Banned Islamic group and Maoists said to form alliance
The banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and Maoist rebels have formed an alliance in the past four years, with SIMI financially aiding the Naxalite insurrection and even helping the rebels elude capture by government forces in 2012, West Bengal Director General of Police Naparajit Mukherjee said in an interview. * Hasib Raza and Abufakir Siddiqui, pictured in hoods and handcuffs alongside Ahmedabad Crime Branch officials in 2010, were arrested on suspicion of links to the Students of Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). The banned group now is believed to be aiding the Maoist uprising in parts of West Bengal near the Bangladesh border, officials say [Sam Panthaky/AFP] Hasib Raza and Abufakir Siddiqui, pictured in hoods and handcuffs alongside Ahmedabad Crime Branch officials in 2010, were arrested on suspicion of links to the Students of Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).
The banned group now is believed to be aiding the Maoist uprising in parts of West Bengal near the Bangladesh border, officials say [Sam Panthaky/AFP] At a November meeting in New Delhi between Union Home Secretary R. K. Singh and chief secretaries and directors general of police from nine Indian states affected by the Maoist insurgency, Mukherjee became the first senior security official to bring the SIMI-Maoist connection out into the open and document it.
For four years, he told Khabar South Asia, Indian security services have been tracking and trying to foil a growing connection between the two outlawed groups, which have starkly different ideologies. Islamist extremists oppose secularism and wish to impose a strict interpretation of sharia law, while Maoism is atheistic and regards religion as a reactionary force. “I have told the Union Home Secretary that several above-board groups owing allegiance to the Maoists have teamed up with certain elements of (SIMI) and are prompting the common people to revolt against the government,” Mukherjee said.
He informed Singh and other officials who attended the meeting that SIMI was aiding the Maoists in at least three of West Bengal’s districts that border Bangladesh. “Investigations by the police and intelligence agencies have revealed that while the SIMI has been successful in establishing a strong link with the Maoists in a number of states, the nexus is the strongest in West Bengal,” Singh told Khabar. “As West Bengal shares a 4,095km-long border with Bangladesh, the logistics work fine for both banned outfits in this state.” SIMI and the Maoists (CPI) — which formed in 2004 through the merger of two ultra-leftist groups, the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre – have been working together since 2008.
Indian authorities first learned about the connection following the 2010 arrest in Karnataka state of a Dubai-based operative suspected of circulating counterfeit money in Karnataka and the neighboring state of Kerala, Mukherjee said. In 2010, according to to R. K. Meena, Director of Naxal Management for the Ministry of Home Affairs, police in New Delhi arrested a suspected Kashmir-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative for allegedly trying to arrange alliance-building meetings between SIMI and leaders of the Maoist rebel group. “During interrogation, [he] revealed that he was sent to India to try and pass on funds to the Maoists through the SIMI,” Meena told Khabar. “A HuJI (Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami) operative … who was also arrested by the police in the same year, also pled guilty that he had come from Kashmir to hold talks with the Maoists,” he added.
Around that time, Indian police and paramilitary forces launched multiple operations aimed at crushing the Maoist movement, officials said. By early 2012, security forces had cornered the Naxalites, by cutting off their supplies of food, armaments and cash and forcing them to starve in their tropical forest hideaways. But then SIMI intervened. “It was at this crucial juncture that the SIMI activists stepped into the picture,” Meena said. “As all the dedicated routes of the Maoists were blocked by the forces, stopping the arms and even food supplies to the rebels, the SIMI activists … extended a helping hand to the Naxalites by offering their international routes to smuggle in arms and ammunition from foreign sources.”
Colombo ventures to coach New Delhi on ‘Counterinsurgency’
After spearheading an internationally-coordinated counterinsurgency (COIN) operation against the LTTE which resulted in an internationally abetted genocide of the Eezham Tamils in May 2009, in which India played no small a role, Sri Lanka now claims that it can offer training to Indian and other military forces in COIN operations. The commitment of General Bikram Singh, the Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army, to Sri Lanka’s security and his implicit appreciation of the Sri Lanka model of COIN by his statements at the passing out parade at Sri Lanka Military Academy on 22 December should be a cause of concern for progressive civil society activists in India, for while the ‘Sri Lanka solution’ was possible in its specific case only by a combination of geo-political factors and genocidal intent, it holds out lessons that could threaten democratic traditions in any country.
“With significant experience on both sides, we have a lot to learn from each other and we look forward to reinforcing our cooperation in the military domain further,” Gen. Bikram Singh had said at the parade, the Indian Express reported. The Express also cited Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s response to Bikram Singh’s visit, “When I met Gen. Bikram Singh, I renewed our offer to train Indian forces in counter-insurgency. We have designed courses in this field and have offered them to other countries facing terrorism. It is now up to the Indian army chief to decide.”
Till now, Sri Lankan military officers have been going to India to receive advance military training, especially in India’s elite military institute Counter-insurgency and Jungle Warfare School in Mizoram and the School of Artillery in Maharashtra, while attempts to train Sri Lanka Air Force personnel at the Indian Airforce base in Tambaram, Chennai have had to be cancelled owing to strong protests by people in Tamil Nadu and the state government. Indian forces have also been undertaking joint exercises with the genocide-accused military of Sri Lanka. But this is the first time that the Defence Secretary of Sri Lanka has so explicitly offered to train Indian forces in COIN.
India has been accused of aiding Sri Lanka in its war on the Eezham Tamil nation, shielding the GoSL at international forums, and still politically abetting the genocidal reconciliation model of Sri Lanka, which in practice means colonization and militarization of the Tamil homeland while harping on 13 Amendment as a political solution. India already generated considerable disrepute among Tamils world over for the atrocities committed by the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) during the period of their deployment in the Tamil homeland from 1987-90. But the Indian Military taking up the Sri Lanka model of COIN can have ominous repercussions for the people of India in particular and the region in general. India currently in its territory faces quite some movements that challenge the authority of its government. In Kashmir, which has the largest deployment of the Indian military, the movement has changed from a classic insurgency to more and more of mass demonstrations.
Likewise, most of the insurgent movements in the North-Eastern states of India have mostly watered down in intensity, and are at different stages of negotiation with the Indian government currently. Even the NSCN(IM), probably the longest running insurgency in South Asia, is a position of strategic weakness despite its ceasefire with the government of India, with quite some of its important leaders arrested in the recent years. While Indian military presence is concentrated in the above mentioned regions, it is the Maoist movement in the heartlands India that elicits great attraction from Indian defence analysts and internal security experts in recent times. Likewise, post-May 2009, quite some have openly advocated the adoption of the ‘Sri Lanka solution’ to deal with the Maoists.
The Maoists, also popularly known as the Naxals, have been waging an armed struggle against the Indian state ever since 1967 to bring about a ‘New Democratic Revolution’ in India, whose society they argue is ‘semi-feudal and semi-colonial’. Beginning as a peasant movement in the Naxalbari village in West Bengal and gaining momentum in the state of Andhra Pradesh among the poor peasantry before being contained by police and elite commando operations, the core fighting forces of the Maoists is now largely spread over the mineral rich states of Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Orissa. In these states, they are said to enjoy support of tribal populations who fear displacement owing to corporate mining and the creation of Special Economic Zones Reports also claim that that more than one fourth of India’s 640 districts are Maoist affected.
The terrain, the nature of the actors involved, the geo-political significance of the contested region, the intention of state in relation to the people siding with the insurgents, the political goals of the insurgent are qualitatively and quantitatively different from the case of the conflict in the island. Likewise, while Sri Lanka has approached the Tamil national question purely through a military lens, which is necessary for it to execute a protracted genocide, the Indian state views anti-Maoist operations as a primarily police work. Though the use of the military has been mulled, many senior Indian military personnel have advised against it, claiming that the ‘tribals are after all our own people’.
The ‘Sri Lanka model’ ticked not because of a home planned insurgent-focussed military strategy, but because of globally coordinated moves by establishments with vested interests in the island to curtail the political space of the Tamil national struggle combined with a military approach of a state with genocidal intent, that used a superior air force, equipped by world powers, keeping Tamil civilian support for the movement as its primary target using ‘terror bombings’. That the entire Tamil population was the target for the Sri Lankan state is clear even after the ‘post-war’ scenario, where systematic repression of civil space, torture, abuses, disappearances, rapes of the Eezham Tamil people takes place hand-in-hand with militarization and colonization of the Tamil homeland.
Is this the COIN lesson that the Indian military seeks to learn from Sri Lanka? The Indian Air Force had already used strategic bombings and strafing as COIN ops in the 1960s against the insurgency led by the Mizo National Front in the North-Eastern parts of India. While these did not cause much loss of life, it caused great destruction of civilian property and displacement. The Mizo insurgency, however, fizzled out after the signing of the Mizoram Accord in 1986, which led to the creation of the state of Mizoram under the Indian constitution, with special provisions for it as a Union Territory.
But India is yet to use the type of ‘terror bombings’ that Sri Lanka has deployed on the Eezham Tamils on any insurgency in its territory. While air power was suggested by some in the Indian establishments to be used against the Maoists, it was turned down by others in the Indian military. But the flirtations of higher echelons of the Indian military with the ‘Sri Lanka model’ do give rise to apprehensions that such methods may be more strongly considered in the future. The other COIN lessons that can be lifted from Sri Lanka are equally disturbing.
Intensifying military and air assaults on civilians so as to break their morale in supporting insurgents, strengthening the hands of paramilitaries and to give them a free run in unleashing a proxy unaccountable terror, ensuring zero access of external media into the conflict zone but for those who will toe the government line, and lastly, creation of ‘special military zones’ on former sites of resistance to monitor a suspect population and brutally enforce the state’s authority on them. Few of these methods have been tried by India in the Maoist areas, especially the use of paramilitaries like Salwa Judum in the state of Chattisgarh. Adoption of the ‘Sri Lanka model’ might encourage a full thrust on most or all of these measures.
For all its flaws, India has a rich history of democratic dialogue as well as people’s resistance right from the freedom struggle in the colonial period, to struggles against caste oppression and economic and social inequalities, movements for linguistic freedom and other reformatory cultural movements. All of this will be in check if the ‘Sri Lanka model’ is accepted as a legitimate model for COIN for even without genocidal intention, the effect of this model can effect in nothing less than a creation of an apparatus of genocidal or totalitarian repression. Whether the democratic movements in the Indian civil society and the progressive intellectual circles would be willing to address this ‘unholy nexus’ before it mutates into something potentially dangerous is the question of political analysts in Tamil Nadu.
Maoists regrouping in Nandigram
NANDIGRAM: Pushed to the wall in Jangalmahal after Kishanji’s death, Maoists have started regrouping at Sonachura in Nandigram, the site of many a gunbattle during the Trinamool-led agitation against the Left Front regime in 2007. And this time, the Maoists are targeting the very people who participated in the land stir but have since become part of the Trinamool-run panchayats and zilla parishad. The Maoist scare has come to light in the run-up to former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s visit to Chandipur on the Nandigram border on January 5. An intelligence report submitted to the East Midnapore district administration in December reveals the extent of the threat.
It names specific targets – Sonachura panchayat chief Kalikrishna Pradhan, and party leaders Taher Ali, Sk Sufian and Sk Sahabuddin. The district administration has responded by deploying plainclothes policemen in the area and intensifying patrols. Pradhan has been asked not to step out of his house without informing police. A week ago, some suspicious persons were seen loitering around Pradhan’s house in the dead of night. The IB report says that rebels have made Sonachura their base and are in constant touch with the CPI(Maoist) central committee.
According to the report, the Maoists are spreading their network in Nandigram by linking up with disgruntled elements in the Trinamool Congress and a section of the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) who fell out with Trinamool soon after it came to power. According to police, 500 families in Nandigram are already part of the Maoist network. The district police parried questions on the threat, but East Midnapore SP Sukesh Jain had admitted at a meeting in Nandigram College on January 2 that Maoists are trying to spread their network in the area. The SP also said that rebels are trying to capitalise on the grievance of villagers over local problems.
He urged villagers to pass information on Maoists to the police. The last time there was a whiff of Maoist activity in the area was in 2009 when influential Trinamool leader Nishikanta Mandal was gunned down soon after the Lok Sabha elections. Initially Trinamool tried to blame CPM for the killing but it is now believed that the Maoists pulled the trigger. Mandal was a hurdle to the Maoists’ bid to spread their network in the area. It was he who had put up a stiff resistance against CPM gunmen in Sonachura on November 7, 2007.
Trinamool and SUCI (C) activists and Maoists had participated in the resistance. Singer and rebel Trinamool MP Kabir Suman has narrated the Trinamool-Maoist nexus during the Nandigram stir in his revealing book: Nishaner Naam Tapasi Malik. Maoists have now turned their guns against Trinamool. Sensing the threat, a strong police force has been kept in reserve at Nandigram and a police camp set up at the Sonachura gram panchayat office. Trinamool office-bearers have been given bodyguards. Trinamool MP from Tamluk Subhendu Adhikary gets additional security cover whenever he goes to Nandigram. It was evident at the recent Trinamool meeting at Bhutar More, with police patrols at every crossing.