Sunday, Oct 02, 2022

Maoists In Modi Land

Gujarat would seem an unlikely location for a Maoist mobilisation, on conventional reasoning. But they have not been deterred from targeting to bring the ‘Ahmedabad-Pune corridor’ into their sphere of influence.

Six years ago, the erstwhile People’s War Group’s (which later merged to form the Communist Party of India – Maoist, CPI-Maoist) ‘Urban Perspective’ document (‘Our Work in Urban Areas’) promised to focus on, among others, the Ahmedabad-Pune corridor, noting, 

This stretch of Western India is the main concentration of high industrialisation and urbanisation in the country. It includes four of the top ten cities in the country – Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Pune and Surat – besides two other cities over ten lakh – Vadodara and Nashik. The industries cover almost all the main industrial groups – engineering, chemicals, textiles, automobiles, telecommunications, electronics, etc. These cities and the adjoining districts attract the largest amount of new investment in the whole country. The working class is the most diverse, having migrated from all parts of the country.

Recognizing that rural areas would "play a primary role" in the "armed struggle" the Urban Perspective stated, nevertheless,

Without a strong urban revolutionary movement, the ongoing people’s war faces difficulties; further, without the participation of the urban masses it is impossible to achieve countrywide victory.

And further,

The ceaseless attacks of the imperialists and their Indian agents are daily pushing the national bourgeoisie into more conflict with the ruling classes. Thus today the practical possibilities of unity from below are growing. These possibilities are greater in cities with a stronger national bourgeois presence like the Delhi belt, the Coimbatore-Erode belt in Tamil Nadu, Surat in Gujarat, etc. Local party organisations should, where possible, utilise such opportunities, while keeping in mind the above principles.

Gujarat would seem an unlikely location for a Maoist mobilisation, on conventional reasoning. With just 4.4 per cent of the country’s population, the state accounts for 17 per cent of its GDP, 16 per cent of national exports, and 39 per cent of the national industrial output. While the world teetered on the brink of recession, and while the Indian economy slowed down significantly, Gujarat grew at 12.99 per cent in 2009-2010, and has averaged 12 per cent over the past decade. According to official calculations, just 16.75 per cent of the population is below the poverty line, as against a national average of 27.5 per cent. When the Tata’s Nano project at Singur in West Bengal ran into trouble over land acquisition and displacement, it shifted to Gujarat. This is the state most preferred by industry, and, according to the Reserve Bank of India, accounted for 26 per cent of total bank finance in the country in 2006-07.

Surat is a notable part of this success story: the state’s fastest growing city accounts for 92 per cent of the world’s diamond cutting and polishing industry. It has been called the ‘Manchester of the East’, accounting for 28 per cent of India’s total synthetic fiber output, and 40 per cent of the country’s man made fabric production.

None of this, however, has deterred the Maoists from targeting this flourishing state to realize their strategy of bringing the ‘Ahmedabad-Pune corridor’ into their sphere of influence.

On March 16, 2010 the Surat Police arrested a former freelance journalist of Orissa, Niranjan Mahapatra, from Pandesara in the Surat district for his alleged involvement in Maoist movement in Surat city, as well as in different tribal areas of South Gujarat. Sources indicate that he had been working among the tribals in South Gujarat since 1996, though had shifted base to Surat for the past five years. Police investigations revealed that he had sought to mobilize the dam evacuees of Ukai, living in Tapi, Surat and Dang districts. The Police claimed to have recovered several incriminating documents from his rented accommodation at Jagannath Nagar.

Subsequently, on March 19, 2010, N. K. Singh, a suspected cadre of the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist-Janshakti (CPI-ML-Janshakti) was arrested from the Alang ship-breaking yard in the Bhavnagar district of the Saurashtra region where he was running a labour union. He hailed from Begusarai in Bihar. The Police had extracted his mobile phone number from Niranjan Mahapatra.

Prior to these incidents, the Gujarat Police, on February 26, 2010, filed a comprehensive First Information Report (FIR) against the CPI-Maoist in Surat, to investigate the organisation’s activities and identify the persons involved in its spread in the state. The complaint confirmed that the Maoists were trying to extend their networks in the state, particularly in the tribal regions of South Gujarat. An offence under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) has been registered. Explaining the circumstances of filing of the FIR Inspector General of Police (Surat Range) A. K. Singh stated on February 27, 2010,

We have analysed the source materials and believe that their activities in South Gujarat are in continuation with their activities in the other Naxal [Left Wing Extremism]-affected states of the country. This is the first comprehensive FIR registered against them that will give legal power to the police to investigate and find out the spread of CPI-Maoist in South Gujarat. Earlier, only minor complaints were filed against them. It is a banned organisation and we need to track their every movement.

Earlier, on April 10, 2009, five CPI-Maoist cadres belonging to the Narayanpur district of Chhattisgarh were arrested by a joint team of the Chhattisgarh Police and Gujarat Police from the Hazira industrial area of Surat. The Maoists were identified as Arjun Ramlal Yadav, Surajlal Rupjiram Gond, Jankuram alias Dholuram Virsing Gond, Chandu alias Chanda Bavanji Gond and Sonmati Rasiya Gond.

According to senior police officials, the Maoists, including two women, were acting as a sleeper cell and used Surat and Hazira as a hiding place after carrying out attacks in Chhattisgarh. They were working as labourers in a construction company and living in the staff quarters near Singotar Mata Temple. The operation was planned after police from the Dhantri district of Chhattisgarh received a tip-off that the extremists were hiding in Surat. The Surat Deputy Commissioner of Police, Subhash Trivedi, disclosed that the group used to visit Chhattisgarh frequently: "They used to return to Surat, either after carrying out attacks, or when any member fell ill."

Many of the details of the Maoist gameplan were revealed during interrogation of Surya Devra Prabhakar, believed to be in charge of the Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh Maoist operations, who was arrested by the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) from Mumbai (Maharashtra) on January 18, 2010. Prabhakar was responsible for drafting policies to recruit ‘young blood’ into the movement, and stayed in Surat between 2000 and 2006, before shifting to Mumbai. He, however, continued to visit Surat frequently. He was active in the tribal belt of South Gujarat and had established contacts with power loom and diamond industry workers. The ATS recovered INR One million from Prabhakar, believed to be a portion of the INR 2.5 million collected by him from Surat. The ATS also recovered a computer CPU, a pen drive, a mobile phone and Maoist literatures. More importantly, Prabhakar revealed that the plan to make the stretch from Ahmedabad to Mumbai a ‘Red Corridor’ was brewed almost 10 years earlier, and Surat was chosen as the operational Headquarters because of its huge migrant population from Maoist affected states like Orissa, Maharashtra, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. In addition, another two major cities Vadodara (Gujarat) and Nashik (Maharashtra) – lie in the targeted corridor, each with million-plus populations. The entire targeted region boasts a diversified industrial presence and is home to a wide varied range of the working class populations, with a significant representation of migrant workers from Maoist afflicted states.

Gujarat is also being developed as a ‘breeding ground’ for Maoists from other, more troubled, states. Gujarat Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Sudhir Sinha, on March 22, 2010, revealed that the Maoists were using Gujarat to recruit potential cadres from the large migrant population, especially in Surat, and collect funds for their movement: "CPI-Maoist cadres are brainwashing potential migrant recruits and are sending them back to the state of their origin to work there," Sinha said.

For all their efforts, the Maoist consolidation in Gujarat, and in the targeted Ahmedabad-Pune corridor, is still in its infancy. There has been no violence in the state. Crucially, the Gujarat Administration and police have far better capacities for governance than most of the regions afflicted by the Left Wing insurgency. The overall level of policing is better in this region than in the states worst affected by Maoist mobilisation. The Police-Population ratio [number of policemen per 1, 00,000 of Population] in Gujarat is 131, and in Maharashtra, 141, both higher than the national average of 125 (though well below ratios internationally regarded as adequate even for peacetime policing).

There is, nevertheless, an evident residual potential for extremist mobilisation, and this has been clearly demonstrated by Hindu right wing mobilisation in the state, and by the brutality of the Gujarat riots in 2002. There is a vast pool of grievances which extremists, both of the Right and of the Left, can harness. A sizeable population has been displaced as a result of development projects such as dams, highways, Special Economic Zones (SEZs), mining, etc., across the targeted region. Significantly, there is a large migrant worker population from Maoist affected states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. The gulf between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is considerable.

The Maoists are clearly aware that existing and evolving developmental friction and the inequities and inequalities of the emerging order can translate excellent opportunities for mobilisation in their favour. The Maoist intent is to "mobilize the broadest possible sections", and such an objective is not pursued only through mobilisation of armed cadres, but would also "utilise all possible open and legal opportunities for work", building "broad mass organisations" to help the Party "have wide contact with the masses, so that it can work under cover for a long time and accumulate strength". At the same time, a secret underground structure for violent action is being developed, within a long-term ‘protracted war’ framework. The Maoist network, consequently, comprises both ‘secret’ and ‘open revolutionary mass organisations’. A range of ‘legal and democratic’ fronts join hands with a United Front that establishes linkages with ‘like-minded organisations’ to take the movement forward.

The Maoist strategy is insidious, deeply corrosive, and is rarely confronted by the state in its initial, non-violent phases. Indeed, the record in most badly affected states has been one of denial even after significant Maoist violence has been initiated. Nipping the budding Maoist mobilisation will, of course, present the Gujarat Police with a range of legal challenges within the Indian system. It is, nevertheless, the most efficient and humane method to prevent the transition to a more violent phase, which would then require even greater use of force to suppress. The state police has done well to initiate a vigorous response at the present, incipient stage of the Maoist movement in Gujarat. India can ill-afford another ‘Red Corridor’, this time, across its flourishing Western belt. 

Ajai Sahni is Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management. Sachin Bansidhar Diwan is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management