Security concerns over Naxalite arrests in urban Maharashtra

Security concerns over Naxalite arrests in urban Maharashtra

Mumbai: The arrest of 16 Naxalites, including the head of the so-called golden corridor control committee, in Pune in the past one month has put security in Maharashtra on high alert as it indicates a shift in the strategy of the Maoists and the possible targeting of urban areas.

They have so far concentrated on the three tribal districts in eastern Maharashtra in the Vidarbha region—Chandrapur, Gadchiroli and Gondia, bordering Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.

There have previously been stray arrests of Naxals in Nagpur and Mumbai, but these were of ill or injured members hiding out.

Maharashtra’s anti-terrorism squad (ATS) arrested 10 Naxalites from Pune railway station in the second week of May. Ahead of that, six were arrested in different parts of Pune, including Anjela Sontakke, head of the golden corridor committee.

Sontakke’s husband Milind Teltumbade is secretary of the Maharashtra control committee of the Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist, or CPI-ML.

The golden corridor refers to the industrial belt that stretches between Pune in south-western Maharashtra to the port city of Surat in southern Gujarat.

Sontakke was living in rented accommodation at the Pune suburb of Pirangut with her niece Sushma Ramteke who was working in a private company. Those arrested by the police also include an employee of the Pune Metropolitan Parivahan Ltd, which runs the city’s bus transport system.

According to ATS officials, most of those arrested are either students or working in small industrial units around Pune.

“It’s clear that they want to create a base in urban India. The police are still investigating their likely targets and penetration in urban pockets," said Maharashtra’s additional chief secretary (home) Umeshchandra Sarangi.

The state administration is seeking to ensure that the Naxalites do not gain a foothold in the commercial capital of the country, Mumbai, which houses large Indian corporations, financial intermediaries and the banking and capital market regulators. That would put them in a position to strike at the world’s 10th largest and second fastest-growing major economy. “So far there is no information of major Naxalite activities in Mumbai, but we are on high alert," Sarangi said.

A senior official of the state intelligence department (SID) said a laptop belonging to Kobad Ghandy, a politburo member of the CPI-ML arrested in 2009, revealed the existence of sleeper cells of Naxalites in urban areas.

A joint operation by the Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh police in 2010 had led to recovery of some documents that spelt out the strategy of Maoist groups for urban areas, he added.

“The new strategy focuses on a six-stage approach called Saarrc—survey, awareness, agitation, recruitment, resistance and control. They have completed the first stage of survey, i.e. identifying the target groups, potential areas of discontent and flash points in urban areas. Now they are in the process of implementing the second and third stages of their strategy," said the SID official who declined to be named.

According to Yashwant Sumant, head of the department of political science in Pune University, a fairly large section of the urban youth finds the current politico-economic system stifling. It feels alienated from the present power structure as political authority is concentrated in the hands of a few families, he said.

“One segment of such youth came out in support of Anna Hazare’s campaign for the Lokpal Bill and they can be easy targets for Naxalite groups," he said.

He ruled out the possibility of Naxalites tapping urban India for campaigners in an armed struggle, but said “they are planning to create a support base and want their sympathisers in key positions in government machinery, academia and media and all such agencies that can influence public opinion".

Suresh Dwadashiwar, group editor of Marathi newspaper Lokmat and author of the book Eka Naxlyacha Janma (Birth of a Naxalite), said, “I am not at all surprised as urban areas were always on the radar of the Naxalites."

He also cited a recent interview of CPI-ML leader Koteshwar Rao who said that the aim was to overthrow the present parliamentary democratic system by 2025 and install a revolutionary government in Delhi.

Naxal violence has killed more than 800 tribals in Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts in the last decade, he said.