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Class divide: how Maoist factions are cancelling each other out

Anurag Shukla | Updated on: 10 July 2015, 8:15 IST
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The flashpoint

  • Maoists in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, are locked in a rivalry with those in Telangana and AP.
  • There\'s growing resentment among Chhattisgarh Maoists for being treated in an inferior way.
  • Telangana and AP brass control all key posts in the party. There\'s a growing class divide.
  • Over the last two weeks, 4 Maoists were sentenced to death by the Naxals\' Praja Courts.
  • This dissension is playing into the hands of state agencies.

The reasons

  • Maoist bosses are angry due to growing list of surrenders in Chhattisgarh.
  • Chhattisgarh cadres, mostly illiterate tribals, are unhappy at being treated as foot soldiers.
  • Nepotism is rampant within the top brass, while locals are not even allowed to marry.
  • The Telangana and AP Maoists take most of the money garnered from the tendu leaves trade.
  • This leaves only small shopkeepers for locals to extort.

More than nine lakh tribals in the Bastar region in Chhattisgarh are no strangers to the bloody diktats of the Naxalite kangaroo courts.

But this time around, it is the comrades themselves who are bearing the brunt.

Four Maoists were sentenced to death by the Naxals' self-styled Praja courts in the region in the past two weeks.

Having stood shoulder to shoulder in many battles, Hemla Bhagat, Kosi, Badru and Hinge were brutally gunned down in the Gadiras area by their fellow party men.

The spate of killings has rung many alarm bells in the area. Questions abound as to whether this 'red bastion' is in for a bloody battle of supremacy among the Maoists themselves.

Encouraged by the bickering, state agencies smell an opportunity to make a permanent dent in the Naxal forces in the region.

But what has led to the comrades turning against each other?

Bosses angry due to surrender

The killings were reportedly ordered by Maoist bosses around the Telangana and Andhra Pradesh border. Sources say they were irked by the surrender of two local senior Maoists last month.

The laying down of arms by Badru, the secretary of the Bolangir area committee, came as a big blow to the party.

The surrender of Kiran, a commander of the local guerrilla squad, added salt to their wounds.

It is an open secret that no contractor or company can operate in the red belt without paying the Maoists

This prompted a 'review meeting' by the top brass. The meeting was followed by the killing of a sarpanch in the Darbha region.

Several cadres, who had shown even the slightest inclination towards laying down arms, were brutally beaten up.

According to sources, this has not gone down well with local Maoists, some of whom are already known to be disgruntled with the discrimination meted out to them by their Telangana peers.

The class divide

They may swear to fight against inequality, but the class divide among the Maoists themselves is out in the open.

Chhattisgarh Maoists, most of them illiterate tribals, are only good as foot soldiers in the CPI (Maoist) scheme of things.

A case in point is the Jiram valley Naxal attack of 2013.

An NIA investigation has revealed that Shyam Mardoom, the divisional commander of the outfit, was calling the shots during the attack from a safe hideout across the border. Most of those involved on the ground belonged to Chhattisgarh.

The focus of the leadership seems to be on elevating educated youth in the hierarchy. Not a single local Maoist has found a place in the Bastar divisional committee of the Maoists.

Most of the decisive positions are reserved for the cadre belonging to Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. In fact, it is they who hold sway over the treasury and weapons of the party. The local Naxalites only have a say on ration supplies and local logistics.

When Vijay Markam, a hardcore Naxal belonging to Chhattisgarh raised his voice for a higher post, he was silenced with a gunshot.

Even nepotism is rampant within the red party. The kith and kin of many senior Maoists are holding important positions in the CPI (Maoist).

Savitri, wife of Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC) secretary Ramanna, is the secretary of the Kistaram area. His second wife is also a big shot within the party.

Nirmalakka, wife of South Bastar secretary Raghu, is also a much-feared figure among the Chhattisgarh Maoists.

Contrast it with the plight of the local cadre, who are not even allowed to marry by the party bosses.

It's all about the money

It is not the renunciation of tribals but their own welfare which seems to govern this schism within the Naxals.

It is an open secret that no contractor or company can operate in the red belt without paying a hefty amount to the Maoists.

Some estimates suggest they collect a whopping Rs 500 crore of levy from the Bastar region every year. A large part of it comes from the trade of Tendu leaves, the 'green gold' of Bastar.

However, the money goes straight to the coffers of the Maoists sitting across the border as most of the traders involved in the business hail from Telangana and Andhra.

The local Maoists, on the other hand, have to contend with petty extortions from shopkeepers and local tradesmen. Footwear is allotted to them for a period of six months. They are not even allowed to change it if it gets damaged.

"The economic discrimination is leading to the rallying of the Chhattisgarh Maoists in a big way. They have no option but to take up arms against their comrades," says SRP Kalluri, Bastar IGP, an officer with a reputation for being brutal.

After Telangana, divisions deepened

The Chhattisgarh Naxalites were hoping their profile will get a facelift after the partition of Andhra Pradesh.

However, that did not happen. Most of the youth associated with the Telangana movement, who joined the Naxalite fold, were given precedence. There was little change in the standing of the illiterate tribal Naxals.

The govt strategy now is to promise former Maoists a secure future after they leave

The decision-makers of the CPI (Maoist) imposed Telangana leaders on them. All the voices of dissent were dealt with a heavy hand.

This added to the fury of the local cadre and led to the surrender of many Naxalites in Bastar.

Shrinking foothold in Bastar

This dissension has paid rich dividends to the state agencies engaged in uprooting Maoists from Bastar.

According to police data, about 471 Naxals have surrendered over the past few years in the region. Another 200 have been killed and 711 arrested in anti-Naxal operations.

"Maoists are under great pressure in the region. They are increasingly vacating the area. We are surely benefitting from the divide among the Naxals. The rehabilitation policy of the government is leading many Naxals to join the mainstream," says RK Vij, ADG, Naxal operations.

The government policy to deal with Naxals has undergone a sea change over the years. The strategy now is to promise them a secure future after they leave. They are assured jobs, shelter and an economic package, among other benefits.

The police have formed theatre groups comprising surrendered Naxalites. These groups focus on remote areas to enlighten the alienated youth.

Former Maoists appealing their peers to drop the gun has had a more profound impact. Many Naxalite groups in the region from Maad to Patnam have now chosen to shun the path of violence.

With inputs from Shravan Kumar Markam.

First published: 10 July 2015, 8:15 IST
 
Anurag Shukla @CatchNews

Is a journalist with Rajasthan Patrika.

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