To read and hear breathless commentary and reportage about the tech savvy of Maoists, especially in the wake of a Maoist ambush in southern Chhattisgarh last week that killed and injured several troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), it is as if the rebels live on a different planet. A report in a major national newspaper earlier this week, quoting an unnamed CRPF source, offered a glimpse into the Maoists’ communication arsenal. Samsung tablets were evidently found after a raid in Jharkhand in early March, as were some walkie-talkie sets. There was also “uncovering" of a propaganda website, and evidence of the rebels using Google Earth.

Maoist rebels have always used whatever technology was available to them—the same technology available to an average citizen—with adaptation for remote areas where they often operate. And if they have gained from it, they have also paid the price for using some technology, through monitoring mechanisms employed by security forces.

I’m not sure what propaganda website the CRPF source offered as intelligence manna, but numerous observers have for more than a decade dipped into bannedthought.net, a Maoist archive. Indeed, I have beseeched representatives of several Indian security agencies to leave it untouched. Better to know, than not. If the website propagates Maoist thought and action, it also displays that collective mind. Maoists are aware of it and yet they persist, because it’s a bulletin board as well as a matter of record, discussing various aspects ranging from analyses of operations and views on ongoing politics and government policies, to stodgy we-shall-overcome propaganda trumpeting to acknowledging the treachery, arrest or death of leaders and cadres.

The rebels have always used every communication tool at hand, from useful eyes in villages, to couriers and runners who convey word from one cell of operations, one squad or dalam to the next . They have extensively used mobile telephones and services ever since these became mass-market. If far from a wall outlet to charge phone batteries, they have used solar-powered chargers. There are true stories from remote areas of Maoists climbing atop a tree or hiking to a hilltop to catch a faint signal from a mobile tower. This is gathered evidence from raids by security forces as well from interrogations and confessions of captured or “surrendered" Maoists.

Maoists have routinely used letters, fax, email and mobile telephones, including text and WhatsApp, for communicating with media persons and media organizations. I’m far from the only observer and writer to have been reached by phone by some Maoist representative or leader from somewhere in India. Mallojula Koteswara Rao, or Kishenji, who was killed by police and paramilitaries in 2011, in Lalgarh in West Bengal, famously called from mobile phones, taking care to switch numbers. (Though evidently not that much care: using monitoring devices and information from mobile service towers, security agencies tracked him as they did several Maoists and Maoist sympathizers in the area. If a visitor enters such a zone, the first thing they are asked is to switch off mobile phones.)

If the finding of tablets and employing freely available or inexpensive map data and applications are being touted as amazing, observers of the Maoist conflict and readers of this column and other commentary on this conflict will recall similar sentiment from a decade ago, when raids of some Maoist hideouts or dens by security forces, or even as leavings, as it were, after a Maoist patrol was attacked, led to the recovery of the odd hard drive—and later, pen drives—and computer notebooks and laptops, besides the more commonplace mobile phones and stash of SIM cards.

Remember Tech Madhu, a.k.a. Thota Kumaraswamy, a Maoist operative who self-confessedly employed schema from the website of the scientist A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, to attempt to kick-start a rocket-propelled grenade and hand-held rocket launcher programme? Ineffective and abortive, but there was a serious attempt. Or a procurer-colleague, Sadanala Rama Krishna a.k.a. Techie Anna?

If technology maketh the man, surely it can modify the Maoist.

Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India, Red Sun and Highway 39. This column focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights, and runs on Thursdays.

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