Indian Maoists and the foreign connection

India’s Maoism is probably the only China product entirely made in India


Indian Maoists’ foreign connection has ranged from the farcical to the fraternal. Photo: AFP
Indian Maoists’ foreign connection has ranged from the farcical to the fraternal. Photo: AFP

Maoists and the “foreign hand?” Forget it.

Kanu Sanyal, an iconic rebel leader, once told me about how he went to China between 1969-72, and met Mao Zedong. Sanyal received a lecture on the prerequisite for home-grown rebellions, but no support for training and weapons. Ironically, Naga rebel leader Thuingaleng Muivah led a group to China in 1966. The result was the opposite.

It isn’t even possible to blame radical Islamism for the Maoist rebellion. The interpreted messages of Mohammad and battle plans and the ‘godless’ communist Utopia of Mao aren’t exactly compatible travelling companions.

But it is not also as if Maoists haven’t had foreign connections, at least in terms of expedient logistics: weapons, know-how and shelter.

The current chief of army of National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), or NSCN (I-M) Phungthing Shimrang told me about how they had “gone and trained the Naxalites, the People’s War Group.” It was the first public admission of such a link by this largest Naga rebel group, currently in awkward peace negotiations with the government of India.

General Phungthing spoke of links with Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War and its allies. That faction merged in 2004 with Maoist Communist Centre of India to form Communist Party of India (Maoist), or CPI (Maoist), till today the rebellion’s driving force.

Other sources have told me of on-again-off-again weapons supply network from NSCN (I-M) and other northeast Indian rebel groups, like United Liberation Front of Asom, which source weaponry left over from Southeast Asian wars, and both used and new weapons off the Myanmar-Thailand-China grey market. This depends on the Maoists’ increasingly squeezed ability to pay.

In any case, as again proved by the attack on paramilitary troopers in Sukma in southern Chhattisgarh on 24 April, Maoists still prefer kill-and-take strikes for sourcing weapons. It’s a reason why Maoists’ inventories reflect whatever they can lay their hands on, from basic handguns and ancient Lee Enfield rifles to INSAS and various AK-series assault rifles—and explosives looted from mining and infrastructure businesses. These are supplemented by purchases using revenue from the Maoist parallel economy of extortion, “donation” for the cause, and the occasional outright robbery.

Maoists use rudimentary but effective mines from robbed explosives using know-how initially learnt from the now defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Maoists have over the years used a range of IEDs, or improvised explosive devices: pressure mines triggered by explosive caps and even hypodermic syringes; IEDs set off remotely, using wires as well as wireless signals. Some call it “LTTE-inspired,” a kind of favour returned—during the blockade of Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka in the late 1980s, People’s War helped to get arms across to LTTE strongholds there.

During Nepal’s Maoist rebellion from 1996 to 2006, Nepal’s rebels occasionally trained in the forests of Jharkhand and Odisha, and were treated for wounds at Maoist field hospitals, and clinics in eastern Indian cities and towns. They even attended key celebrations and meetings. (Besides, senior Maoist leaders from Nepal were at the time provided sanctuary in the National Capital Region by the government of India. This led to a realpolitik situation where India’s government for a time aided Nepal’s Maoist rebels against that country’s establishment, but continued to attack its own Maoist rebels!)

Generally, overseas support for India’s Maoists has ranged from the farcical to the fraternal.

For example, in 2015 members of a group called Indien Solidaritet gathered outside the Indian embassy in Stockholm, raised slogans and distributed flyers about the “people’s war” being waged by CPI (Maoist) and the war against it by India’s security paraphernalia. The gathering of about 70 dispersed shortly. It was all quite civilized.

“The police came and said that they wouldn’t do anything” unless protesters shouted “too much,” the group later wrote in an e-mail. “If so, the demo could be counted as ‘public disorder’.”

The same year, the Red Guards-Los Angeles, a tiny fringe group, met in the Boyle Heights area of that city in support of the Maoist Communist Party of Manipur, now allied to CPI (Maoist). They borrowed the space from Ovarian Psycos Bicycle Brigade, a feminist group with slogans like “Ovaries so big we don’t need no b***s.”

There are larger solidarity gatherings in the UK and Italy that draw good numbers, where statements from rebels are read out. Occasionally, representatives of rebels too are present. But these are more flash than bang.

India’s Maoism is probably the only Chinese product entirely made in India.

Part of an ongoing series about the Maoist rebellion in India on the 50th anniversary of the Naxalbari uprising. Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. This column, which focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights, runs on Thursdays.

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