Bastar Today

Revolution fighting Counter-Revolution–II

Gautam Navlakha

Let us consider the claim that Maoists are close to being wiped out. So far we have had government and its officials claiming this. In February 2016 the Chief Minister of Chattisgarh told the Economic Times (7) that 95% of Bastar is "safe", that Maoists activity is confined to "maybe in a small ward" and they would, he assured the reporters, "very soon" be part of history.

On May 18, 2016 a delegation comprising Sanjay Parate, Chattisgarh state committee of CPM, Vineet Tiwari of CPI run Joshi-Adhikari Institute, Archana Prasad of JNU and CC member of AIDWA as well as Nandini Sundar of Delhi University released a report. The report among other things speaks of arrests and fake surrenders observed by the team in and around Kanger National Park in Tongpal and Darbha blocks. It spoke of Kumakoleng village where 50 persons were forced to surrender in March. Then CRPF came and held 'Jan Jagran Abhiyan' on 15th April, two days later Maoists came and beat the villagers for asking for CRPF camp near their village. In Soutnar panchayat the report says villagers have resolved to keep Maoists out and have been patrolling the area for past three months. The report finds further substance in a report filed by Dipankar Ghose of the Indian Express who writes that in villages of Nama and Santenar villagers decided to bar Maoists who, the villagers said, had done very little for their welfare in the last ten years and were hindering government sponsored programs from reaching them.(8)

So there is evidence that the movement is facing opposition from villagers who have succumbed to pressure or become disenchanted with Maoists. Thus challenge posed by the Indian State, which has flooded Bastar division of Chattisgarh with troops, and reports of defiance by villagers against the Maoists or with people distancing themselves, poses serious issue for them. But as even this report mentions there is a military camp every five kms on an average in most parts, and two kms apart in active war zone, fortifications have come up all across Bastar. The Government troop strength is rising and is in excess of more than 100,000 soldiers. While it is true that Maoists have been on the retreat especially from the guerilla zone, which in the language of PPW means a zone of contention, what is lost in propaganda is the actual spread and extent of the losses/retreat. Because if one were to take the CM or the report at face value there would be no need for this writer to sit down and write anything other than an epilogue about the movement. If truly the situation was so grim for the Maoists there would neither be need for an all out offensive against Maoists nor crackdown on pro-State left liberal critics, least of all any need to keep pouring in more and more troops when fewer and fewer Maoists are around and area has shrunk to a "small ward".

Problem with Counter Insurgency doctrine and one of its centre piece is, perception management, is that they have to constantly juggle between whipping up fears about the threat posed by the Maoists, simultaneously projecting they are winning and Maoists are on the run. Both ends of the arguments need padding, exaggeration and even downright lies. So there is all the more reason to be wary of official pronouncements and data generated by them. Strategic experts are more careful. Former head of Centre for Land Warfare Studies, Major General D C Katoch(9) reportedly said on the second day of the conference on "Smart Policing and Safety Exhibition" in New Delhi that the "sudden lull in the red corridor must not be seen as defeat of the Maoists. It may just be calm before the storm". He said that "when we try to analyse LWE, statistics show there is a downward trend in the attacks carried out. But I believe this is the case of Maoists stretching too far from their territory. They faced a lot of setbacks due to some excellent police work and intelligence gathering. They have retreated to the jungle and maybe regrouping".

There is no doubt that Maoists have come under relentless attack and suffered setbacks. In some areas they have found villagers standing up to them, questioning them, challenging them or withdrawing support. But if they were on the cusp of defeat or disconnected with Adivasis, then recent incidents challenge that assumption.

Three recent incidents present a more nuanced picture.
1.   Mudkam Deva surveyed the Basaguda Police Station where he was kept after his arrest on May 12th, 2016 for six days. The police station, fortified, is "one of the most sensitive" outposts in Bijapur district in Bastar Division of Chattisgarh. He was on a 'recce' when he was caught 7 km away in his village of Budhicheru. He seemed "amenable" to surrender and provide information. He said that he had been sent by Hidma, one of the most sought after Maoist leaders of PLGA, who is an Adivasi and commands one of the two battalions of PLGA. So he was a prized target for military. Then on May 18th at 7.15pm the sentry on watch tower 1, first of the eight, saw Mukdam Deva cut the wire and escape towards the forest with a gun and a satchet in hand. What he did not know is that the Maoist walked away with AK 47, 90 rounds of ammunition, and a under barrel grenade launcher, a prized military equipment, with 8 cells. SHO Sharad Singh felt "betrayed". Weapons belonged to "sahayak arakshak" Mudgam Shankar, the "best jawan in the station" and which, he had left behind in the barrack during roll call "as a matter of practice". Shankar has sworn to get Mukdam Deva back along with his weapons.(10)

2.   Maoists attacked on Chattisgarh Armed Forces 10th Camp in Mirtoor division of Bijapur district. At 10 pm on May 20th the camp came under fire from all four sides, just 30 metre away. Meanwhile ambushes took place on the routes leading to the camp, and guerillas kept firing at a nearby police camp, preventing them from coming. Firing continued for 90 minutes, and injured three combatants. (11)

3.   On June 7 at 1 am, using "improvised rockets for the first time" heavily armed Maoist guerillas attacked the Base of 41st Battalion of elite military formation ITBP in Ranapal village of Kondegaon district in Bastar Division. The camp falls under Mardapal Police Station. The Maoists attacked from three sides and firing went on for half an hour.(12)

While the daring escape is a good example of deceiving the 'enemy' in his own den, the other two appear to be capacity demonstration. But they are more than that. For one causing casualties was not the objective. It was both to display their capacity to attack soldiers in their den, so to say, and puncture the myth that they are running out of ammunition. Recall that decline in what officialdom considers incidents of "Naxal violence" is attributed to their depleting ammunition and the reason for Maoists to be turning to IEDs, now with a more advanced remote trigger.

What the two demonstrate is that Maoists who are very parsimonious in use of bullets, chose to fire for 90 minutes. Why did they do that? They don't waste bullets, especially when the stock has depleted, unless they are doing it for a purpose. To send a message that also that weakened they maybe, but are not vanquished yet.

I believe that the attacks on camps display stealth, innovation and daring. It could not have been carried out by less than 15-200 Maoist Guerillas. It is evident that they have used the period of relative lull to hone up their skills.

Two opinion pieces coincidentally dated the same day provides some more facts to consider. From different vantage point they dent the demonic picture of Maoists painted by many. The first one (12) by Shubhranshu Choudhary, avowedly anti-Msoist, shared some details of a closed door meeting organized by the Indian Army, where G K Plllai, "finest home secretaries in recent times" spoke on "how to tackle the Maoist problem". The author says while the "finest" was giving out details of schools burnt, road, and bridges blown up etc was interrupted by him to ask if the government had the statistics on teachers and health workers killed by Maoists. He was told that this was not known. He writes :
"The participants in the closed door meeting were also giving statistics of rapes by Maoists. We also have rapes in our society but we do not call the whole society rapist. Are Maoists not punishing the rapists amongst them? We know they are and the Home Secretary and IAS officers should also know".

And then adds:
"Maoists have not harassed any school teacher or health worker for their work in their entire history of failed revolution of many decades now. Of course it is a different matter if a school teacher starts passing on information and a good doctor starts couriering money. I have seen many blown up school buildings by Maoists. And have also seen a mud hut next to that building which was built with support from Maoists so that the school can function. I have seen Maoists with guns pleading with government school teachers to come to school regularly and asking what they can do to make their life beter in the village. Can we help make you a new house for you, what more can we do for you, please tell us, I heard them say. I have also witnessed a Maoist rally demanding teachers to attend school regularly in Narayanpur area in Chattisgarh some time back".

He goes on to add that neither 'Ramakrishna Mission' nor 'Doctors Without Border' are being stopped from carrying on with their work by Maoists. On the other hand government teachers and panchayat workers do not go to school or the villages but never forget to collect their salary on time.

It is interesting that it was the Dandkaranya Special Zonal Committee of the CPI (Maoist) which on June 19th, 2015 through a press statement alerted the public to wholesale closure of 3000 schools and ashrams (hostel cum school) and their statement goes on to say that :
"Many of the schools in Bastar Division even now happen to be the shelters of the police and para military forces. In spite of the direction of the Supreme Court of the country this situation exists as and how the forces wish. On the other side the schools that are being run by the Revolutionary Janathana Sarkar (RPC) that has been formed under the leadership of our Party are being targeted by the armed forces of the government. The dozens of schools of the Janathana Sarkar (people's government) that are being run in Narayanapur, Kanker, Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada and Sukma districts were attacked and the notebooks, textbooks, clothes and other such essential articles have been burnt. This clearly reveals the fakeness of the Raman Singh government regarding the education of the adivasis".

A more interesting piece was by Ashutosh Bharadwaj (13) who pointed out that while condemning the crackdown on media by the police in recent times, one should not forget the long sordid tale of how media groups in Chattisgarh with business interests in coal, iron ore and thermal power support clearing of the forests of Maoists. Adivasis who do not agree with Maoists prefer them to the State because they stand between the Government trying to destroy their 'way of life'. In the interior villages, he writes, people are not enamored of industrialization. And he lamented that despite the fact that Naxal insurgency is reaching fifty years, yet "there is little attempt to engage with the rebels or grasp their methods and madness". And then pointedly asks that "In an era when suicide bombing, has become a highly effective mode of violence across the globe, Maoists are still adamant on a protracted war". He points out that the "Indian state is unwilling to confront the fact that the insurgency rests on an idea that the (Indian) state is essentially discriminatory and favours the powerful". And then goes on to say that "several young officers in Bastar have told this writer in candid moments that if it were not for the rebels, the state would have gifted the zone to industry a long time ago, leaving tribals in a wretched state".

He then adds that if Maoists were on the retreat then how come they were able to recruit 550 cadres in Bastar alone in 2015, which is more than the official number of 393 Maoists killed in India from 2011-2015, which "also includes alleged or unidentified Maoists, many of whom could be innocent tribals". Both appear to be informed by the context of war. AB in fact raises very pertinent question. What is derisively called the "root cause theory" is officially debunked and therefore the objective is to crush the movement for once and for all. RSS-BJP insist that they will succeed where others have failed. However, the disappearance of social and political activists who raise issues which has to do with self-preservation of Adivasis, is not countenanced, because it runs counter to the officially sanctioned rapacious growth of industry and mining where forests today stand.

Now that truth has become casualty and those who pursue truth are marked by the Government it actually makes for official to suffer from delusion and complacency. Now this is good for the guerillas but bad for government troops. Writing from a strategic perspective a recent article in Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) by Shashank Ranjan identifies "four pillars" to counter Maoists, namely psy-war, security, development and "rights and entitlements for the local communities" and while discounting that Bastar has turned into a "Police state" warns that if this continues it would "give traction" to Maoists. (14) He writes that :
"It is worthy to add that the developments in Bastar, over the last several months, have been worrisome, as far as positive perception management by the state is concerned. The aspect of psy messaging to counter the insurgent narrative is an imperative and the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has adopted public perception management as one of the four pillars to base its counter LWE strategy; the other ones being security, development and ensuring rights and entitlements of local communities.

However, developments like allegations of fake surrenders, pressure on activists and media, rise in extremism of vigilante groups like Samajik Ekta Manch (SEM) do not portend too well for the counter-insurgency campaign. Given the media reports on the high-handedness of SEM, it will not take much for these groups to get weaponised in the face of Maoists pitching in; and certainly, any repeat of a Salwa Judum, which saw adivasis killing adivasis, would be most undesirable.

It is not to indicate that the allegations of Bastar turning into a police state are correct, but the requirement on part of the state is to come out clean by projecting a counter narrative, refuting the allegations. If required, transparent enquiries should be resorted to probe the matters. In absence of the same, it is likely that the Maoists' agenda will gain traction, further sapping the state efforts to counter them.

Lastly, invoking the comments of the Chhattisgarh Home Minister, where he remarked that it was not to the Maoists' credit but due to the negligence on part of the CRPF that manifested in the recent IED strike-it is unfortunate that by making us believe so, an effort is being made to ignore the elephant in the room. Planting a powerful IED underneath a pucca road and being able to execute a strike on an unprepared body of troops requires tremendous amount of efforts and multitudes of behind the scene actors. The Maoists' capabilities are only reinforced by this daring act. Unless the government and its organs go beyond the illusions and acknowledge the strengths Maoists, a counter to the dynamism of Left Wing Extremism will be challenging to come by".

His point about "multitude of behind the scene actors" is a reminder not to forget that Maoists enjoy a social base. And disappearance of the middle space is allowing traction for Maoist perspective. Recall what Jairam Ramesh warned his own UPA government when he complained that Maoists’ argument that forests are being cleared to enable mining corporations to move in protected by the military was exactly what was happening in Saranda. His party and government did not listen to him. Most people want to live in cuckoo land of officialdom's making.

But it is significant that although the author refers to rights and entitlements as fourth pillar but does not say anything about the actual situation on ihe ground where the opposite is happening.

Not Easy to Ignore
Had it not been for the Maoist PPW the ruling classes would never have accepted what the social activists had been proposing for long in shape of a FRA. The spectre of a resurgent Maoist Movement haunted and scared the ruling classes before a combination of brutal war and serious errors of Maoist leaders brought it down. Indeed FRA became a weapon in shape of carrot at the end of the stick for Adivasis even as war was being stepped up to wrest the forests for mining corporation as in Saranda forest area of Jharkhand and Raoghat & elsewhere in Bastar. Briefly, the Adivasi region continues to reel under the onslaught on their recently acquired rights, through the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dweller (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006. Bit by bit forests are being divested from the Adivasis under one pretext or the other. If in Maharashtra the Forest bureaucracy won back the authority over control of minor forest products, in Odisha government tried to scuttle the referendum held in 12 gram sabhas in Niyamgiri which had put a halt to Vedanta's bauxite mining thus showing their intent. In other places process of conferring rights itself has slowed down. But what the Chattisgarh bureaucracy has done truly takes the cake. They revoked the community right conferred through FRA, when the law itself lays down in FRA that there is no power of revocation under it. This did not stop the Sarguja district authorities in Chattiugarh to revoke the community forest rights titles of Ghatbarra village. Official letter signed by the district collector, divisional forest officer and a district level representative of the Union Tribal Ministry dated January 8, 2016 claimed that community forest right was coming in the way of a coal mine that had been granted approval in 2012 prior to conferment of CFR in 2013. In the meantime Adani owned company was granted mining rights for the Parsa East Ketan Besan coal mine and mining has begun, even as the joint secretary in MoEF on March 14, 2016 noted that "both on facts and matter of law the said cancellation of Community Forest Right is arbitrary and violation of letter and spirit of the law ie FRA." (13) Thus transfer of land to Adani was illegal to begin with. But mines are in control of the company and they have shaved off the earth of tree cover and mining has begun.

It is true that the military onslaught are spread out unevenly. It is intense in one and less so in another. But as the history of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chaltisgarh etc show the Adivasis, even those far removed from the mining site, feel insecure and fear for their forest land. Because, mining and industries impact a much larger area than their immediate vicinity, and remains a work in progress as new discoveries are made and new minerals are sought. Besides, around the mining sites encroachment picks up. Demographic character undergoes transformation. Environmental degradation impacts a much larger area. And what is more because Adivasis’ forests, both its forest produce and mineral wealth are coveted, thus discovery of new mineral bearing areas and bureaucratic ways to corner forest produce, never ceases. There can be law and Acts of Parliament but Rules are framed by the executive, bureaucracy at that.

The point is that Government gives in to demands of people's struggles when the conflict intensifies and they are on the back-foot. No sooner they are able to reverse the situation even reforms legislated by Parliament start getting diluted or scuttled in body and spirit.

So those who are wishing for early demise of Maoist movement better hold their horses. An early demise would weaken overall resistance and allow predatory capitalism to make inroads into forest domains of the Adivasis, with no fear of stubborn armed resistance putting stokes in the wheel of government policy. A triumphant capitalist class would go merrily annexing land and forest with no fear of anyone being able to threaten their regime of exploitation and loot. And unarmed resistance will lose a leverage they used, to force the Government to relent at times. Next two years will be critical. o

1.     Bagchi, Suvojit; Shooting the Messenger: Life and Death of Journalism in the Bastar Forest https//
2.     Gul, Nawaz : "The violence of compassion"; The Hindu 18/02/2014.
3.     Dixit, K C : ''Building Army's Human resources for sub-conventional warfare"; Pentagon Security International, 2012; dixit intro.pdf
4.     Special issue : Naxalbari 50; The Week July 3, 2016.
5.     Tiwari, Deepak : "One day at a fortified camp"; The Week July 3,2016.
6.     Ghose, Dipankar : "In time of drought forest officer in trouble for building swimming pool"; Indian Express May 24, 2016.
7.     Interview with CM of Chattisgarh by Krishna Kumar and Satish John; February 18, 2016; The Economic Times.
8.     Ghose, Dipankar;"Activists see Judum, locals say 'fed' up of Naxals"; Indian Express 28/05/20i6.
9.     Mohan, Anand : "Calm before the storm?"; The Statesman; May 12th, 2016.
10.  Ghose, Dipankar : "How 'Naxal' slipped out of custody with grenade launcher"; Indian Express, May 23rd, 2016.
11.  Dahat, Pavan : "Attack on Bijapur CAP camp well planned"; The Hindu, 23rd May, 2016.
12.  Choudhary, Shubhranshu : "Patriotism in Bastar"; Outlook 21 April, 2016.
13.  Bharadwaj, Ashutosh : "The Bastar Tragedy, farce"; Indian Express 21st April, 2016.
14.  Ranjan, Shashank : "Comments and complacency–Pitfalls in Combatting LWE"; Article # 1547, April 03,2016, CLAWS.
15.  Kohli, Kanchi : "Mining is in the way of Adivasi Forest Rights, not the other way round"; The Wire 07/06/2016.

Vol. 49, No.18, Nov 6 - 12, 2016