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Who funds Maoists? The govt
Shivam, the three-year-old son of CRPF jawan Ranjit Kumar Yadav who was killed in the Chhattisgarh attack, with his uncle at his father’s cremation in Allahabad on Thursday. (AFP)

New Delhi, April 8: Ironic and incredible though it may sound, a chunky portion of funds for Maoists comes from the government and its related agencies. The Maoist milch cow, especially in south Chhattisgarh, is the NREGS, the government’s pet mass welfare project.

There is no established estimate of the quantum of the Maoist heist on rural employment guarantee funds, but a top officer in Raipur guessed it could be as high as 70 per cent. “It’s simple,” he said, “NREGS funds flow directly to sarpanches and most of them in Bastar are either backed by Maoists or dominated by them, it’s ready cash for them.”

The NREGS is currently on an expanded budget — up a Rs 1,000 crore from the Rs 39,100 crore granted by the Centre last year — conservative estimates are that nearly 40 per cent of that kitty is flowing into Maoist-dominated areas, which also happen to be some of the country’s most backward and poverty-ridden.

The Union minister for rural development, C.P. Joshi, has often helplessly admitted to a Maoist paw on NREGS funds; his officials, though, have not tabulated the extent of its grab.

“It’s tough to do that,” said one, “we know that there are other sources of leak, such as local corruption, but it can safely be said that in states like Chhattisgarh, a substantial amount of NREGS funds are literally looted away by Maoists.”

Extortion, the officer held, remains a major provider to Maoist coffers, but increasingly they have come to rely on siphoning off development funds. “Look at the bitter twist of it from our point of view: development is prescribed as the essential antidote to Maoists, and yet funds meant for development are helping them expand.”

Asked if the government could do nothing to plug the leak, he retorted sardonically: “Stop development, that’s one way to starve the Maoists.”

Maoist leaders themselves are open about what they call “utilising” development funds. During several conversations over a week in the Dandakaranya jungles of south Bastar last year, middle-ranking Maoist military commanders justified to The Telegraph the idea of “controlling and channelling” welfare funds.

“This is public money and we are the public too, we live and work among them,” one of them said. “One of the reasons these areas have remained backward is that officials and contractors have eaten away whatever public money came, we are now utilising it for the benefit of the public.”

Asked how, she said: “We run mobile dispensaries, for instance, and feed the hungry, the government has not done that all these years.” She admitted, too, that part of the public funds they lay their hands on is meant for Maoist muscle. “Consolidating and strengthening the peoples’ movement and the peoples’ army,” is how she put it.

In areas that Maoists hold, or dominate, barely anything moves without them getting a cut from it. Timber and public works contractors must regularly pay them a cut, coal and iron ore transporters — government and private — must buy safe passage, industry, big and small, must cough up protection money.

One big industrial house is able to fast-belt raw materials from Orissa to processing units and ports in Andhra Pradesh right through the Maoist hotbed of Chhattisgarh. It’s an open secret that comes at a huge — though unnamed and unacknowledged — price.

Yet, the oft-held impression of the Maoists being a force flush with the surpluses of their loot could be misplaced.

A big part of their modern arsenal is made up of acquisitions in successful raids on government armouries; the rest comes either from commercial deals with insurgents in the Northeast and Nepal, or, often, as fraternal aid from revolutionary groups in the region.

But all of that does not add up to making them an armed-to-the-teeth blitz force.

A senior paramilitary officer, who has conducted anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, said the Maoists’ military prowess needed to be demystified and put in the perspective of how they use what they have, speaking in near-laudatory terms of the Maoists’ frugality and fighting discipline.

“They have become better funded than before, surely,” he said. “But it is not as if they are prosperous bandits having a lavish picnic in the jungles. Their modern weapons — both looted and purchased — they use very judiciously, even when they suffer casualties, they make sure weapons and ammunition are not lost with the dead.

“Most of the cadres have only country weapons, their modern weaponry is in fewer hands and used to optimal purpose, as in the strike near Sukma. They live rudimentary lives, eating and dressing simply, almost at no cost. Commitment does not cost money.”

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