As Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh formed a committee to tackle the Naxalites, we caught up with Bhupati, the PWG’S special zonal committee secretary, in his hideout deep in the jungles. One of the most wanted Naxalite leaders—the Andhra Pradesh government has placed a Rs 8 lakh award on his head—he refused to be pho -tographed. Bhupati, who doesn’t come across as the terrorist he is made out to be, joined the Naxal movement in the ’70s and has penned two novels. Excerpts from an interview:
Are you ready for talks with the Government?
If the Government fulfils our conditions. First, the Government should withdraw all armed police forces from Dandakaranya; withdraw all false cases; raise tendu leaf picking rates to 50 paise for 50 leaves; order a judicial inquiry into all cases of police atrocities; and it must tell us the whereabouts of those kidnapped by the police and later dubbed as missing.
Will you surrender arms if the Government puts it as a precondition?
We have put forth our terms. Let them advertise their conditions in the newspapers. Then we will think about it.
Where do you get arms?
We snatch them from the enemy and also buy them. There are people the world over who supply arms and deliver it wherever you want them. We manufacture arms too.
Where do you get funds?
We collect money from tendu leaf contractors as levy. They pay royalty to the Government. We also charge each contractor 10 per cent of the royalty given to the Government. In Dandakaranya, we collect Rs 3 crore every year. But for the last three years we have not been collecting the levy. Instead, we have asked the contractors to distribute the Rs 3 crore among the people. The people in the area also give the PWG a day’s salary every year. In 1993, two lakh people contributed a day’s salary and we collected Rs 20 lakh.
How do you maintain accounts?
The total money collected in every state is sent to the central committee. An annual budget is sanctioned to each division which gives each squad Rs 10,000 as expenses for three months. Each member has a fixed quota of soap, lungi, tea, sugar, etc. In some areas, anti-social elements are extorting money in our name. We came to know of one case in Bhandara. The man was warned and he surrendered to the police.
How do you recruit members?
We never ask anyone to join. But today,we have the Dandakaranya Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Sangh in almost every village. Anyone who wants to join the dal (squad) has to be an active member of the organi-sation. In the Dandakaranya area, most members are tribals. Recently, we organ-ised a military camp for women in which 28 of the 32 participants were tribals.
Has the PWG been trained by the LTTE?
Yes. In 1987, an LTTE man trained us for 27 days. The same person trained us for a month in 1989. That was the turning point in our training. He said he believed in Marxism, Leninism and Mao’s teachings. But by then he had fallen out with Prabhakaran and left the LTTE. He taught us how to ambush and handle gelatine. Besides this, we’ve never taken training from outsiders.
Aren’t you finding it difficult to expand your base beyond the forests?
That is one of our weaknesses. But 16 years in the Dandakaranya area has shown us that we can resist repression and expand our base too. Despite a network of informers created by the police we have been able to operate. Never in the history of India has an armed struggle survived so long. But we have to generate further mass action. Because once we have tackled the police, we have to learn to deal with the army, which is definitely going to be used by the state to repress us. The enemy may seal the forests to defeat us so we will have to take up the sickle in one hand and the gun in the other. We are preparing ourselves for any eventuality.