In an encounter on March 2, 2018, an estimated 10 Maoists and an Andhra Pradesh Police 'Greyhound' commando were killed on the Telangana-Chhattisgarh border. The incident confirms reports that the Maoists have spread to the south of India beyond the "Red Corridor". Also, they have reportedly migrated to the north eastern region and urban India.
Since the mid-1990s, Maoists have networked with several key militant groups of the North East also. These linkages range from acquisition of small arms, ammunition and communication systems to receive training from the northeast insurgent groups.
These insurgent groups include: the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), Paresh Barua-led anti-talk faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), People's Liberation Army (PLA), People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (Prepak), Revolutionary People's Front (RPF), Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), Gorkha Liberation Tiger Force (GLTF), Gurkha Liberation Organisation (GLO), Adibasi National Liberation Army, Adivasi People's Army (APA) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).
Invariably, Chinese small arms trickle into the 'Red Corridor' predominantly through these groups. These north-eastern insurgents and the Maoists have easy access to militants in Myanmar. In turn, the Maoists, provide explosives, especially ammonium nitrate and funds, to these insurgents.
The mutual support between Maoists and north-eastern insurgent groups is not just restricted to materials but extends to moral aspects as well. While the Maoists have strongly supported "people's movements" of the North East, the former in turn have stood by these "revolutionaries".
ULFA leader Paresh Baruah once remarked, "The Indian colonial government is viewed as an enemy by the Maoists. Our enemy is also the same and so there is an understanding with them."
However, it is alarming that Maoists' attempt to push the boundaries of the 'Red Corridor' down south and establish support bases in upper Assam and some tribal areas in the hilly interiors.
The presence of Maoists is reported in pockets of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Sivasagar, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong districts of Assam and Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh (which adjoins Tinsukia).
Otherwise, the hub of Maoist activities is reportedly in Sadiya area, situated along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border. They have found parts of the North East as a new zone of "revolution" to establish their "base areas".
Two major issues exploited are: deprivation among the tea plantation workers of Assam and anti-dam sentiments in Arunachal Pradesh. Since there is political vacuum in both cases, Maoists are more than willing to fill them. Interestingly, the Adivasis in these tea plantations are descendants of migrants from the present-day Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh during British colonial times. The Maoists have already set up local committees in these areas. It enables them to access the southern parts of Bhutan, which is home to thousands of Nepali refugees.
The Maoists have also sought to extend their presence into southern India. Way back in 2013, the presence and movement of the armed cadres of CPI (Maoist) were noticed in over two dozen occasions at Malappuram, Wayanad and Kannur in Kerala as well as Mysuru, Kodagu, Udupi, Chikkamagaluru and Shivamogga in Karnataka. Though the adjoining areas of Tamil Nadu have not witnessed any movement of armed Maoist cadres, activities of its front bodies have increased in Erode district.
As is their wont, the Maoists try to exploit the local grievances to gain influence. In the tri-junction area of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, for instance, they smelt an opportunity in the eviction of forest dwellers and tribals from the Western Ghats under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the government's move to implement the Kasturirangan report for conservation of the region's flora and fauna. Significantly, government of Kerala has identified Palakkad and Mallapuram as Maoists-affected districts to receive security-related expenditure to combat Left-wing extremism.
The Maoists have also attempted to spread their tentacles in the urban India. Significant Maoist activities, especially its front organisations, have been reported from cities like Delhi, Gurugram, Noida, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Pune, Nagpur, Surat, Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Raipur, Durg, Patna, Hyderabad, Rourkela, Bhubaneswar, Guwahati and Chandigarh.
The urban fronts comprise organisations involved in "revolutionary democratic" activities, opposition to "war on people", displacement and "violence on women", and in "cultural" activities. Also, significantly, CPI (Maoist) is systematically penetrating the student community as well as the workers in the unorganised sectors, which could have a mega impact on the future course of the movement.
Due to depletion in the tribal cadre base, Maoists have found urban regions a good catchment area for replenishment of their manpower. The main advantage with the urban cadres, which is absent in their tribal counterparts, is the "intellect" to take the movement forward.
Though the urbanites find life in the forest inconvenient, the Maoists wish to cultivate them to lead militant activities that face a leadership crisis due to depleting recruitment, elimination of the existing cadres due to security operations and large-scale surrenders by senior cadres.
Immense financial and human resources are being invested to run "urban activities and guidance on how to develop better coordination among the urban frontal organisations of the party."
Clearly, the proliferation of Maoists into 'new' areas likes the North East, and south and urban India, need not trigger a fear psychosis, but is certainly A cause for concern.
Coordination at three levels â€“ Centre-state, inter-state, and between the central armed police organisations and intelligence agencies - is necessary to effectively counter the 'Red Menace'.
(The writer is Associate Professor, Department of International Studies and History, Christ Deemed to be University, Bengaluru)