In November 2010,when a couple of miscreants threw chilli powder at some jawans of the 19 IR Battalion at Rajgarh in Assams Dibrugarh district and snatched two AK-47 rifles,little did the government guess that those involved belonged to a group of Maoist elements.
Last week,when four Maoists were gunned down by the Assam Police the states first encounter leading to death of left-wing extremists it bore out what Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had said at the internal security meeting in New Delhi three weeks earlier. Assam has emerged as the new theatre of Maoist activity, he had said,asking state chief minister Tarun Gogoi to act.
Days later,Gogoi submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister when the latter visited the state. Gogoi said there was a growing trend of Maoist activities particularly in seven upper Assam districts and pleaded for the inclusion of these districts in the integrated action plan against left-wing extremism.
Assam,in fact,had seen the first signs of the entry of Maoists in 2006 when intelligence agencies hit upon a CPI(Maoist) plan to extend its reach to the northeastern states. Reports continued to trickle in of youths being motivated,and of some even sent out of the state for indoctrination and arms training. It was,however,not till 2010 when Aditya Bora,said to be the topmost leader of the Assam unit,was arrested on the Jharkhand-Orissa border that Maoists presence in Assam was finally confirmed.
Since then,the Maoists have carried out a series of discreet meetings,especially in the seven upper Assam districts Tinsukia,Dibrugarh,Sivasagar,Golaghat,Jorhat,Lakhimpur and Dhemaji and motivating people,recruiting them,collecting arms and sending out youths for training. They must have between 70 and 75 hardcore members,of whom at least 40 are believed to be well-trained and possessing arms, said state home secretary G D Tripathi. The police have so far arrested 50-odd persons 21 of them confirmed Maoists mostly in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts.
They definitely have some sophisticated weapons. Two of the three AK-series rifles that we recovered from them in Wednesdays encounter had been snatched from the IRB jawans two years ago, said L R Bishnoi,IGP (law & order),Assam. The government has decided to make a fresh assessment of the situation.
The CPI(ML) ideology reached the state as far back as the mid-1960s. Subsequently,Assam also sent the first-ever CPI(ML) member to the Lok Sabha,Jayanta Rongpi. He was elected to the Lok Sabha for four consecutive terms since 1991,but he won as a leader of the Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC) in the first three terms and it was only the fourth time that he declared himself a CPI(ML-Liberation) candidate.
While Assam has a sizeable population of Jharkhand-Orissa-Andhra Pradesh origin working in its tea gardens,Maoist recruiters have also targeted the Assamese-speaking population,including the Ahom community. The four killed in Sadiya on Wednesday are all from the community from which Chief Minister Gogoi too hails.
We have inputs about the Maoists floating several frontal groups to win support of civil society. Two known groups are the Upper Assam Leading Committee and Assam Students Youth Organisation,while we are keeping a tab on several more new groups that have emerged especially in the upper Assam region, said a senior intelligence officer.
Last month,The Indian Express had reported the entry of Maoist elements alongside ULFA and both factions of the NSCN in the illegal coal trade as well as in drug syndicates in Tinsukia and the adjoining districts of Arunachal Pradesh. There have been MHA reports of Maoists making forays into Arunachal Pradesh,particularly mingling with anti-dam activists,while the government has attempted to describe RTI activist and anti-dam leader Akhil Gogoi,too,as a Maoist.
A section of people subscribing to Maoist philosophy has infiltrated into the ongoing anti-dam agitation and they are out to create a situation of anarchy and lawlessness by disrupting supplies and adding to the woes of the people, Assam government spokesman Pradyut Bordoloi said a few months ago. Chief minister Gogoi has said that the Maoists are in league with the anti-dam movement as well as the Paresh Barua faction of the ULFA.
Meanwhile,people in upper Assam continue to receive extortion notes. A doctor in a government hospital in Sadiya had only recently received a note asking him to provide 20 handsets of a particular Nokia model,while another was asked to pay Rs 70,000 in cash.