Maoists dream of long march
Blaming neighbours, particularly Pakistan, for India's internal conflicts is New Delhi's forte. But India has only itself to blame for a raging insurrection described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the 'single-biggest security threat India has ever faced'.
Analysts say that Dr Singh's candid assessment of the Maoist uprising, which has claimed more than 100 lives since January, is a tacit admission that ultra-leftist guerillas today pose an even bigger threat to India than the allegedly Pakistan-backed Kashmir separatists.
Strikingly enough, peace and normalcy are slowly returning in Indian-administered Kashmir as Islamabad and New Delhi improve bilateral ties. There is a proposal to pull the Indian army out of Kashmir in the changing scenario.
In contrast, rising Maoist violence across India, highlighted by no less a person than Dr Singh, is giving sleepless nights to police and intelligence agencies.
Significantly, the guerillas swear by Mao Zedong but they are not backed by Beijing. On the contrary, China's ambassador in New Delhi says they are maligning the Chinese revolutionary and has offered all assistance to crush them.
Last month, Maoists struck with unprecedented ferocity, gunning down 55 people in central India. Among the dead at Dantewada in Chhattisgarh state were police officers and vigilantes armed and funded by the federal government to combat Maoists. The two-hour-long operation was the deadliest attack in years carried out by 700 radicals who overwhelmed their 'class enemies'.
The raiders, according to the police, included women fighters in battle fatigues who fired automatic weapons with impunity.
Significantly, the mid-March Dantewada massacre took place within days of the assassination of Sunil Mahato, a powerful member of the federal parliament who spearheaded a campaign against Maoists in Jharkhand state, a stronghold of leftist extremists in eastern India. The MP's murder was preceded by the gruesome killing of A. Prakash, a Congress party leader of coastal Andhra Pradesh province, and other violent incidents in several states.
In 2006, more than 700 people, including rebels, police and paramilitary soldiers besides civilians - mostly government-sponsored militia - died in Maoist-related violence across India.
Thousands have been killed in Maoist campaigns in eastern, central and southern India since 1967 when the first shots were fired to create a communist republic for the poorest of the poor, particularly landless lower castes and tribespeople.
'Unlike the Kashmir cauldron, which was stirred by external forces, the Maoist threat is entirely indigenous. It's spawned and fanned by the [Indian] state's multiple failures,' said Indranil Banerjie, executive director of the New Delhi-based think-tank Security and Political Risk Analysis.
Experts say that Maoists are making fresh inroads thanks to the widening economic gap between India's rich and the poor, denial of rights to indigenous people, particularly the displacement of tens of thousands without proper compensation as industrialisation gathers pace.
'Shorn of rhetoric, it's a land war between the upper class and the lower classes,' says V. Balachandran, a former deputy director of India's foreign intelligence agency.
'Maoists promise land and social dignity. In an agriculture-based economy, one cannot be removed from the other.'
In fact, they are exploiting anger over the seizure of farmland in West Bengal and Orissa. Last month, 14 farmers were killed in West Bengal's Nandigram while opposing acquisition of their paddy fields for the creation of factories and a special economic zone. Last year, 13 tribesmen were shot dead in Orissa's Kalinganagar while resisting government attempts to grab their land for a steel factory.
Footage of police brutalities against protesting farmers, including women and children, comes in handy for Maoist recruitment videos which are screened to win hearts and minds.
Ajay Sahni, of New Delhi's Institute for Conflict Management, is emphatic that lopsided policies and callous government officials are responsible for Maoist consolidation.
'The rise of the Maoists is not because of some brilliantly clever strategy of theirs; it is because of the sheer vacuum of governance that exists across the country,' he says.
'The vacuum is reflected in the insensitivity with which the interests of large masses of have-nots are perpetually ignored.'
Suhas Chakma, director of Delhi's Asian Centre for Human Rights, believes that India has failed to rein in the Maoists simply because there are no quick-fix solutions to the problems arising out of decades of bad governance.
Subscribing to Mao's dictum that power flows through the barrel of a gun, the home-grown revolutionaries ultimate objective is to march to New Delhi and capture power. The rebels say they are replicating the Chinese leader's strategy of encircling cities with 'liberated' villages.
Even as they advocate socialism and a classless society, India's democratically elected government accuses the Maoists of running extortion rackets and using terror tactics to achieve their controversial socio-economic and political goals.
'They are no different from criminal gangs or the mafia. They specialise in killings and kidnappings for ransom, and have no respect for women,' says Brigadier Basant Kumar Powar, who provides special training to Chhattisgarh police at the army-run Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College.
At present, according to a Home Ministry document, Maoists are active in more than half of India's 29 states, having carved out a 'red corridor' from the country's border with Nepal in the north to the deep south. Intelligence officials believe there are between 7,000 to 10,000 armed Maoist guerillas. By their estimate, radicals apparently raise US$10 million annually to fund their activities.
Running the show is a shadowy underground outfit called the Communist Party of India (Maoists). The banned organisation has two wings: political and military. Its provincial branches are known as bureaus which operate in total secrecy. Government agencies admit they are in the dark about the Maoists' organisational hierarchy and command structure.
Little is known about individual leaders because they keep a low profile and do not disclose their real identities or be photographed, even if they agree to be interviewed by the odd journalist in their forest hideouts.
During a rare interview, a senior Maoist commander identified as Gopanna Markam recently told a television news channel: 'People are hungry; there is nothing to eat. They have no clothes. They have no jobs. We want development for the people. That's why they are flocking to us. We will stage a revolution before long.'
They run a parallel administration in 'liberated' pockets, levying taxes, dispensing justice and running schools and health clinics. Police officers, branded class enemies along with politicians and land owners, are too scared to enter informally demarcated areas where slogans like 'China's chairman is our chairman' and 'China's path is our path' are shouted enthusiastically.
Maoists are also known as Naxalites after Naxalbari in West Bengal's tea-producing Darjeeling region, where the brutal suppression of a peasant uprising in mid-1967 lit the fuse of leftist extremism.
Initially, the Chinese government fanned the revolt to settle scores with India after the 1962 war, but quietly cut off support when relations with New Delhi were normalised in the 1980s.
Two years ago, Chineses ambassador Sun Yuxi publicly offered help to wipe out Maoist insurgents entrenched in several Indian provinces.
'If there is any help India expects from us to get rid of them [Maoists], we will try to do our best. We wonder why they call themselves Maoists. We don't like that. We don't have any connections with them,' he said.
'We cannot stop them from calling themselves Maoists. But India's Maoist movement has no connection with the Chinese government.'
New Delhi has no grudge against China, but it is worried about the impact on India of Nepalese Maoists sharing power in an interim government in the Himalayan nation. After years of guerilla warfare to replace the monarchy with a socialist republic, Maoists joined the cabinet last week but doubts remain about their commitment to democracy and human rights.
Nepalese Maoists resent New Delhi's support for the monarchy and Royal Nepal Army so much that they have branded India a 'coloniser' and 'imperial' power along with US.
Simultaneously, they have had deep ideological and operational links with their Indian counterparts since 1995.