The army’s deliberate presence and an increase in the number of helipads in jungle areas, has spooked the Maoists
The first week of December is typically a time for a sit-rep in the Maoist scheme of things, when rebels mark the anniversary of raising its armed wing, the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA). It was formally launched on 2 December 2000 by a leading faction of today’s merged rebel conglomerate Communist Party of India (Maoist).
I imagine the merged organization retained the name because it had a ring of purpose, a vanguard for the day the party feels its armed wing will have graduated to the next level where it can drop “guerrilla" and cap itself as the People’s Liberation Army. This distinction between self-worth and aspiration is significant. Among other things, it marks the road rebels must yet travel in their work-in-progress—work-in-regress to their establishment critics.
The “celebration" is usually marked by calls for a bandh, or shutdown, in areas of rebel influence. This year, for the PLGA Week that runs to 8 December, the organization’s politburo and Central Military Commission opted against shutdown, choosing instead to renew calls against what it terms “brutal offensives of the Indian Ruling Classes"! (Such overwrought language is the norm. A September 2012 call to cause by the CPI (Maoist) central committee was headlined: “Demand immediate roll back of the decision to allow FDI in Retail, Civil Aviation, Power and Broadcasting Sectors. Do not let the lackey Indian ruling classes and the running dogs of imperialists in the Parliament to sell our country’s sovereignty to the FDI Giants.")
This year though, besides exhortations “to expand by intensifying guerrilla warfare" to cure the country’s myriad political, economic and social ills, the military commission’s statement has a largely defensive tone, indicative of the immense pressure the organization faces. It boasts victories over the past year that include raids in central and eastern India leading to the death of over a hundred police and paramilitary personnel with capture of some of their weapons, and numerous injuries. In turn, the organization acknowledges the deaths of several cadres and leaders on account of ill-health, in action, and what it claims to be faked encounters—including that of Siddhartha Burgohain, a “regional committee level" member from Assam, where Maoists are trying to strengthen recruitment. Taken together, through death, desertion and arrests, Maoist losses have been higher than that of their adversaries, a direct result of increased and better-coordinated state security operations involving tenured personnel as well as state-sponsored militias.
This aspect, and the resultant concern of rebels, emerges clearly. “From mid-2011, the ruling classes increased their offensives on the movement areas. These operations are being carried out with the aim of damaging our movement areas and damaging our coordination by cutting up our areas into parts." While this is true, the rebels incorrectly assert that the government is deploying the army “to wipe out the revolutionary movement", and that the air force is constructing bases to create a sort of ring of fire around Maoist concentrations in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, and parts of Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. I’ve been told by senior armed forces personnel that the ministry of home affairs during P. Chidambaram’s tenure as minister suggested intense army and air force operations against rebels. But the armed forces, led by their chiefs and defence minister A.K. Antony, have consistently stood their ground against being involved in intense operations for what they perceive as a law and order and misgovernance issue involving Indian citizens.
The truth is that the army’s deliberate presence in Narayanpur district of Chhattisgarh, where it runs a nearly two-year-old camp for jungle warfare training, has spooked Maoists into considering imminent army engagement. The increase in the number of helipads in jungle areas, where various state governments permit the use of both leased civilian helicopters and air force transport for reconnaissance missions, reaching supplies and, when the situation demands, collecting injured police and paramilitary personnel, has also contributed to Maoist fears.
Rebels are also concerned with the ongoing modernization of several hundred police stations in what they term as “the four tri-junctions" of Maoist influence. These are Andhra Pradesh-Chhattisgarh-Maharashtra; Andhra Pradesh-Chhattisgarh-Orissa; Chhattisgarh-Jharkhand-Orissa; and Orissa-West Bengal-Jharkhand. This amounts to “strengthening carpet security", rebels claim. And, that providing better training, weapons and equipment to security forces will repulse “any kind of attacks by our PLGA forces".
Such measures and drone attacks are “concentrating on annihilating the leadership in the field".
This is stating the obvious, and quite desperate. But for the rebels these are desperate times.
Sudeep Chakravarti is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business, runs on Fridays.