Wednesday, October 20, 2004

India: Assessment - The Maoist Unified Front


The merger of two dangerous left wing extremist outfits, the erstwhile Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People's War (CPI-ML PW, also known as the People's War Group or PWG) poses a threat that goes beyond internal security, and imperils India's Parliamentary Democracy itself. The two Left Wing extremist groups merged to form a new "unified" entity, the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) on September 21 somewhere in the projected Naxalite 'liberated zone', either in Jharkhand or Bihar. The merger of these two groups, long-feared by the state's intelligence agencies who had taken up the obstruction of such a fusion as a priority, contains the potential to change the course of the 'revolutionary movement' not only in India, but also across the South Asian neighbourhood.



Naxalites: A Compact of Fire
Nihar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

"We do not believe that the suffering masses can be liberated through negotiations. Our ultimate goal is to capture power through armed revolution."
Ramakrishna, 'Secretary', People's War Group

The merger of two dangerous left wing extremist outfits, the erstwhile Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People's War (CPI-ML PW, also known as the People's War Group or PWG) poses a threat that goes beyond internal security, and imperils India's Parliamentary Democracy itself. The two Left Wing extremist groups merged to form a new "unified" entity, the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) on September 21 somewhere in the projected Naxalite 'liberated zone', either in Jharkhand or Bihar. The merger of these two groups, long-feared by the state's intelligence agencies who had taken up the obstruction of such a fusion as a priority, contains the potential to change the course of the 'revolutionary movement' not only in India, but also across the South Asian neighbourhood.

The merger now makes the CPI-Maoist a pan-Indian revolutionary group, and brings the Maoists closer to their objective of 'liberating' their proposed Compact Revolutionary Zone (CRZ), which extends from Nepal through Bihar in the North to Dandakaranya region (forest areas of Central India) and Andhra Pradesh in the South. The intention is to have a continuous stretch of territory under their influence and control, with the ultimate goal of eventually "liberating" the entire zone. Large parts of this territory have already been brought under the extremist influence with only some link-ups now necessary in the remaining pockets to make the CRZ a reality. Once achieved, the CRZ will virtually drive a wedge through the vital areas of the country, and would help crystallize linkages with other Maoist groups operating in South Asia, including the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) and the Communist Party of Bhutan-Maoist (CPB-M).

The merger is the consequences of initiatives that date back five years, when the PWG approached the MCC with a proposal of merger. In fact, since its inception on April 22, 1980, the PWG had been trying to bring all the Left Wing extremist groups in India (numbering around 40) under its umbrella with the objective of overthrowing 'the bureaucrat comprador bourgeois and big landlords classes who control state power in collusion with imperialism' and 'to establish in its place the New Democratic State under the leadership of the proletariat' with the ultimate aim of establishing socialism and communism. The MCC had been its first target and talks had been on since the early 1980's. However, the discussions failed to progress initially as a result of turf wars and differences at the leadership level. Despite ideological commonalities and shared objectives, the pathways to the merger have been full of obstacles, with territorial and leadership clashes giving rise to an internecine conflict that lasted through much of the 1990s, as the two groups struggled for supremacy in different parts of then undivided Bihar, resulting in the death of hundreds of cadres and sympathisers. However, continuous interaction resulted in declining hostility between the two groups over time, and gradually increased operational cooperation and consolidation. The creation of Jharkhand in November 2000 and anti-Maoist operations launched by the administration pushed the MCC and PWG into closer cooperation, and a truce was announced between them three years ago. Significantly, the PWG had earlier merged with the CPI-ML (Party Unity) of Bihar in August 11, 1998.

According to the CPI-Maoist press release issued by Muppala Lakshman Rao alias Ganapathi, the 'General Secretary' of the Party, the unity was aimed at furthering the cause of "revolution" in India. The new party also pledged to work in close collaboration with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). As part of its strategy, the CPI-Maoist would fiercely oppose the Central Government run by the Congress and its mainstream communist allies, the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the CPI-Marxist. Ganapathi also announced the formation of a 'People's Liberation Guerrilla Army' and extended support to "revolutionary struggles" in Nepal, Peru, the Philippines, Turkey and "other places".

The MCC's current areas of influence extended over Bihar and Jharkhand, with some sway in Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal, Uttaranchal and a few pockets of Madhya Pradesh. The PWG's areas of dominance included Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Both organizations shared their belief in the 'annihilation of class enemies' and in extreme violence as a means to secure organizational goals. However, significant ideological divisions did exist in the past, with the PWG adhering to a Marxist-Leninist 'line', while the MCC embraced Maoism. These differences have now been ironed over, with Maoism prevailing, in the words of PWG Andhra Pradesh State 'Secretary', as "the higher stage of the M-L (Marxist-Leninist) philosophy. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism will be the ideological basis guiding its (CPI-Maoist's) thinking in all spheres of its activities." The new entity has reaffirmed its commitment to the classical Maoist strategy of 'protracted armed struggle' which defines its objectives not in terms of the seizure of lands, crops, or other immediate goals, but the seizure of power. Within this perspective, participation in elections and engagement with the prevailing 'bourgeois democracy' are rejected, and all efforts and attention is firmly focused on 'revolutionary activities' to undermine the state and seize power.

The merger will have serious implications in all States facing the Maoist threat, and will increase the 'firepower' the 'battle ability' and levels of modernization of the two groups. The PWG is estimated to have 3500 armed cadres and around 3000 firearms, including a large number of rifles of AK variety, LMGs, SLRs, carbines, .303s, grenades, revolvers, pistols, and landmines technologies. The PWG also has a technical squad, which manufactures 12-bore guns and its ammunitions, repairs all kinds of weapons and assembles grenades. The MCC is estimated to have cadre strength of between 3000-3500, and around 2500 firearms of similar varieties.

The two guerrilla 'armies' of the PWG and the MCC - the People's Guerrilla Army (PGA) and the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) - have also merged under the September agreement. The new armed force will operate under the name 'People's Liberation Guerrilla Army' (PLGA) after December 2, 2004. The CPI-Maoist would carry on the new "democratic revolution, which would remain directed against imperialism, feudalism and comprador bureaucratic capitalism." The new party believes that the merger would cause "fear among the ruling classes" and would fulfil "the aspirations of the masses" for a strong revolutionary party that would usher in a "new democratic society" by advancing towards socialism and communism.

Financially, the CPI-Maoist will be the richest and largest revolutionary group in India, with a presence in at least 125 districts in 12 States, with another 24 districts targeted in its current phase of expansion.

The merger could also be seen as a strategic move to escape the ban in Bihar and Tamil Nadu, and the national ban under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, which was recently amended by an Ordinance to incorporate elements of the repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), 2002, as the new party, technically speaking, is not banned. The Governments in these States will have to issue separate orders banning the new entity, giving the CPI-Maoist some time to expand its bases.

The merger assumes more threatening proportions in view of the CPN-M's rampage across Nepal. The CPN-M has long maintained that unless the Maoists of the South Asia region work together to counter India's 'pernicious role', 'final victory' would elude them. Intelligence sources indicate that, if the Maoist insurgents achieve their objective in Nepal, a sudden spurt of cross-border terrorism along the 1,751 kilometre Indo-Nepal border would be a certainty, as the Maoist groups focus on the consolidation of their Compact Revolutionary Zone (CRZ).

The results of the merger are already visible in operations in West Bengal and Jharkhand.

* On October 15, cadres of the CPI-M blew up a Public Works Department (PWD) guesthouse at Kundari under Lesliganj block in Palamau district of Jharkhand.

* On October 14, a landmine blew up at least six Eastern Frontier Rifles personnel inside a forest in the West Midnapore district of West Bengal.

* On October 13, the CPI-Maoist cadres damaged a block office in the West Midnapore district of West Bengal, though there were no reports of any casualties in the incident.

In the meantime, the state response to 'Naxalism' remains incoherent and directionless. As the extremists work to consolidate and expand their power, repeatedly declaring their commitment to 'armed struggle' and their rejection of India's 'bourgeois democracy', the Andhra Pradesh Government - the State has been the location of some of the most serious and ideologically coherent movement for decades now - has put its entire faith in 'negotiations', backed by the Centre, with the Union Ministry of Home Affairs encouraging other Naxalite-affected States to follow the Andhra Pradesh example. Initial reports on the talks between representatives of the PWG / CPI-Maoist and the Andhra Government, however, are far from encouraging. The Naxalites have rejected two basic ground rules that the State Government had put forward: they will not surrender their arms; and will not accept any restriction on bearing arms in the areas of their operation, and the Government has tamely submitted. The Government, incidentally, has already called off all counter-insurgency operations in the State, giving the armed Naxalite cadres a completely free run. Reports suggest frenetic activity to regroup, recruit and train new cadres in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh, as well as significant activity to enter hitherto virgin territories. While the CPI-Maoist's intentions are abundantly clear, neither the Union nor the State Governments appear to have any coherent strategy - other than the delusionary optimism of a directionless process of 'negotiations' - to contain or counter the extremist gameplan.

In the interim, intelligence agencies appear to be pinning their hopes on the possibilities of exploiting or provoking internal dissension within the CPI-Maoist, insisting that the money in the joint kitty is 'too big to share', and that conflict over the division of spoils would eventually undermine the merger and joint operations. Having failed to prevent the merger, it appears that the surviving gamble is to take advantage of residual ideological differences, personality clashes and conflicts of vested interests to undermine effective cooperation within the CPI-Maoist. Given the track record of continuous consolidation within the Left Wing extremist ranks and the continuous and abysmal failure of the state to contain their activities, however, the chances of winning on this throw of the dice are far from optimistic.

SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW, Volume 3, No. 14, October 18, 2004