Amid setbacks, Maoists try their luck at the ballot box
Blows to their armed campaign in recent months may have spurred Maoist insurgents to rethink their tactics and look towards democratic processes – such as local council elections – as a way of advancing their goals and regaining lost support, sources tell Khabar South Asia. But Indian officials appear to have mixed views about the apparent trend, with some cautiously welcoming the move and others worried it will only serve to help the militants reassert control.
According to West Bengal Additional Director General of Police Banibrata Basu, the Naxals – as the far-left militants are commonly known — have already won sarpanch and samiti member posts in Maharashtra, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, and have now apparently set their sights on the gram panchayat (village council) polls in West Bengal, which will be held in three phases during July. Intelligence reports suggest that “top Maoists from Jharkhand and (Odisha) have held two rounds of secret meetings with their local cadres in Kharagpur to discuss strategies for the panchayat polls,” Basu told Khabar.
West Bengal police say they have identified 17 blocs in several districts impacted by the insurgency – including West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia – where an abnormally high number of independents have filed nominations.
Naxal sources confirm new strategy
Speaking from his hideout, CPI (Maoist) Ghatsila sub-zonal commander Sunil (alias Kunda Mahato) appeared to confirm the tactical shift. “Our organisation has suffered many serious setbacks since the death of [longtime military leader] Kishenji and we are now determined to regain the lost ground,” he told Khabar. “We definitely want to get in touch with the people and the panchayat elections present an excellent opportunity to achieve this.” The rebel’s newfound embrace of the democratic system has left government officials and experts divided. Some say the Naxals are bringing violence to the process and using it to maintain their strongholds.
“The Maoists are also of the view that winning the gram panchayats will also prevent the police and security forces from undertaking combing operations in these villages, making them a safe haven for them,” warned Ministry of Home Affairs Additional Secretary (Naxal Management) Rajiv Sharma. In the past, officials say, the Maoists have not shied away from violence and intimidation as a way of influencing election outcomes. As an example, police point to the March 2012 panchayat polls in Gadchiroli, where candidates affiliated with the Naxals won as many as 50 seats.
“In order to ensure their victory, the rebels used terror to force 83 elected representatives of different political groups to quit their post in 2012,” said Gadchiroli superintendent of police (SP) Suvez Haque. In Odisha, where dozens of seats in the last council elections went to Maoist-linked candidates, the local government is contesting the outcome. Meanwhile, the Home Ministry has asked the Rural Welfare Ministry to withhold all funds for rural development to these village bodies, fearing the money will end up in Maoist coffers. An opportunity for peace? Others see an opportunity to promote peace as the rebels find themselves with a greater stake in civil society.
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, who is spearheading development projects in Maoist-affected areas, says the reintegration of militant movements has borne fruit in other regions of India, such as the northeast. Insurgent-ridden states like Assam, Mizoram, Tripura and Punjab have successfully accommodated radical movements into the political system, thereby helping them return to the mainstream, he told Khabar. “There is a need to engage these people as well as set off a political process to solve the issues which the security forces don’t achieve,” he said.
Nagpur court sentences senior Maoist leaders
The additional sessions court, on Tuesday, found senior Maoist leaders, Vernon Gonsalves, 55, and Sridhar Srinivasan, 54, guilty of unlawful activities and carrying arms and explosives, and slapped them with five and six year sentences, respectively. While delivering the sentence the additional session judge, PM Dunedar, also acquitted Angela Sontakke, who was arrested from Thane in 2011. Angela is the wife of senior naxalite leader Milind Teltumde, the secretary of the Maharashtra state committee of the CPI (Maoist). Gonsalves and Srinivasan were arrested by the anti-terrorism squad (ATS) from Mumbai with arms and explosives in August 2007.
The police had claimed to have recovered detonators, a hand grenade, two firearms, 20 high-explosive gelatine sticks and so on from them. Their arrest brought into focus sympathies among a few of Mumbai’s highly-educated, middle-class for naxalites. The police had similarly arrested Arun Ferreira, a science graduate of St Xavier’s College and once a trainee Roman Catholic priest from Nagpur, along with a senior naxalite leader, Murali. Arun was released by the court recently. Vernon alias Vikram once taught economics at KC College and Ruparel College. He and his wife, Susan Abraham, worked among the underprivileged people of Chandrapur for years.
They also worked with labour unions in the industrial city of Chandrapur in Vidarbha region. Vidarbha, the backward region of Maharashtra, acted as a magnet for student radicals from Mumbai in the 80s. The late Anuradha Ghandy, a central committee member of the CPI (Maoist) and her husband, Kobad Ghandy, a politburo member of the banned organisation, also worked in the region.
Maoists-police engage in gunbattle in Jharkhand
Latehar (Jharkhand): The para-military forces, which began anti-naxal operation, were fired upon by the left wing guerrillas of the CPI (Maoist) near Kumandih village of Latehar district, police said on Wednesday. “The anti-naxal operation began on Monday. The Maoists opened fire on the personnel of the CRPF, Jharkhand Jaguar and the district police last night,” Superintendent of Police Michael S Raj told reporters here.
Stating that the security forces had also retaliated and the exchange of fire lasted for about an hour, he said a few shots were also fired around 11 am today. There was no casualty from any side, he said adding the security forces were also scourging the forests in the night as well. PTI
WB: Fears of Maoists winning uncontested
The Union home ministry has warned the Mamata Banerjee administration that a number of Maoist-backed candidates may have already won several uncontested seats in the panchayat elections scheduled from July 2. According to SEC officials, about 4,500 gram panchayat seats and 710 panchayat samity seats were won uncontested in the nine districts slated for the first phase of the rural polls.
Three of these districts — West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia — are hotbeds of Maoist activity. The MHA wrote to the state home secretary on June 20, citing similar attempts by Maoists in at least two other states. “The process of panchayat elections in Odisha and Maharashtra was vitiated through the use of coercive means by the Maoists to intimidate prospective candidates and prop up their own supporters.
As a result, a number of representatives of the Maoists were elected unopposed,” the letter said. Maoist sources revealed that the party’s entry into the arena of ‘proxy governance’ had triggered a major internal debate, with hardliners opposing the practice and arguing that it symbolised a hankering after mere ‘short-term relief’ which would make the overarching goal ‘of exposing the hollowness of the existing system and overthrowing it’ much tougher.
In Bengal, this debate was kicked off by Chhatradhar Mahato’s participation in the 2011 Assembly polls, which resulted in a virtual split within the party. The MHA, however, is not taking the Maoist ‘experiments with electoral democracy’ lightly and has advised states to implement a meaningful plan to provide adequate security. “Since the rural polls in West Bengal are to be held shortly… security arrangements must be strengthened utilising central armed forces deployed in the state for the anti-Naxal operations, particularly to ensure that cross-border infiltration does not take place, since this might subvert the election process,” the letter said. Acting on the advisory, the state government has asked for Bengal’s borders to be sealed for the duration of the panchayat elections.
Suspected Maoist attack road construction site in Jamtara district
RANCHI: Suspected CPI (Maoist) cadre torched one earthmover, three tractors and blew up a vacant make-shift tent at Ghatiari, around 250 kilometres from here, in Jamtara district. The place is on the border of Jamtara and Dhanbad districts. The rebels destroyed the make-shift tent, thrashed all the workers engaged in construction of a road and bridge by using explosives. The construction site was attacked sometime around midnight on the intervening night of Tuesday-Wednesday. Police sources said that the rebels had demanded levy from the road construction company and were regularly threatening them for the last two months.
“When the company finally declined to pay the levy the rebels attacked the construction site and destroyed the equipments,” said police. Inspector general of police (Dumka Zone) Arun Oraon confirmed the incident. He said that prima facie the attack was Maoists. “The rebels have damaged equipments and even thrashed the workers at the construction site,” said Oraon who was on the way to inspect the site.