First Person | While We Were Busy

Maoists are now exploiting the virgin territories of Northeast India

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

On March 15, a heart-warming news report leaped out of most national newspapers: a fallen soldier’s (Naik) wife was commissioned in the Indian Army as an officer. It was the kind of a story that fills one with hope.

However, there was something about the report that caught my attention. The soldier, Naik Amit Sharma died in a ‘counter-insurgency (CI) operation near hilly Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh in 2012’, the report said. It went on to quote the commanding officer of Amit Sharma’s battalion who was instrumental in motivating his widow Priya Semwal to complete her graduation and joining the army. According to the newspaper report: ‘Her husband was serving in my unit. In that operation, he lost his life while others suffered injuries. When I learnt Amit had encouraged her…, I thought she should become an officer,’ said Colonel Arun Agarwal, Commanding Officer, 14 Rajput Regiment.

Till I read the report I had no idea that the army was doing CI operations in Arunachal Pradesh as well. I asked one retired army officer what kind of CI ops the army could be doing in Arunachal. His response was, “It’s not important. The important thing is that the army helped a jawan’s widow to become an officer.” When I persisted, he said, “The reporter has got it wrong.

Idle journalists with nothing better to do in life cannot resist indulging in speculation. But what deepened my interest enough to actually commit myself on paper was another report that I remembered reading sometime in February.

In a written reply to Rajya Sabha, minister of state for home, RPN Singh had said, ‘The CPI (Maoist) has developed close fraternal ties with Northeast insurgent groups like the Revolutionary People’s Front and People’s Liberation Army of Manipur. Both the outfits have agreed upon mutual cooperation in the areas of training, funding, supply of arms and ammunition.’ In the same reply, the minister said, ‘Upper Assam Leading Committee (UALC) of CPI (Maoist) is operating in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh… and (has) been engaged in recruitment and training of cadres for the outfit in Assam and these cadres have been utilised in extensive propaganda against mega dams in Assam.’

Now could the army actually be doing counter-Maoist operations already?

In 2012, home secretary R.K. Singh had said that the Maoists now have reach in 15 states of India (that’s almost half of India). After prodding movements in the Northeast, they are also exploring newer regions through the forests of Mysore in Karnataka onto Kerala. As the Maoists are anti-development, they are trying to exploit the regions where development is taking place, the home ministry had then concluded.

What the home ministry chose to ignore then, and probably continues to do even now, is that development per se is not an exploitable issue. It is the cost of development that has the potential for exploitation. And in India, the cost of development is extremely high for the people whose land the State desires to acquire. The majority of totems of development in India are built by replacing thousands of people for each project. Despite claims to the contrary, the displaced are never made stakeholders in development. From land-owners or land-users, their status is reduced to that of victims or internally displaced people. This is if they are lucky.

The unlucky ones or those who protest too much are branded as anti-national and are locked away in countless of district jails all over central India. Many are eventually released by the courts for want of evidence, but only after they have spent a few years in the prison. The best way to get rid of the people whose land needs to be acquired for building a dam or a road or for iron-ore mining is to criminalise them. And the state governments in India are past-masters at this.

Hence, it is with a spoonful of salt that one should read the reports of Maoists being on the back-foot because their top leadership has been eliminated. Or that Chhattisgarh is building a world-class capital called Naya Raipur, a symbol of modernity and prosperity. In a state where half the citizenry has been criminalised as Maoists or Maoist-sympathisers, where civil society, including journalists and lawyers are victimised, a new capital is not just an obscenity but a shame.

At the last count, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) which has been designated as the lead counter-Left Wing Extremism (LWE) force has reached the figure of over 220 battalions, almost half of which are involved in the LWE operations. In addition to these, certain battalions of the Border Security Force (BSF) and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) are also deployed in states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa. Then there are state police and their especially-raised commando forces. Now apparently, the army is getting sucked into this too, at least in the Northeastern border areas. And we think that we are winning this war?

A sobering thought: There have been sporadic reports that the Chinese assist the Northeastern insurgent groups. Now we have Maoists there too. Is it not a possibility that Chinese money, weapons and training tools reach the heart of India, while we are busy mining iron-ore to sell it to the Chinese?


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