On 26 April, the Assam Police arrested Aklanta Rabha alias Mahesh ji, 41, and Siraj Rabha, 35. Aklanta was a central committee member of the Communist Party of India(Maoist) and Siraj was in charge of the rebels’ medical unit in Jharkhand. The duo was apprehended on the Assam– Meghalaya border on their way to train tribal youth in Meghalaya. Two more Maoist leaders — Anukul Chandra Naskar alias Paresh da, and his wife Kabita Rabha — were apprehended on 9 May.
Strife-torn since Independence over ethnic issues, the Northeast is turning out to be the new Maoist hunting ground. Even Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has raised concerns over the increasing Maoist influence in various pockets of the state.
“Although we have arrested a few of their leaders,” says Jayanto Narayan Choudhury, DGP, Assam, “it is true that they have made inroads into the Northeast. And since this region has international borders, all security agencies will have to work in tandem if we are to ward off the threat.”
According to documents with TEHELKA, slain Maoist leader Kishenji had forged ties with rebel groups in the Northeast, including the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), for procurement of sophisticated arms and training. The Maoists also signed a deal with the Revolutionary Peoples’ Front (RPF) of Manipur; subsequently trainers from the RPF’s armed wing Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA), trained Maoist guerrillas and sold arms to them.
“The increasing fight for natural resources, unemployment, poverty, opposition to dams and ethnic unrest are the major reasons for dissent,” says a senior military intelligence officer on condition of anonymity. “The Maoists realise that this is where they can come in. Unlike in Andhra Pradesh or Jharkhand, where class war and prejudice were triggers for the rebels to gain ground, in the Northeast, they can exploit ethnic differences at the local level.”
In the case of Assam, under Prasanta Bose, the No. 2 in the Maoist hierarchy, the Maoists have divided the state into three ‘operating areas’: the upper Assam leading committee, led by former ULFA functionary Aditya Bora; the lower Assam leading committee, led by Aklanta; and the Barak Valley leading committee led by Anukul Naskar alias Gajanan.
“The anti-dam movement in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh gave them the opportunity to establish their support base on the fragile Assam-Arunachal border. Unlike the rest of the red corridor, they have been able to adopt a tailor-made policy for the Northeast,” the officer reveals further.
CM Gogoi has claimed that the Maoists are active in nine districts — Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Jorhat, Sibsagar, Golaghat, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Cachar and Karimganj. Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has already urged the Centre to declare Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts ‘Maoist infested’.
Following the ULFA’s retreat in the state, the Maoists are trying to fill this gap and have been able to recruit from the indigenous Ahom, Moran and Muttock communities of upper Assam. Their armed squads have established bases in the remote Sadiya subdivision of Tinsukia district. The Assam government estimates that there are about 200 trained Maoist cadres in different pockets of the state.
After the CPI(Maoist) was formed in 2004, they had resolved to establish bases in Assam and Tripura, and use Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland for transit and training. Keeping the Northeast option serves the Maoists’ cause in many ways. Not only does it help them coordinate with Maoists in Nepal and Bhutan, but it also provides them a corridor to slip into Bangladesh or Myanmar at the slightest hint of trouble. Above all, it gives them easier access to China, the cradle of Maoism. Maybe it’s time the Centre reviewed its anti-Maoist strategy to include the Northeast.