Friday, August 22, 2008

India, Jharkhand: Maoism gains strength

Maoism is the greatest danger to India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said to Parliament in 2004.

A ´red corridor´ has been established, this is a jungle tract that extends all the way from parts of the states of Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, Bengal till Nepal. It has been weakened in Andhra Pradesh and more recently Bihar by tough measures.

In Jharkhand, however, Maoists have gained. They recruit tribal children of around 14 years of age from impoverished families and take them into the jungles for induction. This has been reportedly going on for about two years with little objection from parents.

(In the north east state of Manipur this was attempted by an extremist outfit in August 2008, newspapers headlines screamed about it and work in the state came to a standstill for one day, the children were released.)

A growing presence of women in the cadres, is another danger. Women and men can very easily move into urban areas together, also women are usually not searched, so they enjoy greater mobility.

Look at the Maoist span of activities:

They used light machine guns in July 2008 when they hit at a special task force which was in a boat killing over 20 of them at one go.

Though this happened in Orissa, the ´red corridor´ means the Maoists are completely mobile in this area. Police of one state are unable to pursue them into another state, so border areas are populated by Maoists on the run.

They have acquired various types of landmines and use remote devices to detonate them. This has given them control of roads. Night patrolling by of highways by the Jharkhand state police has almost stopped. Seizures of weapons have yielded mortars also, but they have not had occasion to use them.

They exact a "levy" from individuals.

They gunned down Ramesh Singh Munda a state legislator in front of a crowd. Earlier they took credit for killing Sunil Mahato a Member of Parliament in the past year.

They killed a close associate of a minister of Jharkhand in broad daylight at his home in Ranchi during the month of August 2008. A former chief minister´s son had also been killed earlier in view of many witnesses.

Maoists are said to control coal mining operations in Khilari near Ranchi.

A highway project from Ranchi to Hazirabagh (about 100 kilemetres) has no bidders even though this is the third time that bids have been invited. This is because road builders know this area is dominated by Maoists. However, it shows that they are able to extort money once projects have been allocated, they are not able to get the projects for front agents.

They extract toll from road builders and various mineral extraction and forest contractors. Guestimates are at Rs 400 million per year. Rs 55 million was looted from an ICICI bank on a highway.

All these extortions and robberies amount to a lot of money. Where are they parking this money? What are they using it for? Is it mainly for arms and ammunitions ? Are they using it to increase their cadres.

A Maoist was arrested in Ranchi in the month of August 2008 in a hotel. Laptops and mobile phones were recovered from him. Local police said the Maoists were interested in ´modern gizmos´. However it could well be that they are ramping up their communication networks to contact like groups around the globe. Also, email correspondence is far harder to monitor than tapping a mobile phone.

The government assessment is couched in terms of the weapons and ammunition the Maoists possess. Intelligence reports on numbers are vague. Government agencies have asked for more electronic surveillance devices. These may not be useful in rural or jungle settings which is where the Maoists are in strength.

So far the in the state there has been one senior police officer Ravi Kant who has the Maoists on the run. Funds provided by the Centre to combat Maoists have remain unutilized.

As far as including them in any process of dialogue, they already control electoral results in many areas. They will be putting up their own candidates for elections. Also they are running a parallel government in the hinterland. They are called ´lal salaam´ (red salute) people and even judge disputes.

Their writ does not rule in most towns of Jharkhand as yet.]

Finally development work for the uplift of the poor, one of the main reasons why the Maoists are found acceptable, is very badly delivered by the state. For example Jharkhand claims to be power surplus while towns face power cuts and a large number of villages have not been electrified !

At the national level General Secretary Prakash Karat of the Communist Party Marxist (CPM which rules in West Bengal) said they were unwilling to have anything to do with these Maoists. On the other hand A B Bardhan General Secretary of the Communist Party of India said that their aims were the same as those of the Maoists only ´means were different´ and they were ´slightly misguided´

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