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Red Terror NE’s Real Challenge


Director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies

‘Special cell to deal with Naxalites”---so read a headline on the February 24, 1971 edition of The Assam Tribune. The news report, nearly four decades ago, talked of the Asom Government setting up a special cell with Additional Inspector General of Police, R. C. Dutta, to “deal with the Naxalite menace which is slowly raising its head in Assam.” The report also talked about 20 arrests having been made, including a post-graduate student from Gauhati University.

By 1971, the Naxalbari Movement in neighbouring West Bengal might have ceased to be a cohesive force, but Asom has had a taste of Naxalism. Therefore, when Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram admitted on September 14 that Naxalites were tying up with insurgents in the North-east to synergize operations, there were many who were not surprised at all. And yes, the Assam Police in recent months has sounded maximum alert, directing superintendents of police in the districts to monitor whether there has been any growth of Naxalism or Naxalite activities anywhere in the State.

New Delhi and the states are today faced with three forms of armed violence: insurgency, terrorism and Left-wing extremism. Chidambaram himself agrees that all three needs to be dealt with differently, but the fact remains that all these three forms of violence also blends somewhere. Here lies the worry in so far as the North-east is concerned. I am among those who likes to believe that there is a difference between insurgency and terrorism, but with insurgents from groups like the ULFA and the NDFB (these are just examples only) resorting to random road-side bombings, killing innocent civilians, it is difficult to make or believe in a distinction.

In 2008, a few Meitei insurgent groups who operate in the Imphal Valley in Manipur declared that they support the Maoists ideologically. Today, armed bands of people in the country are hardly driven by ideology, although most of the old rebel groups like the Naga outfits and even the ULFA swore by Mao’s ideals. Take a look at what Chidambaram had said at the meeting of the director generals and inspector generals of police in September: “The CPI (Maoist) has been keenly seeking ideological resonance and tactical understanding with the North-east insurgents and begun to lend support to their secessionist ideology and demands.” Incidentally, the CPI (Maoist) has a presence in 17 of the 20 states in the country hit by Naxalite violence and account for 90 per cent share in Naxal violence.

Chidambaram has said some recent decisions taken by the CPI (Maoist) indicate they are keen on expanding their operations to newer areas. The North-east could definitely be one such area because the Naxalites are aware of the trans-border linkages the North-east rebels have. The Naxals, in fact, could be tying up with North-east rebels to procure military hardware to take on the Indian State. The Union Home Ministry has taken note of the improvement of the military hardware and tactics of cadres belonging to the CPI (Maoist).

A state like Asom is an ethnic cauldron and this automatically increases the possibility of the Naxals cutting ice or igniting the fire among certain communities and groups here. Moreover, with the Kamatapur Liberation Organization (KLO) having a good presence around the vital Siliguri-corridor that connects the North-east to mainland India, through West Bengal, the Maoists have a bridge ready. The KLO is known to be close to the Maoists. The Adivasis in Asom, that comprise the bulk of the tea garden work force in the state, has a whole lot of grievances. Several Adivasi insurgent groups have come into being to push these grievances. Some of them like the Adivasi Cobra Militants, are on a truce. The Naxals could well try and consolidate on these grievances and make an entry into the state. Therefore, the extra vigil by the authorities in Asom.

The threat of the ‘red terror’ actually spreading to the region, particularly to a state like Asom, is actually real. The state’s proximity to Bhutan is also something that needs to be factored in. Security circles in both India and Bhutan had been rattled by news of the launching of the Bhutan Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) on April 22, 2003, the 133rd birth anniversary of Lenin. Pamphlets widely circulated by this new group in the Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal and in areas inside Bhutan itself revealed that the new party's objective was to "smash the monarchy" and establish a "true and new democracy" in Bhutan.

The 2003 launch of the Bhutan Communist Party was enough for the Indian and Bhutanese security establishment to put the ULFA, NDFB and the KLO under intensive surveillance and scrutiny. It didn't take long for New Delhi and Thimphu to identify the KLO as the group with a far greater nuisance value than perhaps the ULFA or the NDFB. The KLO is active and has pockets of influence in the strategic North Bengal areas of West Bengal and act as a bridge between the Maoist guerrillas and the newly emerging Maoist force in Bhutan. Indian intelligence agencies were also aware of the fact that the KLO had provided sanctuary to fleeing Maoist rebels from Nepal, that the outfit has acted as a link between the Nepalese Maoists and radical Left-wing activists in the Indian State of Bihar, and that it had received help from the Maoists in setting up a number of explosives manufacturing units in North Bengal.

It was these deepening linkages that forced both New Delhi and Thimphu to agree that it was time to launch a direct assault on the rebels in Bhutan before the situation went out of hand. This was in the winter of 2003. Six years down the line, the threat seems real for the North-east, even Bhutan.