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Maoist Consolidation In Assam: Ominous Portents

POSTED ON 29 MAY 2013

arunav goswami
Senior fellow,
centre for development and peace studies

Assam is on the path of becoming the next sanctuary for the Maoists to hold on and consolidate their influence. And this process has been going on for more than two decades and not since the last seven-eight years as was believed. The arrests and subsequent interrogations of some top Maoist leaders in Assam has reveled this fact. With the red terror returning with full vigour, as was evident with the murderous attack on the Congress convoy in Chhattisgrah on May 25, 2013, which left 27 persons dead and several injured, the danger of a Maoist depredation in the Northeast cannot be ruled out.

A significant number of Maoists have been arrested in Assam during the last two months (April – May, 2013). On April 26, 2013, police arrested Aklanta Rabha alias Maheshji and Siraj Rabha alias Bijoy Rabha alias Suraj from the Jorabat area in the outskirts of Guwahati, near the Assam–Meghalaya border. Aklanta Rabha was a central committee member of CPI (Maoist) and chief of the outfit's Northeast operations. It needs to be mentioned here that the central committee of the CPI (Maoist) is the second highest decision making body of the outfit after the Politburo. The other arrested Maoist, Siraj Rabha was training instructor of CPI (Maoist) and a landmine expert. The next day, security forces arrested three women from Bhalukdubi area of Goalpara district, in western Assam, for helping the duo.

However, the incident which confirmed deep penetration of Maoists in Assam was the arrest of veteran Maoist leader Anukul Chandra Naskar alias Pareshda, who was a member of the Politburo of the CPI (Maoist), on May 8, 2013. He was arrested from Cachar district in Barak valley of Assam. A week later, on May 15, his wife Kabita Rabha was arrested from a rented house in Odalbakra area of Guwahati. She was running a printing press from the rented house and published Maoist literature for distribution in the state.

Interrogations of the arrested Maoists have revealed that the groundwork for Maoist activities in the Northeast was laid some 20 years ago. One of the arrested Maoist leaders, Aklanta Rabha, had joined the red brigade during 1991-92 and has been associated with Maoist activities since then. At the time of his arrest, he was looking after the activities of the Maoists in the Northeast, particularly in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. According to police sources, Aklanta accompanied a senior Maoist leader, Sumit da, also known as Amitabh Bagchi, to Assam twice in 2005 and 2007 to strengthen relations with other Northeast-based militant groups and to build up a people’s guerrilla army in the region.

The main aim of Aklanta was to establish a sanctuary in the northeastern region so that senior Maoist leaders could hide there when operations by security forces scaled up against them in other parts of the country. With the government machinery vigorously trying to track them after the Chhattisgarh massacre of May 25, the focus of the security agencies could well be on the Northeast that may be the ideal gateway for some of these leaders who planned this attack. Since Northeast India shares international borders with China, Bangladesh and Myanmar, the Maoists may find this region the ideal place to let their leaders beat the heat of the security offensive in the traditional red belt.

Condemning the Maoist attacks in Chhattisgarh, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on May 27, 2013, admitted that Maoists were active in Assam too and said that the State government would take all possible measures to weed out Maoism from the State. On May 12, 2013, Meghalaya Governor RS Mooshahary also cautioned that Maoists were trying to establish their foothold in India's northeastern region. On May 19, 2013, Assam Director General of Police (DGP) JN Choudhury talked about the possibility of the Maoists coming into a tactical understanding with other militant groups active in Assam, including the United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) . He further said that so far there has been no information of the Maoists forging any alliance with any other insurgent group of Assam, but some kind of tactical alliance for their own survival is very much possible. He revealed that according to information available, some persons, who used to work as overground workers of the ULFA, are now working for the Maoists.

Interrogations of arrested Maoists have revealed that the char areas of Dhubri district bordering West Bengal and forest areas are the new targets of the Maoists. They have also managed to increase their influence in the districts of Goalpara, Bongaigaon, Silchar, Karimganj and Kamrup (rural) districts and have created a fresh support base of at least 150 cadres in these districts.

Maoists have also succeeded in making inroads into Barak valley in Assam, which comprises of three districts, namely, Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi. The valley shares inter-state borders with Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram and an international border with Bangladesh. Aklanta Rabha revealed the names of at least five persons who joined the Maoists four to five years ago and are currently working at the village level in Barak Valley to strengthen the base of the Maoists in the region. This revelation is of significance as a task force constituted by the State government in 2012 reported only of possible Maoists activities in the Barak valley and could not find any “significant evidence” of Maoist presence in the area.

Interrogations further revealed that the Maoists have already formed frontal groups like Biplobi Yuva League, Biplobi Sanskritik League, Biplobi Krishak Committee, Biplobi Kobi Goshthi and have also published a magazine, Janagana, in Kamrup district of Assam. It has also been revealed that a total of 11 cadres from Assam have so far been trained in camps in Jharkhand. Some cadres were even trained in the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh.

Maoists are now looking to establish bases in Meghalaya. Aklanta admitted that he had already established contacts with a number of Khasi youths to bring them to the Maoist fold. In fact, Aklanta was arrested when he was waiting for the arrival of a few Khasi boys for their periodical meetings. The Khasi boys, however, could not be arrested as they did not turn up at the stipulated time of the meeting.

These fresh facts have shown that while the security agencies started seriously monitoring Maoist activities in the state only some seven-eight years ago, the Maoists were already active in the area much before that time. This means that the issue is far more serious and has deeper roots than it appeared. If the Maoists have been carrying out their activities for so long, it has surely been able to imbibe their ideology into some section of the masses they have been working with. With problems like poverty, under development and unemployment galore in many parts of Assam, the deprived masses are sure to be attracted towards an ideology that promises them liberation from such issues.

According to police sources, there are at least 180 Maoist cadres, including 23 females, in Assam. However, according to information available with security agencies, the total number of armed cadres is around 40. Most of the cadres work overground among the people to address issues like anti-mega dam movement, problems of the ethnic groups and tea tribes, problems of the people displaced by floods and erosion, etc. and to strengthen their base among the people.

With these fresh revelations, the time has come for the security apparatus in the region to gear up to tackle the imminent threat a large scale Maoist activity can bring. They need to follow up on the facts revealed by the arrested Maoists and increase their monitoring activities. The under-developed areas of the state can become a hotbed of Maoist activities if urgent remedial steps are not ensured. The government here has an important role to play by focusing on the development of these regions. The district administrations needs to prepare a detailed work plan for the development of the under developed areas in their respective districts and submit it to the government. The government then needs to take immediate steps to ensure that the work plan in executed and implemented. Only then the growing Maoist influence in the State can be reversed and the people spared from experiencing another bout of violence.