| Maoist recruits inside a room in the camp. Telegraph picture
Indo-Nepal border, Dec. 14: A haze hangs over the waters of the Bagmati as the men and women silently winnow paddy a stone’s throw from its banks.
They look up only to say “lal salam (red salute)” whenever anyone passes by.
The serenity of the surroundings in this part of the Indo-Nepal border ' the kilometre after kilometre of harvested paddy fields, the cattle throwing up tiny puffs of dust with each stroke of the hoof on the dry earth ' offers the perfect camouflage for a Maoist training camp.
But this morning is different: the Naxalites are holding a news conference to mark 25 years of the People’s Guerilla Army (PGA), the military wing of the CPI (Maoist).
In one of the few brick houses, a 19-year-old commandant in maroon uniform, a self-loading rifle slung from his shoulder, is issuing stern instructions to a 12-member squad of recruits in their early teens.
“Maut manzoor hai jung ka maidan me (we are ready to die on the battleground of the struggle),” the youngsters are made to sing to recharge their zeal for the “revolution”.
The evidence is hard to miss: India’s Maoists have graduated from the poorly-armed, splintered groups of the past to an organised army ready for the big battle.
A slim, dark man of medium height in his early forties starts to speak: “After the Jehanabad raid, the Maoists in India are all set to take the offensive to a new stage.”
He introduces himself as Azad, chief spokesman and central committee member of the CPI (Maoist), born out of the merger of the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre 15 months ago.
“The battle is going to be much more violent,” he says in a sombre voice.
Sitting nearby is another central committee member, a man called Pravin in his mid-fifties with silver hair and a benign face. He is busy flipping through John Pilger’s Tell Me No lies: Investigative journalism and its triumphs.
He suddenly throws the book down and looks up. “We have been reflecting a lot on what the ideal role of the media should be in the process of the people’s struggle,” he says. “We want you to be critical of us but not malicious, because we are waging a war for the people.”
A month after the November 13 raid on the Jehanabad jail that rocked the Centre and the Bihar government, the Maoists have broken their silence and invited a group of journalists to one of their base camps.
The venue is a village about 15 km from Nepal’s Lalganj and Gaur and 20 km from Maharajganj in Uttar Pradesh and Sheohar in Bihar.
The journalists have spent the night in a hut on the Bagmati’s banks. Over 100 PGA cadre had stood guard through the night against police patrols.
All the roads leading to the village have been heavily landmined, with the wires running through the paddy fields.
For an emergency, there are three escape routes ' through Nepal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar ' but the cadre are taking no chances. They march up and down with their weapons and a wireless set, through which comrades inform them of police movements in India and Nepal.
There are no Nepal Maoists at the camp, but the journalists are told they are standing guard across the river.
The Maoists speak of the growth of their organisation across vast areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. A note of anxiety creeps into their voices as they mention the government’s “salwa judum”(peace campaign) in Bastar’s Dandakaranya, where the first PGA squad was formed in 1980.
“What’s going on there is state-sponsored terrorism. The Opposition Congress leader in Chhattisgarh, Mahendra Karma, is torching the homes of tribals with support from the district administration, branding them terrorists,” says Azad.
His eyes burn with anger as he describes the “torture” of his comrades by the Bengal government.
“The unity of the MCC and PWG has given us enormous strength. We shall now create a Nepal-Kerala Compact Revolutionary Zone,” he says.
“The comrades in Nepal are our friends,” adds Pravin. “We help each other in fighting state terror which is taking a menacing form in India now with the government forming the Gram Rakshadal and Nagarik Suraksha Samity to kill Maoists.”