Maoists go back to cryptic codes

Escape routes

Till the other day, cellphones were the most favoured gadgets for maoists to transmit messages among their fighting units.

But, now the security forces operating in West Bengal’s Jungal Mahal area have begun intercepting the Naxals’ mobile phone conversations, the left-wing guerillas are taking to primitive methods to avoid their messages being tracked.

Deep in the dense forests Bankura, Purulia, and West Midnapore, where Maoists still hold sway despite some military reverses in the recent past, they have shunned the use of cellphones, taking recourse to the age-old method of writing coded letters to their compatriots.

Some of these letters containing coded words, have fallen into the hands of the security forces, who have successfully decripted a few, but most of the codes in the letters still remain to be cracked.

While officers leading security forces in the vast swathe of thre forested Junglemahal are reluctant to divulge the contents of the letters that they have been able to decode, a Counter-Insurgency Force (CIF) source said that Maoists use ordinary day-to-day Bengali words as codes. For instance, “ileesh machh” (hilsa fish) is used as a code for human targets and “trainer awaz” (trainer’s sound) is used to describe reports of security forces’ gunfire.

“They have evolved their tactics. Shunning cell phones, developing their own codes of communication, which depends on letters, having their own style of haircuts are just a few instances of how they try to deceive us,” said the officer.

 “Previously we used to track their cell phones and were successful. But now they have stopped using cell phones. Whatever technology we use to track them and their senior leaders, they match our wits in every step,” the source added.

Joint operations were initiated in Bengal on June 18, 2010. Subsequently, the security forces achieved some major successes through by tracking the cell phones of a few Maoist leaders and chiefs of some of their front organisations like the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities.

“After Kishenji’s death, the Maoists cadres have become more cautious. They are not only lying low and avoiding any kind of interaction with the media, but are frequently changing their codes and strategies.

“Ileesh machh” three months ago meant ‘human target’ but now the same word might stand for something else,” the officer said, adding: “So even after decoding the letters, security forces are not getting enough information about the rebels or their tactics.”  

The insertion of code words into letters came to light when in August the joint forces seized a huge number of letters from the Jhargram-Lalgrah belt.

“Initially, the letters seemed irrelevant and meant nothing to us, But gradually, we understood that all the letters were written in coded language and we were successful in decoding some of them,” said an officer involved in anti-Maoist operations.

Sources refused to comment when asked whether Kishenji was trapped and killed following decoding of such letters, but they did admit that the troops on the ground gathered a lot of information from some of the letters. Top Maoist leader Kishenji was killed by the joint forces in the Burisole forest in the Jhargram area on November 24, 2011.

According to the police, though the Maoists have become weaker and a leadership vacuum has been created, there are still eight to ten squads active in the area. Besides, sources said, the guerrillas continue to recruit young men and women from among the local, especially indigenous people.

“Though the activities of the Maoists has reduced considerably, particularly after Kishenji’s death, they continue to operate in some pockets of the districts where they had significant presence and power. There are still some squads which are roaming about. The Maoists are also trying to recruit the local youth into their squads and give them arms training,” Inspector General of Police (Western Range) Gangeshwar Singh said.


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