Ground Report: Maoists Have Defied Note Ban, Sukma Attack Is Proof
The Sukma incident is the 5th attack on security forces since the note ban. Have Maoist rebels grown stronger since?
Former Bastar range Inspector General of Police, the “ruthless” SRP Kalluri as he is known, had once estimated that the Maoist insurgents operating in the red corridor –comprising parts of Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha – had accumulated Rs 7,500 crore in the course of their over two decade-long depredation.
By most accounts, that figure is highly exaggerated. However, the Maoist rebels are suspected to have built a corpus that they managed to successfully “exchange”, despite the bite of demonetisation. They reportedly did so via a clandestine network of Telugu and Andhra businessmen and contractors operating in Chhattisgarh.
Sukma: The ‘Liberated Zone’ of Maoists
“Nothing else explains their capacity to strike with such frightening regularity in Sukma,” says Manish Kunjum, a local CPI leader who has been tracking the insurgents’ undiminished potency – which doesn’t appear to have been impacted by demonetisation.
Kunjum, who hails from a tribal community, says that for the Maoists, the Sukma district is a “liberated zone” where they enjoy both “influence and control”.
The security forces – including the CRPF, which has borne the brunt of the Maoists’ regular attacks for nearly a decade in Chhattisgarh – and the state police’s commandos are aware that the Maoists use forced “taxes” and “percentage contributions” to fund their operations. However, they appear to have no idea about the cash corpus.
Minor Impact on Cash Flow
“Although each deadly strike against the security forces yields captured weapons and ammunition, the Maoists still require a steady flow of cash to maintain its supply,” a district-level police officer told The Quint on condition of anonymity.
The rebel cadres live frugally, but the organisational command structure still has to ensure a steady flow of arms and ammunition, which have progressively become lethal.
The Maoists’ strike on 24 April – that claimed the lives of 25 CRPF jawans in Burkapal, in the jungles of Sukma – came almost a month after a Maoist attack in Sukma’s Bheji on 18 March.
The period between November 2016 and February 2017 saw three other deadly Maoist attacks on security forces. This proves that the Centre’s claim that demonetisation would end all insurgency and terrorist activities – by choking their funds – has had little impact on the Maoists in Chhattisgarh.
“The biggest source of the Maoists’ money comes from illegal mining in Jharkhand, followed by extortion in various forms in Chhattisgarh and Malkangiri in Odisha,” said former Additional Director in-charge of Left Wing Extremism, Intelligence Bureau, Vishwa Ranjan.
It (demonetisation) has only had a slight impact on Maoists.
Ranjan revealed that no agency or counter-insurgency force has any “real idea” about the amount of cash in the possession of the Maoists. However, from time to time, intelligence agencies have revealed the role of civil workers, tendu leaf contractors and small businessmen who “cough up money for pure survival”.
According to Ranjan, the money collected at the local and zonal committee levels – usually districts where the Maoists operate – go right up to the central committee and the politburo.
Leaving No Trace Behind
Police and intelligence sources in Sukma agree that the cost per cadre per month “does not exceed more than Rs 500”. Ammunition, research, newspapers and journals, food, uniforms and provisions make up the bulk of their expenses. These expenses are in cash. The Maoists have no bank accounts. They seldom leave electronic footprints behind, making the job of tracking them difficult, if not impossible, for the intelligence agencies.
While the Maoists have been able to “stabilise” their cash flow, police sources are puzzled by the relatively rapid pace with which the insurgents were able to “convert” the demonetised currency notes.
When asked to confirm Kalluri’s projection of the Maoists’ reserve fund, Kunjum said:
Even if they had one-tenth of the amount, where did it all go after demonetisation? Surely, the Maoists were able to have the demonetised currency notes exchanged. And it is likely that a good part of the old currency notes was exchanged into the new ones in other states not affected by leftwing extremism
“Considering that Kalluri’s estimate was highly exaggerated, there is no denying that the Maoists’ network of contractors and small businessmen helped them convert much of the old currency notes which used to be kept in their jungle hideouts or in specified locations,” police sources said.
Once safely wrapped in plastic sheets, the caches of cash are buried in different parts of the mountainous forests, where the security forces have little or no penetration. In some cases, cash is hermetically sealed in plastic sheets before they are thrown into unused wells for safekeeping.
New Recruits on Board
In the past, security forces have managed to successfully retrieve a few of these cash caches, based on leads from insurgents who have surrendered. Some of these tip-offs also came from members of the erstwhile Salwa Judum, a private militia created by the some of the Maoists-affected states, including Chhattisgarh, to battle the Naxals in their own redoubts.
The Maoists appear to have successfully managed to “hoodwink” security agencies on the cash front and “beat demonestisation”. Additionally, they appear to be attracting a number of new recruits of late.
Chhattisgarh Forest Department officials, posted in some of the virtually inaccessible parts of the Bastar region, informed the police and the IB about the fresh recruits. According to the information, a number of recruits have joined the Maoists’ ranks in the last “one to one-and-a-half months”. Around 50-60 percent of these recruits are adivasis from Chhattisgarh.
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