Red Star Over North-East


By RN Ravi
IMPHAL, July 24: In popular imagination in the rest of India, its North – East evokes images of a nether-world skewering in hell fires  raged by  the separatists and the state.  Nowadays it is in the news for emergence of an yet another  agent of violence albeit of a different breed – the CPI (Maoist). Security establishments in Delhi and Dispur are in chorus on their ‘arrival’.  Mr. Tarun Gogoi, CM Assam, true to his wont, has re-affirmed his resoluteness to confront  this yet another  devil  with his full might and is believed to have indented more troops and money from his comrade-in arms ,Mr  P Chidambaram  the union home minister. Several youths  have been killed, maimed and incarcerated  on suspicion.   Arrest of  some members of the Peoples’ Liberation Army of Manipur  by the  National Investigation Agency  for their alleged   operational nexus with the Maoists   is being orchestrated as  bona-fides  of  Maoists  presence in the North-East. All  seem set to paint the green North-east, red.

In a chronic conflict zone truth is often elusive. It is zealously sequestered  by the  parties to the conflict and their cohorts . The North-east is no exception to it.

Contrary to the current insinuations, the ultra – left is no stranger to the North – East . Rise of communism in China and its resurgence in Burma(now Myanmar) had  their  echoes  in Manipur and Assam valley . The aborted peasants’ revolt (1948 – 49) in Manipur under stewardship of Hijam Irabot Singh for abolition of the monarchy and  radical economic and political reforms was a leftist movement .It  ideologically  imbued the virulent Manipuri nationalism unleashed following  ham-handed treatment of  the once princely state- turned -constitutional monarchy after its annexation to  the Union of India(October 15,1949).The Naxalite movement raging West Bengal in 1960s-70s had notes of resonance in Assam. However, beyond  ideological rings the extreme left  is yet to  win  a credible  constituency  to host it  in the North-East.

Inspired by the success of Mao in China, N Bisheswar Singh and his 18 colleagues ,on return from Lhasa, formed the PLA on September 25, 1978 and sought to replicate the Mao’s experiment in Manipur. Its mouthpiece DAWN incessantly spewed Marxist-Leninist rhetoric.

PLA cadres  who fell  in the Indian security net in recent years  have revealed its mutually enriching relationship  with  the  Maoist. At least 80 sophisticated arms including A. K .Rifles, RPG and Lethod guns were supplied  by the PLA to the Maoist till June 2010 . Wangba , the PLA’s chief coordinator with the Maoists told of the latter having indented for  over 1000 arms and a large number of radio communication sets and made advance payments for the consignment.

Experiences of the two in waging ‘revolutions’  have complementarity and thus mutually beneficial. Both are pitted against a common adversary. Together they can map the mind of  the adversary with greater accuracy in terms of its strategy and tactics. The PLA’s insurgency is essentially urban whereas the Maoist  is a rural phenomenon . PLA’s proximity to the South – East and East Asia  and its access to the illicit  international arms market hold alluring  promises for the Maoists who are ever looking for new sources of ordnance and a larger network of allies and accessories. Together they hold potential to corrode the Indian state – morally and militarily.

Recently the two have closed ranks to take on the Indian government . Terms of their strategic relation spelt out in a memorandum of understanding reached between the two on October 22 , 2008 at the PLA’s council headquarters in Myanmar says:

a) ‘ Both sides will honour and support the sovereignty of the two countries ( India and Manipur )’ ,

b) ‘Both sides will extend full moral and political support to each other in their liberation struggles’ , and

c) ‘Both sides recognize and honour the historically endorsed territorial integrity of the two countries’.

Thus each will assist the other without poaching on its people or territory. No wonder unlike Assam, Manipur government is cool about the noise of Maoists coming. Although the Maoists recognize ‘sovereignty’ of Manipur, they view Assam differently. They consider Assam within their potential arc of influence and have been seeking ways and means to make it happen.

The incipient ultra-left in Assam that seeped from the neighboring  West Bengal  was smothered by resurgence of militant Assamese nationalism – the Assam Movement ( 1979 – 85) and its aftermath. While the ultra- radicals among the Assamese nationalists formed the United Liberation Front of Asom( 1979 )to wrest a swadhin Asom through an armed struggle , the All Assam Students’  Union , the vanguard of the Movement got ensnared in an ill- conceived Accord (1985) contrived by Delhi and Dispur .Its aftermath unleashed numerous militant ethno- nationalisms among the autochthons – Bodos , Dimasas, Karbis ,  Mishings , Rabhas etc., all directed against perceived hegemony of the Asomiyas. There was hardly any space left for the ultra-left.

In the calculus of the ultra-left, eruptions of militant ethno – nationalism was artificially engineered by the middle class and were unsustainable .It decided to wait .Meanwhile it maintained tactical contacts with the ULFA on the plank of both pitted against a common enemy .The ULFA sold weapons to the Maoist .  In its reckoning then a Maoist incursion in Assam  was not a feasible enterprise.

Over the years , the ultra-nationalists  in Assam are  in disarray. Atrophy  in ULFA,  an outfit with pan-Assam pretensions, is widespread. Tribal militias  have lost their vectors  making the  tribes  all the more  restive. A peasants’ movement under stewardship of Akhil Gogoi , a civil rights activist , seems emerging as a  rallying point for the dispossessed and deprived.  Political consciousness  among the Adivasis and Tea-garden communities  is on the rise and there  are  distinct signs of the “grapes  of wrath  growing heavy  for the vintage.” Maoists are eyeing for that vintage.

Although the emerging scenario is promising  for the Maoists , they  would not consider the time as yet opportune for an aggressive push . A reckless precipitation will inevitably attract severe reprisals from radical ethno – nationalists who may be down but not yet out, and wrath of the state. They will tread Assam with caution and strategic patience.

Then why so much orchestration  in the media and battle cries in the  security establishment?

The tragedy of Assam is that it has a government that thrives on cynical mobilization of fears –often ingeniously invented and grotesquely exaggerated. It  seeks fears  and hypes them situationally, for quelling democratic dissents  and political mobilization including  during  elections. Its divisive ethnic politics keeps each community fearful of the others.   Fear of the Maoists is handy at a time when Delhi’s fear of ethnic militancy in Assam is fraying.  Instead of an honest inquisition into the causes of this incipient concern Mr Gogoi has preferred beating the war-drum against the Maoists. He knows his preference pays him off well.

Does Mr Gogoi realize that he is perched atop a morally precarious, if not already defunct,  zombie-regime leitmotif  of which is fear? It pursues its citizens with indiscreet violence- of 183 alleged fake encounter killings in the country in 2011,  87 were in Assam, and has  an appalling record of  less than 50% of the national average in dispensing justice to its people who  are  criminally  wronged. But  then why should he worry, so long there is a cavalier Home Ministry in Delhi to underwrite his  cynical misadventures?

(The author is a retired special director, Intelligence Bureau; he is reachable at,


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