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Red Terror On Assam-Arunachal Frontier


wasbir hussain
DIRECTOR, Centre for Development and Peace Studies

It is now official that the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh frontier is turning into a Maoist den with cadres of the anti-talk faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) headed by the elusive Paresh Baruah providing arms training to the fledgling ‘red rebels’. Until recently, the presence of secret Maoist camps in the Lohit and Lower Dibang Valley districts of Arunachal Pradesh, bordering eastern Assam’s Tinsukia district, was talked about in whispers in security circles. Now, there is any number of official communication to confirm this fact, a development that is ominous to say the least because this is the first clear sign of an extension of the ‘red corridor’ to India’s sensitive Northeast, and, that too, along the Myanmar-China frontier.

First, a look at the contents of some of the official documents, many of them meant for internal circulation within the country’s security establishment: the CPI (Maoist), one of the communications from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs says, is operating in the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border in the name of the Upper Assam Leading Committee (UALC). It says the UALC is functioning with distinct wings for political and military activities under the command of designated ‘political commissars’ and ‘military commander.’ The MHA communication says UALC cadres were behind the snatching of four .315 rifles and 64 rounds of ammunition from forest security camps located in the 380 square kilometer Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Tinsukia district on September 18, 2011. UALC cadres were also said in the communication to be behind the October 4, 2011 attack on India Reserve Battalion personnel at Ambikapur, in the Sadiya sub-division of Tinsukia district, in which one IRB trooper was injured and a 9 mm carbine snatched.

If this was a communication originating in New Delhi, take a look at the contents of a letter written on October 25, 2011 by a senior State Government official based in eastern Assam to Chief Secretary N. K. Das. The letter says the anti-talk ULFA faction headed by Paresh Baruah was imparting arms training to Maoist cadres on the border with Arunachal Pradesh, across the eastern Assam district of Tinsukia. The letter says youth in the age group of 20-25 years are lured by the Maoists and the main pull factor for these boys was the lack of economic activity and employment avenues in such far-flung and inaccessible areas like the Sadiya Sub-division of Tinsukia district. The official has sounded an alarm saying if urgent development initiatives are not undertaken by the Government in eastern Assam, particularly in Tinsukia district’s Sadiya area, things might go out of hand.

The lid on the organized Maoist activity in the area, mainly in the Lohit and Lower Dibang Valley districts of Arunachal Pradesh, was actually blown in August 2011 when arrested cadres made some startling disclosures. They told interrogators that they used to hold ‘revolutionary meetings’ in their hideouts at regular intervals and that such meetings were attended by anything between 150 to 200 cadres. During one such meeting held in August 2011, the arrested cadres claimed, they had mined a six km approach to the venue that was guarded by 60 armed fighters. Revelations such as these had actually triggered the alarm in security circles.

Further confirmation of Maoist activity in the otherwise ‘non-Red belt’ that was Northeast India can be had from confirmation by Tinsukia police that they had arrested 140 to 150 militants from the area in the past six months (May to October, 2011) which included around 15 to 20 Maoist cadres. In fact, Tinsukia police has also arrested at least two Maoist cadres from Namsai area in Lohit district of Arunacgal Pradesh who included Debojit Borgohain and Diganta Thamang. Assam Police sources told this writer that Thamang was among those involved in the Ambikapur arms snatching case in Sadiya sub-division. On August 18, 2011, Tinsukia Police and the Army arrested five Maoist cadres. “The big fish, Aditya Bora, was also with this group but our boys had an impression he was an elderly man and therefore did not lay their hands on him. Bora had shaved off his grey beard that he had when he was arrested from a forest in Orissa in February 2011 on charges of training Maoists in the region,” a police officer said. Incidentally, Bora, a former cadre of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), got out on bail, and, according to the Assam Police, is now based in the Lohit and Lower Dibang Valley districts of Arunachal Pradesh, now a Maoist hotbed.

Aditya Bora’s arrest by the Orissa police in February 2011 was the first confirmation about Maoists trying to set up bases in Assam, thereby extending the ‘red corridor’ to India’s sensitive northeastern frontier. Take a look at this news report following Bora’s arrest: “Aditya Bora, one of the leading ULFA figures in Assam who was arrested by Orissa police, was on an Rs 5 lakh contract to train Maoist cadres in Orissa and Jharkhand. His task was to train in the rebels in guerrilla warfare against the combat forces, Rourkela superintendent of police Diptesh Patnaik told reporters. Aditya belongs to Cha Jana Suraksha Ghosthi of Assam. He was a one of the founder members of ULFA. He left ULFA a few years ago and joined the Maoist organisation. He was sent on a three-month mission to Jharkhand and Orissa to train local cadres here…The SP added that during interrogation Bora admitted that he had come to meet top Maoist leader Kishenji to discuss about future course of action in the eastern region…”

Maoists have for long been trying to extend the ‘red corridor’ to Northeast India, a region that shares borders with China, Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh. It was known for sometime that Maoists have been in touch with Meitei insurgent groups in Manipur since October 2008 but this has been fully confirmed only recently. Take a look at this extract from an official communication emanating from security agencies: “Disclosures of Ningthambam Ranjit alias Wangba, a senior leader of (Manipur’s) Revolutionary People’s Front / People’s Liberation Army (RPF/PLA), (who is the outfit’s) chief coordinator for its nexus with the CPI (Maoist), and Arunkumar Singh Salam, his colleague in the outfit, arrested on October 1, 2011 in Delhi, and incriminating material recovered through them, not only reconfirm thickening of operational relationship between the two terrorist outfits but also unveil their audacious plan to upgrade it to a strategic level…”

The plan though is much more ominous as it sniffs a Chinese design. The above communication goes on to say the following: “The proposed Strategic United Front, the concept of which is being currently fleshed out by leaders of the two outfits, would eventually incorporate all ‘revolutionary groups’ including those in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast. This development acquires sinister salience when viewed in the backdrop of credible reports about the Chinese security agencies exhorting the Northeast militants to forge a common platform of which Jammu and Kashmir militants and CPI (Maoist) would be crucial constituents to launch synergised campaigns of violence against India...”

The following extract from the official communication that I have referred to above proves the Maoists meant business: “Disclosures of the arrested RPF/PLA leaders has revealed that the two outfits have since built on their intent of mutual cooperation spelt out in their joint declaration in October 2008 during the second Congress of the RPF/PLA in Manipur. Wangba (s/s Captain, Chief, External Affairs) was tasked since March 2009 with operationalising the liaison with the CPI (Maoist) to push their relationship forward. He visited Jharkhand along with his deputy and met senior CPI (Maoist) leaders in April 2009. Based on an agreement during this visit, three PLA traders imparted combat and communication training to CPI (Maoist) cadres of five states (Orissa, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka) for two months from August 2010 in Jharkhand. The RPF/PLA provided TH-K-2AT wireless communication sets to the Maoists, more of which have been sought by them this year. The Maoists had also requested RPGs for carrying out attacks on ‘enemy camps’ to get more than 1000 weapons. Besides, an advance of Rs. 15 Lakhs was paid for purchase of arms by the Maoists in 2009. The Maoists had purchased a truck to transport such consignments from Imphal. It is pertinent to note that Wangba had sent (September 2011) an acquaintance to meet R.K.Meghen (s/s Chairman, UNLF), currently incarcerated in Guwahati…”

Last fortnight, I traveled to Sadiya on the border with Arunachal Pradesh, identified as the Maoist hotbed, and was appalled to discover the following: the State Government has thought it fit not to appoint a Block Development Officer (BDO) at Sadiya for three years now (yes, there is an officer holding charge of BDO!); there is no Deputy Inspector of Schools; no Child Development Project Officer (CDPO); and the mini primary health centre at Sonpura inaugurated with much fanfare by the Assam Health department on 13 September this year has no doctor posted so far and is being run by a pharmacist. This is just a few in the list and the fact remains that more than a dozen officers have not been posted in Sadiya Sub-division for months now. What is also true is that there is no dearth of officers, but most of them simply do not want a posting in an inaccessible place like Sadiya.

Now, take a look at these facts: the Sadiya sub-division that has a population of around 1.20 lakh (2011 census) has just one degree college and that too has only the arts stream; there are only three higher secondary schools; and only one school has a centre for the students to sit for their HSLC examination. Well, the only college is not keen on opening a science stream as there are no feeder colleges to send in students to take up a science course in the degree level. This is indeed a pathetic scenario, 64 years after the country’s independence. If anything, this is just the best recipe for Maoists to get a toehold and then consolidate, cashing on people’s sentiments and sense of deprivation.