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Does Assam have an anti-Maoist strategy in place?


wasbir hussain
DIRECTOR, Centre for Development and Peace Studies

Any attempt by the Tarun Gogoi government to downplay the start or consolidation of a Left-wing rebellion in Assam has come to a naught with Governor JB Patnaik stating in no uncertain terms that Maoists have emerged as a real threat to the State, even urging the security establishment to take the ‘danger signals in the Northeast seriously.’ The Governor chose to sound his warning at an appropriate forum, a meeting of the police and paramilitary chiefs of the region held in Guwahati this week. He went to the extent of once again stating that the Paresh Baruah faction of the ULFA is in ‘constant negotiation with the Maoists and is willing to provide both weapons and funds to the Naxals in Assam.’

To add to the Governor’s blunt warning are revelations made by a detained ‘foreign secretary’ of the Manipur-based People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Dilip Singh, which only reinforces the need to deal with the matter with all seriousness. Dilip Singh, now in judicial custody, has revealed names of Maoist linkmen and ideologues in Assam and has also pinpointed Maoist strongholds in the State during interrogation by officers from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) recently. The NIA, that is probing the PLA-Maoist linkages, has launched an investigation based on the disclosures of the PLA leader. In fact, Dilip Singh, arrested from New Delhi in October, was in charge of bringing several insurgent groups from the North-east and the Maoists in a common platform along with separatists from Jammu and Kashmir.

In view of the fact that the Maoists have actually managed to extend the ‘red corridor’ to Assam, or for that matter to the North-east, the question arises whether the Assam Government has an anti-Maoist strategy in place. The answer as of now is no although the security apparatus in the State is slowly waking up to the reality of having to deal with Left-wing extremism after all these years of tackling an assortment of insurgent groups like the ULFA and the NDFB. A few Assam Police officers have been sent to Naxal-hit states like Jharkhand, Odisha and Chattisgarh to study the scene there. In a small move, a 20-member anti-Maoist squad has been set up in Tinsukia headed by a Deputy Superintendent of Police and equipped with sophisticated weapons, global positioning system, nigh vision devices and anti-mine vehicles to penetrate the Maoist strongholds in the Sadiya sub-division and the Lohit and Lower Dibang Valley districts in adjoining Arunachal Pradesh. Coordination with Arunachal Pradesh police has also begun.

As Governor Patnaik said, “…the geographical isolation of the areas (remote Tinsukia district of Assam and the two Arunachal districts) has contributed to the proliferation of their activities…” In fact, the civil administration in eastern Assam has written to the State Chief Secretary (in October itself) that youth from Tinsukia district in the age group of 20-25 years are joining the Maoists’ fold primarily due to lack of livelihood options. A few deputy commissioners in eastern Assam have prepared detailed background reports as well as action plans to deal with the nascent Maoist forces and nip the rebellion in the bud. The common point in all these presentations or suggestions is that the area is poor, inaccessible, lack employment avenues and need better policing. To address these issues, a definite strategy is needed and that is what the Assam Government does not have so far.

What Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi should do right now is to set up a group of ministers committee and ask the members to camp in the area for a few days, meet public representatives and list out their grievances aside from asking the local administration to come up with written recommendations for a workable development initiative. Once the gaps and the needs are identified, an action plan should be finalized, funds earmarked, and a development campaign launched without delay. Instead of sitting and talking a few years later on how to tame the Maoists, it is any day better to take measures to nip the rebellion in the bud. In fact, the matter cannot be resolved with a routine or slow developmental initiative that could well be seeped in corruption. What is needed is a strategy that can actually be bulldozed into action.

Action is what is needed not meetings. After all, no one would like the Maoists in Assam to take over from where the ULFA had left. And yes, if Paresh Baruah finds that nothing was clicking for him, his group could well decide to ride piggy back on the Maoists and create disturbances in Assam. All in all, a dangerous situation awaits Assam.