Originally Published 2005-11-19 06:55:23 Published on Nov 19, 2005
The Jehanabad raid by Naxalites of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), or CPI-Maoist, in south Bihar, on November 13 which is also being termed as Operation Jailbreak, is important for many reasons. The attack loudly states the level of ¿militarisation¿ that the largest and most lethal Naxalite outfit in the country has reached.
Jehanabad raid: A higher stage of Maoists' militarisation
The Jehanabad raid by Naxalites of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), or CPI-Maoist, in south Bihar, on November 13 which is also being termed as Operation Jailbreak, is important for many reasons. The attack loudly states the level of 'militarisation' that the largest and most lethal Naxalite outfit in the country has reached. It illustrates the ability of the CPI-Maoist leadership to mobilise, motivate and train a large number of people, as well as successfully coordinate the entire attack with meticulous planning and great stealth. 

In Jehanabad, the Naxalites conducted synchronised attacks on the district jail, district court, police lines, police quarters, district armoury and police stations. Though the Bihar government has yet not admitted, it is said that the Maoists looted several hundred rifles and a huge quantity of ammunition, perhaps a few thousands.

The focus of the raid was on the district jail resulting in the escape of 341 prisoners, including a prominent Maoist leader, Ajay Kanu, and some other Maoist cadres imprisoned there. Besides, the rebels abducted an unspecified number of their class/caste enemies belonging to the Ranveer Sena and later executed at least nine of them. However, the number of fatalities in the incident is still unclear. 

In Bihar, where polarisation on caste lines is intense, and where caste is nearly co-terminus with class, the attack on the jail and the consequent abduction and execution of the upper caste-Ranveer Sena leaders and activists is a chilling reminder of the numerous bloodbaths involving the Ranveer Sena and the underprivileged, dalits often backed by the Naxalites. The CPI-Maoist would project the Jehanabad attack as a resounding victory of the underprivileged, Dalits over the "feudal, oppressive and exploitative landlords". Therefore, the CPI-Maoist claimed that the Jehanabad attack was a "successful military campaign" with a strong "political overtone".

In terms of the sheer numbers involved in the attack, it is the largest-ever staged by the Naxalites in the country. Beyond doubt, among the approximately 1,000 people who reportedly conducted the raid on Jehanabad, alongside the battle-hardened underground cadres, an overwhelming number of common people, who the Maoists would term as members of the "people's militia", have participated. This implies that, in some parts of the country that are under their stranglehold the Maoists have created and trained the third and crucial component of their military wing - the people's militia or "base force". 

The other two components are military platoons which constitute the "primary force" and guerrilla squads which form the "secondary force". The existence of the people's militia is, thus, a clear indicator of the intensity of support that the Maoists have come to wield in the areas under their control similar to what has played out in Nepal in the past few years. 

The numbers involved notwithstanding, the Jehanabad attack is not a one of its kind, or the first of its type. It is, in fact, a continuation of well-rehearsed, meticulously planned- which includes snapping telephone and power lines and blocking and mining highways and roads - and highly coordinated similar attacks involving hundreds of rebels storming multiple targets in an area. On February 6, 2004, a few hundred Naxalites laid siege to the district headquarters town of Koraput, Orissa, brought it to a complete halt for a few hours, attacked the district headquarters complex, made an abortive attempt to storm the jail, but successfully raided the district armoury looting all 500 weapons and several thousand rounds of ammunition. In a second major attack, on June 23, 2005, over 200 Maoists went on the rampage in Madhuban, East Champaran district, Bihar. They looted many arms, set a police station on fire, killed three policemen, attacked the block office looting arms and killing two guards, and looted two banks. 

It is believed that these attacks are a result of a conscious decision of, and directive from, the apex Central Committee of the CPI-Maoist to launch a country-wide tactical counter offensive campaign (TCOC) to demoralise the state, and in retaliation to stepped-up crackdown on the outfit in various parts of the country. 

As part of this all-India TCOC, the Maoist guerrillas have also conducted a few more high-profile actions. They had killed KC Surendra Babu, the police chief of Mungher district, Bihar, on January 5 and made a failed attempt on the life of Mahesh Chandra Ladda, Prakasam district police chief, Andhra Pradesh, on April 27. Besides, two days ahead of the Jehanabad attack, the Home Guards Training Centre in Giridih, Jharkhand, was raided on November 11 and 185 rifles and 25,000 rounds of ammunition were looted. Also, on September 3 the Maoists blew up a mine protected vehicle in their bastion, in Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh, killing 24 policemen.

In future, if the strength of the people's militia expands, the Maoists would be able to launch more spectacular attacks across the red belt in India. Indeed, the Maoists have, in any case, already indicated their intention to storm more jails across the country in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, to set free their arrested colleagues. In parts of all these States, the Maoists have a significant support base among the people, wield enormous influence and virtually run a parallel administration. And in all these States large areas are either their bastions or part of what the CPI-Maoist terms as "special guerrilla zone". In protracted armed struggle as understood by the Maoists, as the movement advances, these guerrilla zones in the hinterland transform into base areas from where they would storm the town and cities. 

Thus, if, in the assessment of the Naxalites, their movement has reached a critical and higher stage in these areas, they could well deploy the people's militia to stage "big actions" involving synchronised attacks on multiple targets, which would, thus, radically transform the Naxalite movement across the country, and would be required to be handled entirely differently.

The Jehanabad attack is more than a wakeup call for the various state governments and the Centre. While the state continues to underestimate and misconstrue the Maoist dynamic in the country, the latter has seized the initiative, both geographically and now even militarily. Unless the state wakes up from its slumber and be pro-active, the "Long March" to Delhi might transform from wishful thinking into a reality.

The writer is Research Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Source: The Tribune, Chandigarh, November 19, 2005.

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