August 04, 2021
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The Neglected Naxalite Arsenal

While cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and insurgencies in the Northeast remain the focus of the most urgent concern, the areas afflicted by various left-wing extremists groups - or Naxalites - remain relatively neglected.

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The Neglected Naxalite Arsenal

The massive influx of sophisticated small arms and ammunition into various theatres of violence in India is a serious problem. While cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and insurgencies in the Northeast remain the focus of the most urgent concern, the areas afflicted by various left-wing extremists groups - or Naxalites - remain relatively neglected. The easy availability of arms and explosives is one of the major factors contributing to the survival, consolidation and expansion of these various movements in India.

An escalation in Naxalite violence has been witnessed in the States of Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Maharashtra in recent times. According to data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, a total of 311 persons, including 57 security force (SF) personnel, 133 civilians and 121 Naxalites have already been killed during the current year, till July 15. The year 2002 saw a total of 1,465 incidents and 482 deaths, as compared to 1,208 incidents and 564 deaths in the year 2001. Some 40 Naxalite groups are active in India, of which the People's War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) constitute the most formidable security challenge.

Even a cursory glance at the trajectory of Naxalite movements in India demonstrates the increasing sophistication of their arsenal. During the initial years of the movement, Naxalite groups used traditional weapons like lathis (staffs), spears, sickles and other sharp edge weapons and single and double barrel guns, mostly stolen from village landlords and the police arsenal. The groups now have access to the AK series of rifles, landmines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) among others. Groups like the PWG and the MCC also have dedicated underground arms production units. In addition, snatchings during attacks on the security forces, a complex network of criminals, arms smugglers, gun dealers and networking with other militant groups provide a complex and varied source of arms for the Naxalites.

The looting of weapons from police personnel, civilians and private companies has always been a source of arms. Thus, on April 15, 2003, Naxalites of the MCC killed eight police personnel and looted six Self Loading Rifles, two other rifles, a revolver and several rounds of ammunition from them after setting off a landmine in the forests of the Cherki Valley in the Nawada district of Bihar. On April 14, 2003, MCC cadres attacked a Government Railway Police (GRP) post at Chandrapura railway station in the Bokaro district of Jharkhand and looted 23 rifles and several hundred cartridges. On March 18, 2003, Naxalites of the MCC injured three police personnel and looted 15 rifles and 1,000 bullets in an attack on a police post in the Lodhipur village of Gaya district in Bihar. 

The Naxalites also loot explosives from private companies. On October 6, 2002, for instance, PWG cadres looted approximately nine tons of explosives being transported in a truck from Uttar Pradesh's Lalitpur to a copper project in Malajkhand near Laungur Udghati in the Balaghat district of Madhya Pradesh. Most of the explosives were, however, later recovered by the police. In Andhra Pradesh, Naxalites receive ammunition, explosive materials and arms pilfered from ordnance factories. Empty cartridges, parts of rifles, and explosives manufactured just six months earlier at an ordnance factory was seized from a Naxalite dump in August 2000 in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh.

Purchases from arms smugglers and gunrunners - particularly from Bihar - constitute another important source of arms. Some of these smugglers also supply weapons to militant groups operating in India's Northeast. On July 2, 2002, security forces arrested a gang of four arms smugglers in Guwahati, capital city of Assam. The gang was procuring country-made guns from Bihar and selling these to militants based in the Barpeta and Nalbari districts of Assam. 

In the last week of April 2003, police in West Bengal busted an inter-State racket in arms smuggling at Uttarpara. Two traders involved in smuggling arms from Siwan and Munger districts of Bihar were arrested and a cache of arms was recovered. There are over 1,500 illegal arms manufacturing units in Bihar and most of them are located in the Nalanda, Nawada, Gaya and Munger districts. 

The general breakdown of law and order, the proliferation of criminal gangs, the presence of Naxalites and private armies of landowners including the Ranvir Sena, the criminalisation of politics, an ill-equipped police force and the existence of a collusive network between criminals, extremists, and a section of politicians have all contributed to the massive growth of Bihar's illegal gun industry. Bihar, moreover, has many ordnance factories and workers smuggle out blueprints, creating a cottage industry in arms manufacture in many homes.

The nexus between legal segments of society, including sections of the administration, and Naxalite groups continues to flourish. On November 4, 2002, Police in Patiala, Punjab, exposed links between licensed gun dealers in Punjab and Haryana and the PWG operating in Bihar. Apart from a huge quantity of arms and ammunition, police seized 12 fake arms licenses issued by different authorities, including the Home Secretary of Bihar and several Deputy Commissioners of Bihar, Assam and Jharkhand. The gang used to procure fake arms licenses from different authorities and then approach gun houses in Punjab and Haryana, and the latter knowingly supplied them with guns against these fake licenses for a heavy amount.

Networking with other insurgent groups has also produced a steady flow of weapons into the Naxalite armory. There have been reports of PWG's links with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka, and the PWG is also believed to have picked up landmine manufacturing techniques from the LTTE. A Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorist, Azam Ghouri, is also reported to have met some important PWG leaders in the Warangal and Nizamabad districts of Andhra Pradesh in September 1999. The supply of arms and explosives to the Naxalite groups figured during this meeting.

The Indo-Nepal border areas are also emerging as a route for arms smuggling. In January 2002, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) Police seized a truck carrying weapons in Maharajganj on the Indo-Nepal border. The arms, procured from Naxalites in eastern Uttar Pradesh, were intended for the Maoist insurgents in Nepal. Reports in March 2002 said the Maoists in Nepal had obtained a large number of sophisticated weapons valued at Rupees 55 million from the PWG. In April 2002, again, the UP Police seized a huge cache of arms in Siddharthnagar near the border. The captured couriers confessed that the arms were being sent to the Maoists and that they had already successfully delivered three earlier consignments.

The problem is complicated further by the fact that the porous India-Nepal border has become a hub of activities of the Pakistani external intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). There are apprehensions that the ISI may catalyze further destabilization in the region by pumping arms into the projected area of the 'Compact Revolutionary Zone' (CRZ). Drug trafficking and the circulation of fake currency through the border are already in evidence. 

The Andhra Pradesh unit of the PWG has also established a direct link with procurers who bring in arms from Bangladesh-based ISI agents via the riverine Sunderbans route. At least two arms consignments have found their way to Andhra Pradesh since April 2003. Taking advantage of the road and rail links between East Midnapore and Orissa the consignments traveled to Koraput in Orissa before reaching the Dandakaranya forest belt, from where the cache moved to Adilabad in Andhra Pradesh. Reports also indicate that the PWG had acquired shoulder-fired weapons that could target vehicles.

There is evidently an urgent need for a continuous monitoring of the arms profile of various Left-wing extremist groups, the identification of sources and networks, coordinated intelligence gathering, and a well equipped police force in the Naxalite affected areas if this grave security threat is to be contained and neutralized.

Sanjay K Jha is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal

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