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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

THE DEADLY REBELS: ASSAM BRACES FOR NEW 'THREAT'

By Simantik Dowerah (Guest Writer)

Barely out of the decades old Ulfa terror, Assam is staring at another similar, and potentially bigger, menace: Maoists. While there is no concrete proof yet that the red rebels have entrenched themselves in the state, stray indications point to that fact they could be in the process of doing so. Some recent cases prove that Maoist leaders from Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are trying hard to spread out in the state by recruiting local youth.
The arrest of Maoist politburo member Anukul Chandra Naskar alias Pareshda (65) by a joint team of Assam Police and special intelligence branch of Andhra Pradesh Police on 8 May from Assam’s Silchar district already has the establishment here worried. Naskar’s wife Kabita Rabha was also arrested on 16 May.

The arrests took place following the confession of two other senior Maoist cadres—Aklanta Rabha and Siraj Rabha—who were arrested earlier in the month. Aklanta is a CPI (Maoist) central committee member and Siraj is a central training instructor in the outfit with expertise in landmines. Both were wanted by cops in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

While it is already known that Maoist are already trying to infiltrate upper Assam districts of Jorhat, Sivasagar, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Dhemaji and Lakhimpur, the Maoist couple had told the police that the Left extremist organisation is now on a mission to create bases in the char areas (river islands) in Dhubri district besides targeting the Barak valley and lower Assam districts as well.

As per an official report, 60 Maoists have already been arrested from the state while 81 others are believed to be active. The number of arrests in the moth of May alone, coupled with the deadly attack on the Congress convoy in Chhattisgarh by Maoists on 25 May killing 29 people has sent the state top brass in a huddle. For many years now, there was the talk that Maoists are seeking to sneak into the tea garden community in Assam.

The tea garden community here—originally tribals from the Odisha-Chhattisgarh-Jharkhand belt—are particularly vulnerable to radical ideas given their socio-economic circumstances. They also have cultural affinity to the people in areas where the Maoist problem is rife. The clear evidence of Maoists trying to create base among this community came to light with the arrest of Aditya Bora, Singh Raj Orang and Ashik Sabar (all from Assam) in a Maoist camp bordering Orissa and Jharkhand in February 2011. The trio had revealed to the police about Maoist activities in upper Assam, both within and outside tea gardens.

“The racial similarities of the Maoist leadership in Jharkhand or Chhattisgarh with the tea tribe in Assam do make the tea gardens prone to Maoists infiltration,” said Chandan Kumar Sharma, professor at the Department of Sociology, Tezpur University in Assam.

“Once the tea gardens are Maoist infested the state’s economy will go for a toss. Just think of a situation if highways are mined as they do in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Most of these tea gardens are along the highways. This will destroy everything the state has,” Sharma said.

The professor’s fear is not without substance.

“We are aware that tea gardens are vulnerable. In fact, we have noticed a sudden rise in the number of faltu (casual) labourers in the tea gardens of Barak Valley. We are keeping a watch on it,” Director General of Police (DGP) Jayanta Narayan Chowdhury told Firstpost from Guwahati.

The Maoists have not pulled the trigger yet, but if steps are not taken to nip these indications in the bud, a Chhattisgarh- or Jharkhand-like situation cannot be ruled out in the future. As per a report by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses “the Maoists have established three guerilla zones—the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh, Assam-Nagaland, and Assam-West Bengal border areas—in Assam”.

The DGP said that there are different stages of Maoist activities.

“Initially they go for mass mobilisation to secure mass support following which they look for local recruitment. Then they go for arms training and finally they begin their trail of violence,” Chowdhury said.

However, there is one more problem that has not gone unnoticed. The arrested Maoists are not from the tea tribe community alone.

“People from Ahom and Rabha communities have also been arrested. This is a clear signal that the menace is not limited to the tea garden community alone. It has affected other local communities as well,” the professor said. “The Maoists have actually started penetrating interior areas of the state where development is not up to the mark,” he said.

On its part, the state government has started preparing for the battle against the Maoists in its own way.

“It is clear that only armed action will not serve the purpose. We in the government are focussing on the development aspect and the state is already in touch with the Planning Commission. To give special attention to the more vulnerable districts of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia, the Centre would soon declare them Maoist-affected,” the state police head said.

The Assam Police is also taking a look at its infrastructure and methods to effectively tackle with the country’s deadliest internal threat.

“We are improving our intelligence network. But I must say we would like to be even better than we are. We are keeping a tab of the central committee members of the organistion,” Chowdhury said. He said every step had to be taken keeping the long term scenario in mind.

“We have asked for more civil police presence. We are recruiting 200 personnel into the civil police force,” he said.

The only geographical advantage Assam has is that the state does not have thick forested area like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, he added.

“The lack of thick foliage and shrinking forest areas are not ideal for Maoist activities. The terrain advantage is not there for them.”

However, there is another worrisome aspect. It is suspected that the Maoists are in touch with militant organisations like the United Liberation Front of Asom, or Ulfa.

“Even 10-15 years ago there was the talk of a Maoist link with the Ulfa. But the matter did not come out much in the media. The Maoists have been trying for long to make Assam a part of the Red Corridor,” Sharma said. If this integration happens, Assam is definitely heading for another dark era of violence and bloodshed.

Community sensitization, however, is so far missing to prevent youths from taking the path of Left-wing extremism. This was apparent from what All Assam Tea Tribes Students Association (Aattsa), state publicity secretary, Ashok Orang told Firstpost.

“How can we take responsibility if individuals follow the path of Maoists? Who will protect us if the Maoists come against us?” Orang said when asked if the student organisation has taken steps to curb any Maoist tendencies among the youth of the community.

It is indeed high time to figure that out.
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