Thursday, March 16, 2006

Red Terror: India under siege from within

Red Terror: India under siege from within



VK Shashikumar
CNN-IBN

Bastar (Chhattisgarh): The Maoist insurgents in India have intensified their armed movement in what they call the Compact Revolutionary Zone or the Red Corridor.


Inside this Red Corridor, set up in the tribal forest lands of Central India and stretching from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists run a parallel government called the Janatana Sarkar.




The Janatana Sarkar runs in the so-called Dandakaranya Liberated Zone - a region which is completely under Maoist control.


CNN-IBN Special Investigation Team went to this region for a spot-check on how the Indian government has lost its control over an area almost twice as big as the state of Kerala.


The Janatana Sarkar runs its writ in this belt. The Maoists have propaganda films, showing well-armed rebels of People's Guerilla Army on the march to fight the Indian security forces.


Powered by the Maoists, the tribals of Dandakaranya now have a voice - the voice of their guns.


If the naxals call for a public meeting, hundreds of tribals would respond to it. They would trek kilometres through the forest, complete with food and other provisions.


Deep inside Chhattisgarh, the CNN-IBN team attended one such meeting, where local leaders of the Maoist Janatana Sarkar addressed a gathering.


On the ground, tribal leaders like Sannu are the face of the parallel Maoist government.


He paints the Janatana Sarkar on a red cloth, even as local Adivasis help and watch. The Maoist government, says Sannu, now controls every aspect their lives.


"Our 'sarkar' gets people to work in cooperatives, to dig wells and irrigation tanks. Things like ploughing the land, sowing seeds and harvesting are also done by cooperatives. All this will liberate the area from the Indian Government," claims Sannu, president of the Revolutionary People's Committee of Dandakaranya.


The Janatana Sarkar today controls a vast tract of land, stretching from Gadchiroli in Maharashthra to the Abuz Mad and Bastar districts in Chhattisgarh.


The Maoist writ runs over an area of 92,000-sq kilometre, an area twice the size of Kerala.


Ganesh Uyike, one of the five division secretaries in the so-called Dandakaranya Special Zone, was instrumental in the setting up of this special zone.

"It is not yet a liberated zone. But we will achieve it. Just 25 of us came here. But now, there are thousands in our ranks. We ended the exploitation of forest officials, patwaris and other government forces. We are working towards a People’s Government," claims Ganesh.


As one travels through this Naxal heartland, it is impossible to miss the sickle and hammer.


This flag that flutters in the Dandakaranya Special Zone is the official Maoist banner, not the Indian tricolour.


While the absence of the 'tricoloor' is symbolic, the fact is, the writ of the Government of India does not run in the Dandakaranya Special Zone.


So much so that the Maoists have a constitutional roadmap called the 'Janatana Sarkar Policy Programme', with which they intend to replace the Government of India in Dandakaranya.


The Maoist strategy starts with children. Tribal children are encouraged to imitate Maoist guerilla tactics even in their games.


Police-Maoist encounter is a popular game among the children here. One set of children walk into a 'Maoist territory' posing as police patrol, and another group attacks them. And as the surprised policemen stumble and fall, they are shot ruthlessly.


When their Maoist role models come visiting, the children line up to shake hands with the squad leader.


Not surprisingly, the upper age limit to join the People’s Guerilla Army is just 16 years. And children, like Laxman, are willing to join their ranks.


"I will join the PGA, and fight against the police," says Laxman.


While the Maoists say that they have stepped in to fill a vacuum of governance, tribal Congress leader Mahendra Karma argues that the Maoists systematically destroyed the government institutions using terror, and then imposed themselves on the tribals.


"They had also built their pressure. And in areas where government control was not strong enough, they occupied such areas and crippled the development efforts of the government. They make the socio-economic setup collapse and set up a parallel network of their own," explains Mahendra Karma, an Adivasi leader of the Congress party.


But the Maoists disagree. They say guerilla warfare was not needed to establish their rule in Dandakaranya.


"The aim is to make Dandakaranya a liberated zone. Given the uneven development in India, we have identified areas that we want to liberate. So, Dandakaranya is part of that plan," says Ganesh Uyike, a division secretary of the Dandakaranya Special Zone.


One of the steps taken by the Maoists was to stop the exploitation of the tribals by petty government and village officials.


"Forest rangers and patwaries used to harass us. They used to impose fines for everything - for cutting firewood, for grazing the livestock, everything. They used to collect Rs 2 for cows and Re 1 for oxen. They even fined us if we brought twigs from the forest to fence our plantations," says tribal.


"We have fought the government for our rights over the forest. So, we also take the responsibility to protect it. Whoever wants to cut trees for agriculture or firewood or to make a house must take permission from the jungle committee," says Sannu, president of the Revolutionary People's Committee of Dandakaranya.


The Maoists have mobilised the tribals around a range of grievances - real and invented.


And the idea of a Janatana Sarkar or the people’s government is central to this strategy.


The strategy works like this: First they would exploit the complete absence of the government, and then they would convince the Adivasis through the Janatana Sarkar that the Indian State is not concerned about their welfare.


Amid the claims and counter-claims, what is clear is the fact that the Maoist-run Janatana Sarkar has definitely added a new dimension to the violent image of the Naxal movement in the country.


From Bihar to Andhra Pradesh, the Naxals or the Maoists are one party. They have an armed force, which is lethal as seen in Jehanabad.


And the Maoists organised under the Janatana Sarkar have shown that they can govern as well.


Now, what remains to be seen is how the Government of India responds to this challenge posed by the Maoists.

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