The Siege Within: Urban Naxalism In India Looming Large
The Maoist movement wants nothing short of a break-up of the Indian state. Its most insidious and dangerous arm is urban Naxalism.
The GURU of Fourth Generation Warfare, William Lind observes that “if nation-states are going to survive, people in power must earn and keep the trust of the governed”. Addressing the American Council of Foreign Relations, he said, “The heart of Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) is a crisis of legitimacy of the state.” How true to the Indian model, when he added that “the establishment is no longer made up of ‘policy types’ — most of its important functionaries are placemen. Their expertise is in becoming and then remaining members of the establishment. Their reality is covert politics and not competence or expertise. When the 4GW will visit them, their response would be to ‘close the shutters on the windows of Versailles’.”
This fourth generation war is complex and long-term. It is decentralised, small in size and lacks hierarchy. The strategy is to make a direct attack on the enemy’s (in this case, the Indian state) culture, including genocidal acts against civilians and wage a highly sophisticated psychological and cultural warfare, especially through media manipulation and lawfare. All available pressures are used — political, economic, social and military. For this purpose, legal professionals are required, media professionals are required, creative people, varied intellectuals and academicians are required, and civil society leaders are required, especially those who are connected with NGOs. It begins with low-intensity conflicts where all the actors attack from different platforms.
In 2004, the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) People’s War, usually called People’s War Group, merged with the Maoist Communist Centre of India and formed the Communist Party of India (Maoist), pledging to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. The party became a member of the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia.
This new entity drafted a blueprint for their urban movement/activities. It is believed that Kobad Ghandy, who was arrested in September 2009 in New Delhi, played a major role in the preparation of this urban perspective plan.
The document admits that the enemy is very strong in urban areas and therefore should never be engaged with until the conditions are favourable. And to make them favourable, it suggests the exploring and opening of opportunities, and organising people through front organisations. Target the “vulnerable group” of minorities, women, Dalits, labourers and students through influencers who work undercover for a long time and accumulate strength. The document stresses on uniting industrial proletariats and students, and using them as vanguards who can play a direct role in revolution.
The city becomes the money source, shelter for cadre as transit points, source of weaponry and legal protection, medical aid, media attention and intelligentsia network.
The stronger the movement becomes in urban areas, the more likely it is to contribute to the agrarian revolution, in terms of providing leaders, men and material to the people’s war.
The majority of the people in Maoist-affected areas and even their supporters and cadres have little to do with Maoism at the ideological level. They are only alienated and angry people with a sense of injustice, oppression and indignity. Maoists cleverly exploit this sentiment to their advantage — caste conflicts in Bihar, resentment against landlords in Andhra Pradesh, discontent against forest laws in tribal areas, unemployment amongst youth, radicalism among Muslims are all given the prescription of capture of power through the gun. While local grievances need to be effectively addressed through improved governance and ruthless accountability, there is an urgent need for creating mass awareness of the ultimate designs and consequences of what the extremists stand for.
The forest-based rebellion survives mostly on what Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao calls the “movement in urban areas”. The network is in many cities, and sympathisers occupy prominent positions.
Consider logistics support. In 2006, the police seized empty rocket shells and rocket launchers in Mahabubnagar district, Andhra Pradesh. The kingpin, “Tech Madhu”, later surrendered to the police, which led to the detection of an elaborate network the Maoists had built. The network originated in the industrial centre of Ambattur, a Chennai suburb, where rocket parts were fabricated, and stealthily transported in private commercial carriers to different parts of the country. The network is spread across five states: Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha.
In the cities, an invisible naxal-intelligentsia-media-academia-NGO-activist nexus works as strategic fortification with the ultimate aim of taking over the Indian state to achieve Maoist rule. The Maoists have identified Pune-Mumbai-Ahmadabad as the “Golden Corridor”, Delhi-Kanpur-Patna-Kolkata as the “Ganga Corridor”. And Chennai-Coimbatore-Bengaluru as “Tri-junction”. Key universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jadavpur University (JU), Osmania University, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) would work as R&D centres of urban naxalism.
Maoist documents mention three kinds of urban mass organisations: secret, open and semi-open, and legal “democratic” organisations.
The legal organisations are the most dangerous for national security, as they try to subvert constitutional authority surreptitiously by building mass support through subtle manipulation of grievances against the state.
Though government can ban the other two types of organisations, it is almost impossible to ban these legal organisations as civil society, human rights and other vigilante groups rush forth and create a hue and cry that the rights of the common man are being denied. These organisations work closely with disgruntled groups of trade unions, student bodies, women’s fronts, caste abolition organisations, nationality organisations, writers’ associations, lawyers’ organisations, teachers’ associations, cultural bodies etc.
“Mass organisations are operating under the garb of human rights NGOs. These are manned by ideologues, including academicians and activists,” the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, detailing the new strategy of the Maoist movement. “The mass organisations… are organically linked to the CPI (Maoist) structure but maintain separate identities in an attempt to avoid legality.” According to the MHA, ideologues and supporters of Maoists in cities and towns have undertaken a concerted and systematic propaganda against the state. “In fact, it is these ideologues who have kept the Maoist movement alive and are in many ways more dangerous than the cadres of the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army,” the affidavit says.
The tactics employed are extremely effective and media attention-grabbing. These range from using aggressive agitations and propaganda, provoking Dalits to take up arms, to programmes on anti-capitalist policies, to controversies in history (eg. Is this what Dr Ambedkar wanted in the Constitution?). The activists take up genuine issues — not with the aim to solve them but to create unrest and anger against the system, and make people believe in armed struggle.
On many occasions, top-level leaders of the CPI (Maoist) have been arrested from cities and towns, indicating that urban front organisations in cities are used as shelters.
The detection of Maoist activities in towns such as Surat clearly shows that Maoists are attempting to penetrate the urban working class. There have been reports of Maoist activities in Haryana — in Jhind, Kurukshetra, Panipat, Sonepat, etc. These are industrial hubs. In Delhi, Maoists have reportedly infiltrated the municipal sanitation workers’ union Delhi Safai Karmachari Sanghatan. According to a media report quoting unnamed intelligence officials, “the rebels have plans to strike in the industrial belts of Bhilai-Ranchi-Dhanbad-Kolkata and Mumbai-Pune-Surat-Ahmedabad to take their battle into the heart of India.”
Some instances of naxal violence adversely affecting the trade and economy are — damaging road construction machinery, shutting down and destroying bank branches, damage to railway lines, highways and telecom towers, thereby inhibiting communication and transport, and destruction of the pipeline for transporting iron ore slurry in Chhattisgarh. According to reports, power and steel industry projects in Chhattisgarh with investments of the order of Rs 13,000 crore were stagnated due to naxalite disturbances. All in all, it’s a grim economic condition, which affects all sectors of industry and all classes of people. Micro-economic effects include lower tourist inflows, reduced usage of public transport, reduced long-term investments, reduced enrolment in schools, lower job availability and lack of opportunities.
The urban movement has attracted students towards the Maoist fold in various parts of the country. In the 1980s, hordes of students from Kakatiya University and Regional Engineering College (now National Institute of Technology), Warangal and Osmania University, Hyderabd, joined the then Progressive War cadres. According to one media report, “…security agencies believe that the front organisations have started vigorous movement in the education sector, to rope in students from several reputed colleges for their cause… People working under banners with hints of revolution, like ‘sangharsh’ and ‘kranti’ are under the scanner”.
Following the arrest of Himadri Sen Roy, a senior Maoist leader, and Somen alias Sumanand, West Bengal state committee secretary, near Kolkata, the police claimed that “the CPI (Maoist) has initiated a drive to spread its network in the city (Kolkata) and its outskirts and the outfit has brought some youths and students from premier educational institutions like Presidency College under its fold.”
In Bangalore, too, Maoist activities in colleges have been noticed. According to a media report, the police suspected that a group known as the Karnataka Communal Harmony Group (KCHG), a congregation of intellectuals and activists, is a Maoist front. Apparently, top police officials visited the famous Jesuit college St Joseph’s to investigate the involvement of students with KCHG and the Maoists. In fact, in Karnataka, the urban movement was stronger than the rural one. JNU, Hyderabad Central University (HCU), TISS, Allahabad University, IIT Madras, JU are citadels of urban naxalism.
Moreover, if and when the urban movement catches on, the state will then have to deal with industrial unrest and urban terrorism.
Maoists also attempt to exploit the inherent fault lines of urbanisation to their advantage. Seized documents reveal that the first step of the urban mobilisation strategy is “Survey”. This step involves scrutinising urban landscapes based upon their geographical profile — whether they are serving an industrialised or underdeveloped hinterland; changes in workforce composition; minute study of the linguistic and religious minorities, of the economic divergences within cities, of the processes involving ghettoisation as these are the potential breeding grounds for their recruits whom they can very easily indoctrinate to work against the interests of the Indian state.
The Times of India of 11 April 2010 reported “The Jawaharlal Nehru University campus became a battleground on Friday night when members of disparate student organisations clashed over what was seen as an attempt to support the Naxalites and ‘celebrate’ the massacre of 76 CRPF men. Members of Democratic Students Union and All India Students Association organised a meeting to celebrate the killing of 76 CRPF personnel in Chhattisgarh. They were even shouting slogans like ‘India murdabad, Maovad zindabad’.”
How can this be allowed inside a central university without the protection of the faculty and the administration?
Under the headline “Maoists have a new address: Jadavpur University”, The Indian Express of 10 December 2010 reported that “Kanchan, the arrested CPI (Maoist) state secretary, has reportedly told the security agencies that a recruitment process is on for the outfit’s military wing and Jadavpur University has emerged as a major centre for the cadres. Also, the Maoists are believed to have a backup module among the university students. Kanchan has reportedly also said that 12 students from Presidency are working actively as CPI (Maoist) cadres in Lalgarh.”
Hindustan Times of 28 March 2010 carried a column with the headline “1970s revisited? Kolkata youth back in Naxal fold”. The report interviews an Intelligence Branch officer involved with tracking Maoist activities, who said, “This trend is alarming. Many student and youth activists in the city campaigning for Lalgarh have visited the jungles and undergone arms training.”
Varavara Rao said at a news conference in JU on 26 Feburary 2010, “Our support is growing among students of Kolkata. Though these students don’t come from tribal areas, they understand the situation.”
Many university campuses have been witnessing student unrest in the last few years. The common thread in all these institutes-turned-battlefields is a protest against the union government in the name of constitutional principles and democratic values. A closer look reveals that there is no suppression of “democratic principles” by the government. However, a picture has been painted so. Some faculty members too tried to escalate these protests through their active participation or supportive roles. All this left the common man wondering “How did students turn anti-India?” “What is suddenly wrong with all these institutes?”
In the cities, the front “mass organisations” are generally manned by ideologues, who include academicians and activists, fully committed to the party line. Such organisations ostensibly pursue human rights-related issues and are adept at using the legal processes of the Indian state to undermine and emasculate enforcement action by the security forces. They also attempt to malign state institutions through propaganda and disinformation to further the cause of their “revolution”.
From these mass organisations, individuals are selected, brainwashed for supporting and becoming members of the Maoist party.
Urban areas are important for Maoists to get cadres who have the skill sets to perform military tasks; they are also critical for developing international networks, local intelligence, reaching medical aid to rural guerilla forces, as transit facility and for cyber warfare.
One more important reason for the Maoists’ focus on urban areas in the last few years is the recruitment ebb they are facing in tribal areas as tribals began to understand the hollowness of Maoist ideology. Maoists are not getting recruits for their dalams (small units in their armed guerilla force). The number of surrenders has gone up manifold.
The history of students’ and teachers’ association with Maoism is as old as the movement itself. The Maoists’ “Strategy and Tactics of Indian Revolution” document mentions the following about students’ role:
“Among the urban petty bourgeoisie, students and youth constitute an important category. They react to events, and historically, from the anti-British movement, they played a significant role. In the wake of Naxalbari, their role is exemplary. Our party has good experience in organising them. While working in urban areas, we must pay necessary attention to organise them.”
The faces of urban naxalism are intellectuals, influencers and activists of importance. They indoctrinate the young by pretending to be concerned about social issues. However, they never make an attempt to find solutions to social problems. They only exploit the situation by organising protests and mobilising the impressionable youth. They encourage students to take admission in colleges and fail their examinations so that they can continue longer on the campus. For a student from a poor or marginalised background, a subsidised stay in a government hostel in a big city is a luxury which he laps up without questioning the ulterior motives of his mentors. With the help of these students, the Maoists attract new students and organise “boot study camps”.
For instance, the CPI (Maoist) organised a 15-day camp in mid-2010 at Kude Burdruk village in Bangarwadi in Khed taluka of Pune district. Seven men and four women participated in the “study camp” called “Teachers Training Programme”. During the camp, a top CPI (M) state operative, Milind Telumbde alias Jyotirao, and his wife Angela Sontakke alias Sadhana, the secretary of CPI (Maoist)’s golden corridor committee, taught Maoist ideology to new party members and potential recruits. The room where the classes were held belonged to a local farmer, a relative of Dhavala Dhengle alias Deepak alias Pratap. He was told that it was a camp for teachers to study tribal issues.
Pratap was arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad in May 2011. A singer and poet, he was a member of the Pune-based cultural group Kabir Kala Manch, which was allegedly used by CPI (Maoist) for interacting with city youths and indoctrinating them. Pune resident Chandaliya, who attended the camp, said in his statement, “Sadhana (Angela) and Jyotirao (Milind) explained Maoist ideology to us. They showed us a video named ‘Blazing Trail’ on attacks on police and paramilitary forces.”
To accomplish their urban objectives, Maoists have employed multi-pronged tactics. Here are some of them:
• To recruit or install Maoist sympathisers in key public sector industries.
• To infiltrate the enemy camp in critical departments like finance, military, police, power, IT, defence production and disrupt the activities from within by gaining control over the workers. Slowly, passive protests and continuous grievances lead to a domino effect in an already disgruntled nation.
• To create a network of doctors and hospital attendants sympathetic to their cause, who will treat injured cadres in utmost secrecy.
• To create cadres in urban areas who are technically qualified to handle the latest arms and ammunitions.
• To create groups of highly motivated individuals who constitute what the Maoists call “city action teams”. Members are entrusted with the destruction of high-value targets or annihilation of individuals of importance. The identity of such members is unknown even to the local urban party structure.
• The collection of centralised intelligence and cyber warfare. The party tries to use modern electronic means to infiltrate into the enemy’s networks and collect vital information. For this, they need to have individuals with requisite skills, who can only be found in urban areas and who, because of the nature of their job, need to be based there. These people are under the direct control of the highest party echelons.
• To create cultural unrest with the help of propaganda platforms like Kabir Kala Manch.
“This is a classical model of fourth generation warfare — a warfare where the enemy is invisible and the battle is for the control of civil society — through coercion, controlling the hearts and minds of the people,” says National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
Urban naxalism is India’s biggest threat. It can’t be fought by the government alone. It has to be fought by exposing them, which is a responsibility of every citizen who wants India to succeed.
@vivekagnihotri is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, public speaker and thought leader. He has made an award-winning film on urban Naxalism – Buddha In A Traffic Jam. His book Urban Naxals is due for release in March 2018.
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