold the Seminar.

Making a brief presentation on ‘Maoism in Northeast India: the Spread of a Rebellion’, Mr Hussain said that the Maoist rebellion in Northeast India is at present in its ‘latent phase’ and this phase involves mobilization of the masses, political awakening, visiting villages, engaging in small struggles on local issues, picking up students’ issues, fighting corruption, short–listing shelter and arms dumps and identification of local militant elements, etc. Calling upon the Government and the civil society to address the root causes of the problem, he stressed the need to formulate a long term development agenda to eradicate poverty and unemployment in the region and improve governance and delivery mechanism.

  Address by Mr Scott Furssedonn-Wood, British Deputy High Commissioner to Eastern India
 
 
Mr Scott Furssedonn-Wood, British Deputy High Commissioner to Eastern India, addressing the Seminar
 

Addressing the Seminar, Mr Scott Furssedonn-Wood, British Deputy High Commissioner to Eastern India, said that India and the UK have been cooperating and working together in a number of fields including in areas of development, conflict prevention and peace. He said India and UK have tremendous potential in furthering trade and business and emphasized that peace and stability was a prerequisite for economic growth. Talking about the British Government’s support to various Government and non-Government initiatives in the field of peace, security and development across India, he said he was happy to support CDPS in its peace-building efforts through academic exercises.

The Deputy High Commissioner said rooting out conflict and ushering in peace is an essential prerequisite for real development to occur. “That is particularly true here in Northeast India. I want to see the Northeast region playing a growing and dynamic role in India’s economy and, consequently, in the economic partnership between our two countries”, he added.
Mr Furssedonn-Wood said that progress can be achieved by sharing ideas and experiences from around India and beyond. He said although a peace settlement has been in place for over 15 years in Northern Ireland, there are still a small number of ‘extremists’ who want to destabilize peace. Yet, Northern Ireland has been now able to attract inward investment from international companies – including Indian companies. The same can happen with the Northeast of India, he said.

Stressing on cooperation between the two countries, he said that cooperation between Britain and India on security, counter-terrorism and cyber attack is now closer than it has ever been. “People are alive today on the streets of Birmingham and Bangalore because of the work our countries have done together to protect them. Criminals are being brought to justice in our respective courts because of the growing cooperation between our police and judicial systems”, he said.

  Keynote Address: Mr P. C. Haldar, Member, National Security Advisory Board, Government of India
 
 
Mr P. C. Haldar, Member, National Security Advisory Board, delivering the Keynote Address
 

In his Keynote Address, Mr P. C. Haldar said that though in the recent past the Maoist movement in India has suffered certain reverses, it has retained a certain capacity to revive itself. He stated that the north-eastern region has been making every effort to end a cycle of violence that held to ransom its future. Although a lot of ground remains to be covered, it cannot be denied that positive gains have now started flowing to the people. Terming it as ‘peace dividend’, he said that the true challenge now is to expand this ‘peace dividend’ to cover further to all aspects of life and thus improve the quality of life—a goal which is both legitimate and achievable. “Even now, when several militant organizations are engaged in peace dialogue, small dissenting factions have been disturbing peace through intermittent violence. Amid such an environment, spread to this region of any new movement that has violence as its creed raises the spectre of a return of violence. This is indeed a matter of concern”, he said.

Mr Haldar, who is also Government of India’s the Peace Interlocutor in Assam, said that the region is poised for an economic leap as the gateway for India’s ‘Look East’ policy. But internal stability is a primary condition that is needed to project viability of this region not only for investment but also as a stable transit route for international trade. Emphasizing on the need to create capabilities and structures that will enable the region to reap advantages when the opportunity comes, Mr Haldar said that nurturing the human resource potential of the region is also of crucial importance and the Government should play the role of a facilitator by creating opportunities that promote and sustain such activities. He argued that this will infuse a new momentum in the local economy to produce tradable goods and services and bring in socio-economic benefits to the region.

Mr Haldar said that the presence of Maoists in the Northeast has the potential to create serious ‘strategic security complications’. He said, “The possibility of forces inimical to India using Maoists as a pawn would have to be factored in by the security establishment.” The decision of the Maoists to set up bases in eastern Assam, along the border with Arunachal Pradesh, has assumed added significance because of its proximity to the international border and the traditional routes that insurgent groups in the Northeast have been using to access its bases in Myanmar.

Mr Halder described as misconception the belief by many that the Maoists cannot work together with ethnic identity movements. According to him, history is replete with instances of tactical alliances forged by groups with other groups having diverse orientations or interests to further their larger goal. What is important to note is that capture of power is their objective and violence is their tool. He also said that ‘religiocity’ of people does not act as a deterrent against collaborating with the Maoists.

Stressing that no one should be allowed to use coercion, threat of or actual violence as an instrument of political persuasion or expanding political influence, Mr Haldar said that the approach towards dealing with Maoist movement cannot wholly be based on the police and security forces. An effective anti-Maoist strategy for any government would have to be a combination of security measures and focused development with a mechanism to address the genuine grievances of the people, he said.

  SESSION - II:
Chair: Mr. Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director, CDPS
  In the second session, a power point presentation was made by Mr Wasbir Hussain on the theme of the Seminar. The presentation was followed by an Open House Discussion on the Keynote Address by Mr Haldar.
 

SESSION - III:
Chair: Mr. Samudra Gupta Kashyap, The Indian Express

Speaker 1: Dr. Ranoj Pegu, Chief Executive Councillor, Mising Autonomous Council, Assam
Topic: Assam: The Maoist Situation on the Ground and a Practical Response from the Government to Stop the Consolidation

 
 
Dr. Ranoj Pegu, Chief Executive Councillor, Mising Autonomous Council, Assam, addressing the Seminar. Also seen from left: Mr Samudra Gupta Kashyap and Mr Barnabas Kindo
 

Dr. Ranoj Pegu said that the Government’s effort to devolve powers by setting up autonomous councils was a good idea but things could be back to square one if the Government fails to effectively empower these Councils to deliver development on the ground.

Dr Pegu, who in the early 1980s was associated with CPI (ML)'s provisional central committee faction, said the failure of many ethnicity-based militant groups to fulfill the aspirations of their communities has created the space for an alternate ideological movement. "There is always a tendency to look for alternate and higher ideological movements like left extremism when people do not find their expectations fulfilled by ethnicity-based armed struggle. This could be one of the reasons why Assam is a fertile ground for Red extremism," he said.

He also said a rising number of landless people caused by floods and erosion, and rising population has increased pressure on land. "Addressing the issue of rising landlessness is an imperative if the growth of Maoist influence is to be checked," he added.

  Speaker 2: Mr. Barnabas Kindo, Secretary, PAJHRA, Tezpur
Topic: Challenges Before The Adivasi Community and the State in Preventing a Maoist Consolidation in Assam
 

Mr Barnabas Kindo said that the Maoists have the potential to capitalize on the ‘prevailing underdevelopment’ of the Adivasis of Assam and called upon the Government to uplift the community. He said that because of the socio-cultural and historical similarities and connections of the Adivasis of Assam with those of Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh—the hubs of Maoist activities in India—the question arise as whether there will be Maoist consolidation among the Adivasis of Assam. “This is certainly a major concern for the government as well as the Adivasi community”, he said.

He pointed out four factors behind the ‘high possibility’ of a Maoist influence among the Adivasis of Assam:
i) Underdevelopment and deprivation of the Adivasis
ii) Injustice and exploitation
iii) Social exclusion and indifference
iv) Land alienation

Mr Kindo said that the most effective strategy to prevent a Maoist consolidation among the Adivasis in Assam could be that the Government come up with comprehensive, sustainable and all-round development policies and a mechanism to implement them. “There is also an urgent need on the part of the Government to coordinate with the Adivasi organizations by engaging them in consultations, framing and implementing of developmental plans and strategies. The Adivasi organizations, on the other hand, need to create awareness among the community on the dangers of Maoist activities, and take necessary steps to stop such activities”, he said.

  Speaker 3: Dr Buddhin Gogoi, Principal, Margherita College, Tinsukia
Topic: Pull Factors for the Entry and Sustenance of Maoists in the Assam-Arunachal Frontier
  In his presentation, Dr Buddhin Gogoi said that development of remote areas of Assam like Sadiya where the Maoist activities are taking place should be of prime importance for the Government.
 

DAY 2: February 4
SESSION – I

Chair: Lt Gen Arvinder Singh Lamba, Former Vice Chief of the Army Staff

 
 
Speakers during the first session on the second day of the Seminar. From left: Mr. Vishwa Ranjan, IPS (retd), former DGP, Chhattisgarh, Lt Gen Arvinder Singh Lamba, Former Vice Chief of the Army Staff, Mr. Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta, IPS, ADGP (Admin), Assam
  Speaker 1: Mr. Vishwa Ranjan, IPS (retd), former DGP, Chhattisgarh
Topic: Tackling the Maoists: A Workable Strategy
 

Addressing the Seminar, Mr Vishwa Ranjan said that it is very difficult to identify the early stages of a Maoist insurgency. “This would be true in case of Assam and other north-eastern states where the Maoist movement has made recent beginnings”, he said. The ultimate aim of Maoist insurgency is seizure of political power, and various seized Maoist documents put emphasis on the point that the aims and objectives of the party are to be kept secret and camouflaged in acceptable motives to confuse the ‘enemy’(i.e., state machinery).

He said that the Maoist confuse the people by raising issues like state violence, poverty, issues regarding ownership of land, forests and water etc. Unable to understand the true intentions of the Maoist, people, including political leaders and even bureaucrats, often talk about non-development of an area as the cause of Maoist movement. They also talk of the necessity of the Maoists returning to the democratic fold, and also harp on the need for negotiated settlement with the Maoist after talks etc. “The more confused the state machinery is about the Maoist objectives and doctrines, the more confused and inadequate will be its response mechanism, giving the Maoists time to further strengthen its movement. This type of confusion is much more prevalent in states where the Maoist insurgency has just begun their operations”, he said.

In his presentation, Mr Vishwa Ranjan explained the Maoist support structure and categorized the mass organization into three types:
i) Underground Revolutionary Mass organization
ii) Open or semi-open Revolutionary Mass Organizations
iii) Mass organization not directly linked to party. This is further divided into factional work, cover organization and legal democratic organizations.

He said that unlike their Maoist predecessors in Naxalbari in West Bengal in the 60s, the CPI (Maoist) is much more sophisticated in their understanding of Maoist theory and practice and their understanding of various stages of revolutionary war, beginning from guerrilla stages to mobile stage. Finally, the conventional stage is much deeper.

“The fact is that Socio-economic contradictions, corruption or lack of governance offer the fertile soil where Maoist insurgency strikes deep roots”, he said. According to him, it is extremely difficult to engage in development work once Maoists gain control over an area and, therefore, it is important to nip Maoist activities in the bud and push development agenda.

  Speaker 2: Mr. Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta, IPS, ADGP (Admin), Assam
Topic: The Naxal Spread to India’s Northeast: The Genesis
  Mr Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta traced the genesis of Left-wing Extremism in Assam to the radical stand taken by groups like the Revolutionary Communist Party of India in the 40s and 50s. He said, “The seeds of Maoism in Assam have not grown but have not been dead either”. Mr Mahanta added that there are indication of greater Maoist presence in areas that have ‘least governance’.
  Chairperson’s Remarks:
  Lt. Gen. A.S. Lamba cautioned the Government and the civil society not to take the Maoist challenge lightly. He said that the Maoists are working on a long-term plan ‘to capture power by 2060’ and they are prepared for a long armed struggle, consolidating along the way.
  Session II
Chair: Prof. Monirul Hussain, Department of Political Science, Gauhati University
 
 
Speakers addressing at the second session of the seminar on Day 2 . From left: Dr. P. V. Ramana, Research Fellow, IDSA, Prof. Monirul Hussain, GU, and Mr. L.R. Bishnoi, IPS, IGP (BTAD), Assam
  Speaker 1: Dr. Akhil Ranjan Dutta, Associate Prof., Political Science, Gauhati University
Topic: Equitable Justice, Development and the Rise of the Maoists in India’s Northeast
 

Dr. Akhil Ranjan Dutta argued that the Maoist threat is rooted in historical injustices committed to certain categories of population, particularly the poor peasantry, tribal and dalits in the country. Failure on the part of the successive governments to address the historical injustices has contributed towards the consolidation and expansion of the Maoists to different parts of the country.

He said that grant of autonomy on the lines of ethnicity has created both inter and intra-ethnic conflicts making the communities vulnerable. “It is in such a context that new forms of movements have surfaced in the region which is not ethnic bound. The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) is one example of these kinds of movements”, he added. He said that under such a changing mode in political mobilization, there has been a hue and cry in regard to the rise and consolidation of Maoists in Northeast India.

Dr Dutta said that even though Maoists are supposed to have penetrated into the region, the civil society, unlike its approach to ethno-national armed resistance in the region, has remained skeptical about the issue. Maoists are yet to penetrate into the domain of civil society in the region. “It gives the Indian state an opportunity to re-examine and revise its regimented approach both to national security and development. The Government of India has to rectify and change its development paradigm so as to ensure an equity-oriented development model that facilitates peace, justice and democracy in the region”, he added.

  Speaker 2: Mr. L.R. Bishnoi, IPS, IGP (BTAD), Assam
Topic: The Maoists look to the Northeast – Strategic Alliances with the Ethnic Rebel Armies
 

Making his presentation, Mr L.R. Bishnoi, IPS, spoke about the Maoist strategy and growth at different phases and its expansion with focus on Assam. The four major phases as he stated are:

i) Latent Phase—Strategic Defensive
ii) Early Guerila Phase
iii) Late Guerilla Phase
iv) Mobile Phase—Strategic Offensive

He pointed at 1)trans-shipment of arms, ammunition and explosives, 2) Maoists having safe haven during intense operations on mainland, and 3) nexus with other militant groups as objectives of Maoists in Northeast. He stated that at present there are 23 Left Wing Extremism affected Police Stations in six districts of Assam, namely, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar, Golaghat, North Lakhimpur and Dhemaji and that the Tinsukia district has the highest (45) Maoist domicile.

He said there is enough evidence of the Maoist having links with insurgent groups in the Northeast like the PLA, ULFA (independent) and NSCN (IM).

  Speaker 3: Dr. P. V. Ramana, Research Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi
Topic: Dealing With Maoists: The Andhra Pradesh Experience and Lessons for the Northeast
 

In his paper, Dr P. V. Ramana shared Andhra Pradesh’s experiences in addressing the Maoist challenge and made relevant recommendations for the other affected States, to adapt, depending upon their objective conditions, including those in the Northeast of India. He said that the Maoist movement is in the organizational phase in Assam, while some rudimentary presence has been detected in Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura. He mentioned that the Maoists had issued a joint declaration with the Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) of Manipur on 22 October 2008, announcing an agreement that the two outfits had reached.

Stating that the Andhra Pradesh model in tackling the Naxals has lessons for the Northeast, Dr P.V. Ramana said, “The Andhra model is more than Greyhounds. It encompasses security, political and development response with equal emphasis on the three elements.” He said that because of the development response, the youth in north Telangana, once a Naxalite hot bed, had lost interest in revolutionary politics and had become career minded.

Dr Ramana said that strong political will that emanates from political maturity, unwavering commitment of the Government, irrespective of whichever political party is in power, and implementing in right earnest the various counter-measures would ensure that the Maoist movement does not strike root in the Northeast. The Maoist challenge, in fact, can be defeated across the country through ‘silent and patient’ work, he said.

  Discussion
  SESSION: III
Chair: Dr. A.N.S. Ahmed, Former Professor, IIT Guwahati
 
 
Speakers addressing at the third session of the seminar on Day 2 . From left: Mr Sushanta Talukdar, Dr ANS Ahmed and Ms Chitra Ahanthem
  Speaker 1: Ms. Chitra Ahanthem, Associate Editor, Imphal Free Press
Topic: CPI (Maoist), PLA Nexus in Manipur: Bonded by Ideology or Marriage of Convenience?
 

Presenting her paper, Ms Chitra Ahanthem said that the issues of ethnicity, identity and territorial integrity that dot the conflict space in Manipur, far outweighs any ideology that talks about the rights and issues of the marginalized other—the lower class migrant workers who have become the subject of ire for armed groups as well as over-ground civil society groups. “In fact, right after inking a Memorandum of Understanding with the Communist Party of India–Maoist (CPI-Maoist) a few years ago, the PLA urged the ‘non-local working class’ in Manipur to join the CPI-Maoist. But it did not take long for this PLA statement to play out in a radically different manner for even as the more well off non-Manipuri business class were being subjected to extortion and kidnappings by various armed groups, killing of non-local laborers by militants were also taking place”, she said.

Ms Ahanthem commented that actually there is no potential meeting ground and an ideological connection between the PLA and the CPI (Maoist) in Manipur. If it is about a meeting of ideology, the CPI (Maoist) would have cemented its ties with the Maoist Communist Party (Manipur), an armed group that describes its existence on the cornerstone of Marxism-Leninism and Maoism. Rather, the MCP as it is known, is looked upon as a small fringe group and is yet to make its presence felt in terms of its activities.

She said that the CPI (Maoist)-PLA nexus in Manipur is certainly a marriage of convenience. “For the CPI (Maoist), the PLA is at best a fall back option for its tactical experience and arms supply, a relationship that thrives and exists in all areas of the global phenomenon of terror where groups that do not have anything in common, tie up for any small area of partnership”, she concluded.

  Speaker 2: Mr. Sushanta Talukdar, Special Correspondant, The Hindu
Topic: Maoists in Assam: Filling the Void Created by Rebels in Peace Talks and Truce
 

Mr Sushanta Talukdar said poverty, backwardness, and geo-political isolation, besides regional aspirations and other factors have been giving rise to armed insurgencies in the northeastern region. “With 13 insurgent outfits currently engaged in peace process with the Government of India and the Assam government, a void has been created in the state’s insurgency theatre. A larger security threat is looming large over Assam and the rest of the northeast region with the Maoists poised to fill this void, leveraging the perception that development deficits of the region is due to negligence by Delhi towards Northeast (a perception which most of the insurgent outfits of the region seeking secession or exclusive homeland for a particular tribe or community play upon to garner mass support and influence youth to join them)”, he said.

He stated that 44 districts of eight north-eastern states share land border of about 5484 km with neighbouring countries China, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal. As most part of this border is open and porous, small arms and light weapons have been flowing into the region easily to meet the requirement of various armed groups.

  Presentation of CDPS Research Study on Socio-Economic Survey of Upper Assam Districts
 

A power point presentation was made by CDPS, based on a Study titled ‘Socio-Economic Survey of Maoist Strongholds in Eastern Assam’ that is being carried out by the Centre since 2013. In the presentation, focus was on the field survey findings in several Maoist affected pockets in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts of Assam. The Presentation was followed by a Discussion.

The Seminar ended with a wrap up and vote of thanks by Mr Wasbir Hussain.

 
 

CDPS Team Members and Speakers at the end of Day 1

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