Covid-19 and India’s Maoists
DR P V Ramana

Even as the country is under a lockdown in the wake of COVID-19, also being referred to as novel Corona virus, alleged sympathisers of Naxalites of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), Maoists in short, Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde have been asked by the Supreme Court, on April 9, 2020, to surrender to the authorities within a week for their alleged involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon riots in Pune, Maharashtra, on January 1, 2018.

Both had sought relaxation/extension of the deadline for their surrender. They had a perfect ruse, or so they thought --- the apprehension of falling victim to COVID-19, also being referred to as novel Corona virus, in the cramped jail that they would be assigned to. Originally registered by the Pune Police, the case has since been transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Court.

The Court said, “Though we expected that the accused would surrender, honouring the order of this court, they have not done so… However, since the petitioners have enjoyed the protection for long, by way of last opportunity, we extend the time granted to surrender for one week. We make it clear that there shall not be any further extension of time.”

Gautam Navalakha is a journalist and rights activist based in Delhi, while Anand Teltumbde is a Goa-based teacher, Dalit scholar and rights activist, married to the granddaughter of Dr BR Amdedkar. Besides, Anand Teltumbde’s brother, Milind Teltumbde, is a member of the apex and all-powerful Central Committee of the Maoists. He was earlier Secretary of the Maharashtra State Committee of the CPI (Maoist), following the arrest of Sridhar Krishnan Srinivasan (since deceased).

Navlakha, Teltumbde, and a few others, were accused of instigating the riots that were suspected to be inspired by the Maoists. They have been termed as, what has now become a cliché, ‘Urban Maoists’. It is for the Courts, now, to decide whether the accused are innocent or guilty.

Indeed, COVID-19 has become the perfect justification for various segments of the society – defaulters, businesses, governments, et al – to seek various concessions, waivers and deferral.

The story of the Maoists’ Urban Movement is, rather, not new. In their earlier avatar as the People’s War, popularly known as PWG, the rebels had drafted an Urban Perspective Plan, way back in 2007. As part of their urban movement, the rebels intend to (a) mobilise and organise the basic masses and build the party on that basis and (b) build the United Front, while undertaking military tasks, as well.

Media reports suggested, way back in 2013, that the Maoists have been making use of social media to mobilise students and youth. One such report said, on June 21, “In a bid to reach out to common people – particularly those living in urban and semi-urban areas – the Red rebels are making use of social networking sites and the internet.” While there have been reports of Islamist radical groups in different parts of the world making best use of the time, while the authorities are busy grappling with the COVID-19 challenge, to indoctrinate and mobilise gullible youth, there is yet no evidence to suggest that the Maoists have taken to a similar tactic.

According to a media report of April 13, 2020, Jaish, LeT and HM were “exploiting the COVID-19 turmoil including the economic disruption to ramp up their recruitment… Jihadi groups have a long tradition of exploiting crisis situation for their terrorist activities, recruitment and propaganda campaigns… as thousands of youth lose their livelihood in the economic turmoil brought about by the Corona Virus” 1.

For the Maoists, loss of livelihood and the economic uncertainty of the present and ensuing months could be an issue that they could utilise as a rallying point to recruit cadres, especially so when a large number of migrant labour across the country --- now heading homewards --- belong to the worst affected States of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh.

Even as the country is leaving no stone unturned to overcome the challenge posed by the pandemic, the first of the two objectives of the Maoists, mentioned above (mobilise and organise the basic masses, build United Front), merit attention.

In urban centres and towns the Maoists have as their targets (a) industrial working class, (b) unorganised labour, (c) students and youth – educated and unemployed and (d) middle class. At a time when the working class, especially unorganised, is broke, staring at starvation and is worried about falling victim to the pandemic, they would, naturally, welcome any little help coming from any quarter.

As Mao Tse Tung once said2

“We... solve the problems facing the masses-- food, shelter and clothing, fuel, rice, cooking oil and salt, sickness and hygiene, and marriage. In short, all the practical problems in the masses’ everyday life should claim our attention… I earnestly suggest to this congress that we pay close attention to the well-being of the masses… Many people suffer from boils and other ailments. What are we going to do about it? All such problems concerning the well-being of the masses should be placed on our agenda...”

According to an Italian journalist, “The pandemic is the ideal place for mafias and the reason is simple: if you are hungry, you are looking for bread, it does not matter which oven it is baked from and who it is distributing it to… And what will happen when food or gasoline starts to have a slower distribution? Who will be able to circumvent bans and bestow goods without interruption?” 3

While this is the modus operandi of the Mafioso in Italy the Maoists’ is no different. They are past masters in reaching out to the people and later using them to their advantage, as a matter of routine even during normal times. This researcher was told during a field visit to Bastar in the central Indian State of Chhattisgarh that the Maoists liberally finance the local poor populace to purchase vehicles. Subsequently, they collected a fixed levy on each vehicle and use them to ferry their ‘goods’. In their strongholds, the rebels organise the tribal populace engaged in tendu leaf plucking and timber felling, bargain on their behalf with contractors, and secure better wages for them. In return, these people contribute to the Maoist coffers, as well as become members of the rebels’ Jan Militia, the Base Force of the Maoists, and participate in attacks launched by the rebels. Also the Maoists ‘park’ their money with trustworthy and sympathetic realtors who faithfully return the same when asked for.

In the Maoist scheme of things there are no ‘free lunches’. The rebels are running an ‘enterprise’; not a ‘charity’.

On the other hand, the government of the day administers a ‘welfare state’. Rising to the occasion, a number of good Samaritans and groups have been providing relief to the beleaguered poor populace. It might be useful to learn the antecedents of these individuals and groups and subsequently follow them up. Especially because the Maoists operate through over-ground supporters and cover organisations, as well as seek to form alliances with legal organisations as part of their United Front tactics.

The National Coordination Centre that has been proposed to be set up by the Union government could monitor any such activity. According to a media report of October 9, 2019, the Union government was planning to set-up a “National Coordination Centre (NCC) which will function as a databank on Maoists’ core strongholds and cadres, and act as a synergy point for intelligence gathering and anti-Maoist operations.”

The various arms of the government machinery and various political parties across the country have been rendering praise worthy service at this critical time. This would be an ideal time to connect with the people and win their trust and confidence, for the larger benefit it holds.

  1. Accessed on April 13, 2020.
  2. Mao Tse Tung’s concluding statement made at the Second National Congress of the Soviet Republic of China, Juichin Kiangsi Province, January 27, 1934, entiled “Be Concerned with the Well-being of the Masses, Pay Attention to Methods of Work”, Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, Vol I, London, Lawernce and Wishart, 1954, pp. 147-52.
  3. Accessed on April 12, 2020.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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