A former director general of police of Chhattisgarh once commented as to how well Maoist documents were prepared. “These appear to be written by educated people—JNU types.”
He then looked sharply at me. “Are you from JNU?” he asked, referring to Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, often painted as left-leaning. I disabused him of the notion, but I agree entirely with his point: Whatever the extreme politics and polemic, documents and statements by Maoist rebels are erudite and clear. These are not ravings of stereotypically wild-eyed, frothing intellectuals, but the thoughts of deliberate, yet intensely angry ideologues who invite people to join battle against the current nature and practice of Indian politics, administration and law-keeping.
All that Kobad Ghandy, a recently arrested Maoist leader, repeatedly muttered to television cameras as he was being led to a Delhi court by police was: “Bhagat Singh zindabad”. Long Live Bhagat Singh. This revolutionary occupies pride of place in official histories of India’s freedom movement. His likenesses are evident in countless public places across northern India; indeed, in India’s Parliament. Those who battle Maoists know this well.
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It is important to go beyond the government-engineered media movement that has largely dismissed Maoists as being from the lunatic fringe seeking to destroy the “Shining India” and “Imagining India” narratives of the India dream. This is part of government’s lateral tactic in a battle—“psy-ops” or psychological operations—much like what public relations professionals and warring corporate siblings practise.
Alongside, the Union government is engaged in intense on-ground security operations with a self-declared mandate to arrive at a conclusion within the next three years.
But it knows what it is up against, the same as the incredulous former police chief of Chhattisgarh. So too do his colleagues in Karnataka—a marked state, as it were—know the facility with which Maoist rebels plan.
As far back as 2002, the Maoists prepared a document titled Social Conditions and Tactics—A report based on preliminary social investigation conducted by survey teams during August-October 2001 in the Perspective Area. The “perspective area” were Central Malnad, including parts of Udupi district, and the adjacent districts of Shimoga, Chikmaglur and Dakshina Kannada. It offers insight into the planning and argumentative conviction that go into developing a revolutionary base.
Malnad is the “ghat” region of Karnataka comprising 10 districts, from Belgaum in the north-west to Chamarajnagar in the south. It includes nearly half of Karnataka’s forest area, nearly all of its iron ore and manganese riches, major concentrations of areca—betel nut—cardamom and other spices, and coffee. It records a large tribal population and caste prejudice. The Maoist survey recorded a fairly large percentage of landless and poor farmers, and domination by the upper castes—Brahmins and Vokkaligas, among others. The landless received daily wages as much as 15% less than the norm. In places, the survey recorded between 10% and 32% of land without title deeds and consequent “encroachment” by wealthier peasantry and landlords.
The survey, which referred to particular villages only with designated alphabets to maintain secrecy, recorded high interest rates on account of private moneylenders, and high indebtedness. As many such moneylenders were also landlords—comprising 4% of the population but owning a quarter of all land—inability to repay led in numerous cases to a member of the family, usually a youngster, being bonded as farm or plantation labour.
The survey tracked the fall in prices for several categories of areca, pepper, cardamom and coffee. Inevitably, daily wages dropped. This was recorded as the overall impact of “semi-feudalism”, free-market pricing, lowering of import restrictions, and in some cases—such as coffee—overproduction.
In great detail, the survey noted which Brahmin landlord was “known to break two whipping sticks on the backs of his tenants”; where a landlord had links with Mumbai’s timber mafia; where “Jain landlords” evicted tenants unable to pay rent; and which temples in the region had links with powerful politicians and businessmen. There was also a list of weapons in the surveyed villages.
The survey recommended that Maoist support must be developed in the area by “strictly secret methods”. These should include secret front organizations of women, “coolies” and Adivasis. Village-level clusters of militias should in turn be guided by the local guerilla squad assigned to that territory—one such squad would have under its care 800 sq. km and four squads would form an interlinked team to control 3,200 sq. km.
The plan is on the ground.
Sudeep Chakravarti writes on issues related to conflict in South Asia. He is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. He writes a column alternate Thursdays on conflicts that directly affect business.
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