| From the margins to the centre
In the fading light of the day, constable Ram Naresh looked strangely lost as he frisked the long-distance buses on the Daltonganj-Hazaribagh road — using only a baton. But if an extremist opened fire or an improvised device went off, Ram Naresh would have only his lathi to defend himself. “We are poorly armed. Now that the lal salaam wallahs (Naxalites) are closing ranks, we will be have to be more vigilant,” mumbled Ram Naresh. The cruising police patrol vehicles at regular intervals do little to bolster his brittle confidence.
The recent merger of the underground Maoist Communist Centre and its marginal splinter group, the Revolutionary Communist Centre (Maoist), may not be significant in terms of strength and consolidation of the Maoist base, but it definitely signals a change in strategy and structure.
According to experts, the merger is part of a broad Maoist initiative to form a single “insurrectionist” platform to further common causes. In a release issued a couple of weeks ago, the MCC announced its unification with the RCC and christened the merged entity as the Maoist Communist Centre (India). The new outfit expressed its support to the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (People’s War) and sought to establish strategic ties with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).
According to the seven-page communiqué, the merger was a prelude to the formation of a single Maoist party in the country with active support from Nepal. It was, according to the statement, the result of marathon talks from January 1 to 4 at an undisclosed location. The release identified Jharkhand, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Dandakaranya as the core areas of “people’s war”. The move conforms to the spirit of the re-launching of the Maoist aggression on November 23, 2001, which highlighted the cross-border links between the various extremist groups for the first time.
Earlier, on July 1, 2001, nine Maoist organizations active in four countries — India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh — joined hands to form the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations in South Asia to unify the Maoist forces and coordinate their activities in the member nations. The People’s War Group (People’s War in Bihar-Jharkhand), and its siblings, the MCC, the RCC (M) and the RCC (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist), were signatories to the declaration calling for “revolutionary solutions”. Since then, the outfits had intensified their unity moves primarily to gain a military edge and evolve a common ideological agenda.
Soon after the formation of the coordination committee, the People’s War and the MCC in Bihar-Jharkhand tried to rise above their ideological divide. Although a formal unification between the two is yet to come through, the MCC has gained substantially from the PWG’s superior firepower. “People’s War and MCC cadre at the grassroots level do not see eye-to-eye on several issues, so it will be very difficult for the two outfits to unify. But, if they ever thrash out the differences, the police will be at the receiving end. But this MCC-RCC rapprochement does not pose much of a security threat,” insists Ravindran Shankaran, superintendent of police, Gaya, a hotbed of Naxalite militancy.
The Maoists have picked up the art of planting landmines and triggering remote-controlled blasts from the PWG. The recent ambush of a police patrol party in West Singhbhum’s Saranda forest, killing over a dozen policemen, is in all likelihood a fallout of this new-found camaraderie.
Since CCOMPOSA set the unity ball rolling, the MCC had been receiving feelers from its breakaway faction, the RCC (M), for a patch-up. The latter, with its marginal presence in Bihar-Jharkhand (according to Bihar police estimates, barely 40 loyalists in Gaya-Aurangabad and Palamau) broke away from the MCC on August 8, 1999 over “differences in ideology”. Since then, it has been trying to carve out a niche for itself in the Maoist fold. But inadequate firepower and operation base were the major hurdles. As a result, the RCC confined its activity to welfare-related causes and women’s empowerment at the grassroots level. According to the superintendent of police of Palamau, Anil Palta, the RCC is led by the widow of a slain zonal commander of the MCC, Sagar Chatterjee. Chatterjee, a first-generation Naxalite fugitive from Bengal, was instrumental in expanding the outfit’s base from the jungles of Palamau to the neighbouring districts of Hazaribagh, Aurangabad, Chhatra and Gaya in the Nineties.
After he was gunned down in an encounter with the Aurangabad police led by Palta in 1997, his widow demanded the elimination of the policemen involved in her husband’s killing. But the then leadership of the MCC, led by Mohanbabu, alias Bharat, refused to put personal vendetta above party considerations and apparently spurned her demand. This led to a rift, and finally, a split. However, the confessional statement of an arrested RCC activist with the Bihar police cites that Nirmala (as she is known outside), who headed the women’s wing at that time, also disagreed with MCC ideologues on three other counts. She claimed that there was no democracy in the organization, held the MCC responsible for the tussle between the People’s War and the CPI-ML (Party Unity) and refused to buy the MCC argument that Russia was still a superpower.
According to the police, after parting ways with the MCC, the lady shifted base to Bengal from where she coordinated her faction’s activities in Gaya, Aurangabad and Palamau. It was only after a change of guard in the MCC in 2000 that she started sending feelers for a comeback.
Many feel that one of the main reasons for the RCC’s homecoming is that the MCC has finally come around to accepting her theory of personal vendetta and avenging her husband’s death.
The merger also signals the growing pre-eminence of women in the outfit. Since the mid-Nineties, the gender balance in the otherwise progressive MCC had been disrupted owing to allegations of sexual harassment against the top leadership. Last year, in a significant shake-up, the MCC expelled one of its top leaders for alleged exploitation of women and swindling of funds. Charges of gender discrimination were also pressed against Mohanbabu.
The RCC chief might once again be handed over the reins of the women’s wing in the MCC(I). A section of the police feels that the Saranda charge — survivors claim that it was led by a woman — might have been a rite of passage for the outfit.
Women have certainly assumed more importance in the post-merger scenario. The MCC has been recruiting and training more women over the last couple of years through its overground labour fronts and even using them as decoys for major operations. An ambush on the Topchanchi police picket last year was masterminded by the women’s wing.
All eyes are now on the MCC(I)’s possible alliance with the Nepal’s Maoists. According to recent reports, a big arms training camp at Jhumra Pahar near Bokaro, attended by over 500 cadre, is being conducted by Nepal’s Maoists. The RCC’s temporary headquarter in Bengal for the past couple of years could also help the MCC(I) consolidate its urban base in the state and open up the north Bengal chicken-neck to Nepal. It appears from the recent developments that the Indian Maoists have more aces up their sleeve than is apparent at the moment.