Sunday, November 29, 2009

Maoists: the fight within

Saurav Kumar

First Published : 29 Nov 2009 10:55:00 PM ISTLast Updated : 29 Nov 2009 12:40:17 AM IST

A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.

Bharat ki ballebaji aaj chali nahin, yahan tak ki master blaster Sachin Tendulkar bhi aaj kuch khas nahin kar paye. (India’s batting did not click today, even master blaster Sachin Tendulkar couldn’t do much today.) It’s a voice sputtering out of a radio set, meshed by heavy static. The listeners, 50 heavily armed men somewhere in the forests of Jharkand, are disappointed. It’s the score of the sixth One Day International between India and Australia at Guwahati when the Indians folded for 170 runs.

They love cricket and Sachin Tendulkar, but they don’t believe in the legitimacy of the Indian state, wage a war against it and refuse to ackn­owledge that India gained Independence in 1947. For a moment, though, the scratchy voice on the radio brings alive the idea of India. For that moment the guns rest easy in Saptpahari forest.

The 50 men in battle fatigues belong to the ‘A’ platoon of the Maoist Communist Centre Tritipaya Prastuti Sammelan (TPC), a breakaway faction of the MCC. The TPC is hunting the parent for veering away from Maoism.

“Lal Salam comrade. Comrade, Lal Salam.” Fifty hands reach out. A man they call Mani, the Platoon Commander, gets up from under the shade of a tree, pats the twigs off his Kalashnikov and says, “ I welcome you on behalf of the Peoples Army.”

It’s been a long and tortuous journey to this rendezvous, after a number of discreet inquiries, false tip offs and trails that ran cold. It happened very simply. One day a contact calling himself Sanjeev offered a motorcycle ride.

It was a ride to nowhere, 40 km north of Balumath, the block headquarters town in Latehar. The last metalled road disappeared after 20 km, the last dirt track about 15 minutes later. For the remaining 40 minutes there were no roads.

Villages appeared now and then. They did not have electric poles. If they did, there was no wiring. In some houses there were solar lante­rns. In some villages children smiled, some had brittle teeth, the result of fluoride in the water. At places, Sanjeev asked the children, Saathiyan kane hai? (Where are the friends?) The invariable reply, sometimes with a knowing smile, was a hand pointed towards the hills.

The TPC’s story runs on familiar lines. In Jharkhand, the merger of the MCC and PWG in 2004, to form the CPI (Maoist) was not smooth. The unified command structure the CPI (Maoist) imposed did not go down well. Many owed loyalty to their immediate leader, not the Central Committee. Therefore, some moved away, renamed themselves and continued to fight the state. There are about 10 splinter Maoist groups in the state.

The TPC is different from all of them. It is the only one whose stated agenda is to liberate areas from the CPI (Maoists), a war of ideology in which former brothers in arms are killing each other. The theatre of war is six districts — Latehar, Chatra, Palamau, Garwha and Lohardaga and Simdega.

Mani, a veteran of 17 years, says, “We must have killed 40-45 CPI (Maoists) since 2004, some with whom we fought together for years. They sold their souls, oppressing the people they are supposed to liberate. We cannot tolerate that.” He does not tell how many TPC members the CPI (Maoists) has killed, but police say it may be around 20.

It’s a bit like David and Goliath, but the TPC has some advantages. The CPI (Maoists) may have a force of 50,000 and more, but it is spread over seven states. The TPC is as well equipped as the Maoists. Also, most of them served in the MCC for years, and they know everything about it, hideouts, supply chain, tactics. It boils down to one platoon versus another, and the TPC so far has held the upper hand.

Many reasons are given for the parting of ways. Some say the MCC was dominated by the Yadavs who marginalised the tribals. Others claim it was the merger of 2004, which the TPC terms as dishaheen (directionless) in its literature that caused the split.

Some police officers say it is all about money. “They want areas under their control to collect levy. Latehar with its coal and bauxite mines, both legal and illegal, is worth fighting for.” The platoon is heavily armed — AK-47, AK-56, SLRs, .315 rifles, even the odd .303 and plenty of ammunition. Mani says ‘C’ platoon also has a mortar and LMG. The TPC has three platoons, which means about 200 armed men, and 500 unarmed men, who can fight when necessary.

Every platoon has a defence unit, of people not dressed in combat gear, who can merge with the population. Their job is to be at the nearest place from the platoon where the mobile phone can catch a signal. They are in touch with their spies who keep track of the movement of the police, and also of the adversary.

Where do ordinary people figure in this equation? The platoon does not carry rations. But it can knock on any door in any village on the edge of the forest and have lunch. Or dinner. Nobody can deny them. If the villagers are lucky, the platoon may leave some money, or just ask for a mobile phone recharge. If a villager is suspected of being an informer, whether police or CPI(Maoists),

he could be killed.

The contractors, the landlords, private companies in the area — all capitalist symbols the TPC has vowed to abolish — keep it supplied with arms and food. They pay a levy. In theory schools, hospitals and projects that cost up to Rs 1 lakh are exempt. In practice, every penny counts. Nobody argues with 50 armed men. Shyam, the area commander, says a platoon requires Rs 30,000 worth of rations a month to keep going.

What do the people get? The young ones get lessons in Maoism, a call to arms, to unite against the government of the ‘rich’. The old ones, having heard it all their lives, get to host dinner now and then.

The job of the platoon is to engage the enemy — the MCC, the landlord, the police — to kill or be killed. It’s also a guerrilla unit, so it choo­ses its time and place of attack. When outnumbered, when outguessed, scooting away is an honourable thing to do.

Shyam says, “There is no point in fighting a losing battle. We are not the army. We are not that big. We can fight only if we are alive. So we wait for our chance.” He should know, he has survived for 27 years. But, is survival enough for the TPC?


The troubled red merger

In September 2004, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)

People’s War and the Maoist Communist Centre of India joined hands. Ganapati (aka Muppala Lakshmana Rao) from the People's War group was named the general secretary of the provisional central committee. There were reports of internal feuds because of casteism. The Jharkhand Maoists are said to be the worst offenders in this respect. Caste struggles are even said to have

splinter groups such as the Tritiya Sammellan Prastuti Committee and Jharkhand Prastuti Committee.

Is it a front for the police?

Set a guerrilla army to defeat a guerrilla army. Who better than the TPC to hunt down the CPI (Maoists)? What the police, with their strength in numbers and latest weaponry have been struggling to do in Jharkhand, the TPC has consistently achieved in the past four years: driving the Maoists away.

In Chatra district, where TPC first shot to fame in 2004, and in Latehar, Palamau and in the capital Ranchi, the talk doing the rounds is that TPC is a front for the police. The evidence, people say, is in the numbers. This year, left wing extremists had killed 64 security personnel until October. According to the South Asian Terrorism Portal database, not one death could be attributed to the TPC. Police support for the TPC is a claim every police officer from Balumath to Ranchi dismisses.

Kuldeep Dwiedi, superintendent of police, Latehar says, “For me they are criminals like any other. The police do not treat them differently. In fact, we have arrested many of their top leaders. You have to understand that the CPI (Maoist) are greater in number so naturally most of our operations are against them.”

There is one difference, though. While the CPI (Maoists) seeks out police patrols to ambush them, plans traps and at times directly engages them, the TPC is more restrained. Mani, ‘A’ platoon commander, says, “We try to avoid the police. We don’t want to directly fight them. However, we get no favours. They have arrested many of us. And if we are in a situation we will surely fire at them.”

Till now, however, no security forces personnel has fallen to a bullet fired by the TPC, he says.

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