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Maoists' dream can become India's nightmare

By Ajai Sahni
March 16, 2007 17:18 IST
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Revolutionary warfare is never confined within the bounds of military action. Because its purpose is to destroy an existing society and its institutions and to replace them with a completely new structure, any revolutionary war is a unity of which the constituent parts, in varying importance, are military, political, economic, social and psychological.

Mao Tse-Tung on 'guerilla warfare'

The 'Red Corridor', extending from 'Tirupati to Pashupati' (Andhra Pradesh to Nepal), has long been passé in the Indian Maoists (Naxalites') conception. Maoist ambitions in India now extend to the farthest reaches of the country, and this is not just a fantasy or an aspiration, but a strategy, a projection, a plan and a programme under implementation. A multiplicity of Maoist documents testify to the meticulous detail in which the contours of the current and protracted conflict have been envisaged, in order to 'intensify the peoples' war throughout the country'.

These documents reflect a comprehensive strategy, coordinating all the instrumentalities of revolution -- military, political, economic, cultural and psychological -- harnessed through the 'three magic weapons' Comrade Mao spoke about: the Party, the People's Army, and the United Front.

After a great deal of dissembling and vacillation, India's security establishment, both at the Centre and in the 'affected' states, appears to have conceded, finally, that the Maoist threat is, in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's words, the country's "single biggest internal security challenge." But the threat is still restrictively envisaged as afflicting only parts of those states where Naxalite violence is visible, and is assumed to follow the erratic trajectory of incidents and fatalities from year to year. However, as the Chhattisgarh Director General of Police, O P Rathor, recently observed at a conference in Raipur, 'Statistics of incidents never give a real picture of the ground. Whatever is visible is only the mere tip of the iceberg. Unless caution is exercised, volcanoes can erupt.'

It is necessary to recognise, crucially, that the phase of violence, which is ordinarily the point at which the State takes cognisance of the problem, comes at the tail end of the process of mass mobilisation, and at a stage where neutralising the threat requires considerable, if not massive, use of force. Within this context it is, consequently, useful to notice not merely the current expanse of visible Maoist mobilisation and militancy, but the extent of their current intentions, ambitions and agenda.

Significantly, the Maoists have established regional bureaus across a mass of nearly two-thirds of the country's territory (Map 1) and these regions are further sub-divided into state, special zonal and special area committee jurisdictions (Map 2) where the processes of mobilisation have been defined and allocated to local leaders. As these maps indicate, there are at least five regional bureaus, 13 state committees, two special area committees and three special zonal committees in the country. This structure of organisation substantially reflects current Maoist organisational consolidation, but does not exhaust their perspectives or ambitions. There is further evidence of preliminary activity for the extension of operations to new areas including Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Meghalaya, beyond what is reflected in the scope of the regional, zonal and state committees. A 'leading team' recently visited Jammu & Kashmir to assess the potential of creating a permanent party structure in the form of a state committee to take the Maoist agenda forward in the state.

In 2004, moreover, the Maoists also articulated a new strategy to target urban centres in their 'Urban Perspective Document', drawing up guidelines for 'working in towns and cities', and for the revival of a mobilisation targeting students and the urban unemployed. Two principal 'industrial belts' were also identified as targets for urban mobilisation: Bhilai-Ranchi-Dhanbad-Kolkata; and Mumbai-Pune-Surat-Ahmedabad.

Within this broad geographical spread, the Maoists include, in their inventory of 'immediate tasks', among others, the following:

  • 'Coordinate the people's war with the ongoing armed struggles of the various oppressed nationalities in Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and other parts of the Northeast.
  • 'Build a broad UF (United Front) of all secular forces and persecuted religious minorities such as Muslims, Christians and Sikhs…
  • 'Build a secret party apparatus which is impregnable to the enemy's attacks…
  • 'Build open and secret mass organisations amongst the workers, peasants, youth, students, women and other sections of the people…
  • 'Build the people's militia in all the villages in the guerrilla zones as the base force of the PGA (People's Guerrilla Army). Also build armed self-defence units in other areas of class struggle as well as in the urban areas.'

The Maoist strategy is clearly to fish in all troubled Indian waters, and to opportunistically exploit every potential issue and grievance to generate a campaign of protests and agitations. The principal vehicles for these 'partial struggles' are 'front' or 'cover' organisations of the Maoists themselves, on the one hand, and a range of individuals and organisations best described, in a phrase often attributed to Lenin, as 'useful idiots' -- well intentioned and often gullible people who are unaware of the broader strategy and agenda they are unwittingly promoting through their support to specific and unquestionably admirable causes.

As the political and organisational review of the erstwhile Communist Party of India, Marxist-Leninist – Peoples War (CPI-ML-PW), also known as the Peoples War Group, which merged in September 2004 with the Maoist Communist Centre to create the Communist Party of India – Maoist noted, 'Cover organisations are indispensable in areas where our mass organisations are not allowed to function openly…There are two types of cover organisations: one, those which are formed on a broad basis by ourselves; and two, those organisations led by other forces which we utilise by working from within without getting exposed.'

This strategy has already contributed to the 'eruption' of a few unexpected 'volcanoes' in the recent past, with the role of Maoist provocateurs often discovered much after the event. Two of the most recent and impeccable causes that have been embraced in this cynical strategy include the caste conflict in Khairlanji and the escalating tensions and violence over the displacement and Special Economic Zones issues, including Singur and Kalinga Nagar. Sources indicate that current Maoist debates and documents condemn the 'second wave of economic reforms' as a 'violent assault on the right to life and livelihood of the masses', and call for 'an uncompromising opposition to the present model and all the policies that are coming up.' Internal debates on the issue have further underlined the 'need to build a huge movement against displacement and the very model of development itself', and to unite all 'genuine democratic and anti-imperialist forces… to create a tornado of dissent that forces the rulers to stop this juggernaut'.

The issues at stake envisaged for potential mobilisation comprehend 'development driven through big dams, super highways and other infrastructural projects… gigantic mining projects, Special Economic Zones, urban renewal and beautification'.

Within the same pattern, United Fronts and Joint Action Committees have focused on 'burning issues of the peasantry such as for water, power, remunerative prices for agricultural produce, against exploitation by traders, against suicides by the peasantry, against the World Trade Organisation, and on worker, student, women, Adivasi and Dalit issues.' Thus, 'Issue-based joint activity with other forces has been the general form of UF (United Front) undertaken by our Party at various levels…' Suitable 'issues' are not picked up randomly or opportunistically, but are based on extensive 'investigations' into 'social conditions and tactics', and are meticulously reconciled with the broader Maoist strategy and agenda.

These various causes, as already noted, are impeccable, and no one can be faulted for extending support to demands for greater equity, justice and access in these various spheres. For the Maoists, however, these various causes, whether they relate to 'oppressed nationalities', minorities, caste excesses, or other social and economic issues, are an integral component of their strategy of political consolidation, leading to military mobilisation.

In Maoist doctrine, these 'partial struggles' are no more than a tactical element in the protracted war, and they have no intrinsic value of their own. These 'struggles' create the networks and recruitment base for the Maoist militia and armed cadres.

Where partial struggles thrive, an army is being raised. These 'peaceful' or sporadically violent movements are eventually and inevitably intended to yield to armed warfare and terrorism. Their objective is to 'isolate the enemy by organising the people into various cover organisations and build joint fronts in order to mobilise the masses into struggles to defeat the enemy offensive.' Army formation, the Maoists insist, 'is the precondition for the new political power', and 'all this activity should serve to intensify and extend our armed struggle. Any joint activity or tactical alliances which do not serve the cause of the peoples' war will be a futile exercise.'

Moreover, the integrity of the 'partial struggles' and the overall aims of the protracted peoples war is underlined by the fact that cadres of the Peoples Guerrilla Army are required to engage in these agitational programmes as well. As the PGA's 'programme and constitution' notes: 'The PGA will participate in the propaganda and agitations programmes as directed by Party Committees. It will organise the people. The PGA will extensively employ people's art forms in its propaganda. It will try to enhance the consciousness of the people.'

The Maoists' Urban Perspective Document, moreover, envisages the formation of 'Open Self Defence Teams' and armed 'Secret Self Defence Squads' in urban areas. The document notes, moreover, that for the Secret Self Defence Squads, 'One significant form of activity is to participate along with the masses and give them the confidence to undertake militant mass action. Other tasks are to secretly hit particular targets who are obstacles in the advance of the mass movement.'

It is useful to recall, in this context, that when talk of the 'Red Corridor' was first heard at the turn of the Millennium, most security, intelligence and political analysts simply scoffed, dismissing the very idea as a pipe dream and a propaganda ploy. Since then, however, the Maoist consolidation has occurred precisely along the axis of the then-projected 'Red Corridor'.

If the State is to prevent a further consolidation of Maoist subversion and violence across the country, it is crucial that the futile debate on, and disputable enumeration of, 'affected' states, districts and police stations, be abandoned, and the scope of the state's defences be extended to cover the contours of the Maoist projections.

The Maoists are -- and have long been -- working to a plan, and have explicitly rejected the 'Left Opportunism' which they believe led to the failure of the original Naxalite movement (1967-73). This gives the movement great strength -- but to the extent that this design is well known -- makes it enormously vulnerable. Regrettably, while there is a handful of officers in the security and intelligence establishment who are aware of the details of this design, the general grasp in the security and political leadership in the affected and targeted states (the latter category now comprehends the entire country) and at the Centre is, at best, poor. There is, moreover, the added constraint that the Maoist strategy exploits the vulnerabilities of constitutional governance and its freedoms to the hilt, and the security apparatus has only limited instrumentalities of containment available in the initial stages of subversion and mass mobilisation.

The Maoists believe that there is, at present, an 'excellent revolutionary situation in India', and have clearly declared that 'the seizure of State power should be the goal of all our activity'. Building bulwarks against their complex strategy is a challenge, it would appear, that is yet to be imagined by the national security establishment.

The fire-fighting responses of the past, the 'battalion approach' of deployment of Central Paramilitary Forces from one theatre to another, and the preferential allocation of financial resources to 'disturbed' states and areas, may help fitfully contain the violence of Maoist armed cadres. However, if the nation-wide campaigns of subversion are not addressed, and if prevention, rather than containment, does not become the sheet-anchor of national policy, there will be a tipping-point beyond which national capacities for emergency management will begin to fall disastrously short. That is the Maoist dream; it could become the country's nightmare.

The author is Editor, SAIR (South Asian Intelligence Review) and Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management

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