10 September 2018


Ajai Sahni

The unfolding of the alleged ‘urban Maoist conspiracy’ is, at once, both tragedy and farce, exposing the utter collapse of standards in policing and governance. The Pune Police have now arrested 10 ‘urban Maoists’, five on June 6, 2018, and another five on August 28, 2018, from different parts of the country. While the Supreme Court stepped in quickly in the case of the second batch of arrests, refusing to allow transit remands or police custody, and ordering that the accused be held under house arrest till September 6, when the Court will take up this case again, the five arrested on June 6 have since been languishing in jail, with bail denied. All ten are supposedly charged for inciting the Bhima Koregaon violence between Dalits and upper castes but, interestingly, the bulk of Police arguments before the Court and disclosures to the Press have focused on flights of fantasy, including a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister; to raise an “anti-fascist front” in order to destabilize the government (ironically implying, thereby, that the government is a fascist organisation); and using exhibitions of photographs of mob lynchings to overthrow the government.

As noted elsewhere with regard to the prosecution arguments,

If I had read these excerpts without knowing the context, I would have thought them the work of a satirist or comedian. Obviously, not a single charge will actually stick, but that is clearly not the intention. The case will drag on in what I have described as a process of ‘punishment by trial’. The judicial system is slow, and is willing to pretend that it does not notice the utter silliness of the prosecution’s submissions. The accused will either continue to languish in jail or, even if enlarged on bail, will be harassed for years by the judicial process. This alone is the objective. In any civilized country, this would be regarded as malicious prosecution, and the people responsible would be severely penalized. In India, however, officers putting up such cases face no consequences beyond a rare dressing down by a conscientious magistrate.

The purported ‘evidence’ in these cases will, of course, be presented to the courts over the coming weeks and months (possibly years), and motivated disclosures and leaks by the Police will fuel hysterical media debates into an uncertain future. It is not the intention, here, to evaluate these various claims or to judge these cases, but rather, to look at some broader aspects of the so called ‘urban Maoist’ threat purportedly exposed by the ‘discovery’ of this ‘network’. At an even more urgent level, the intention is to examine the incomprehensible levels of ignorance and incompetence in the Police and government, reflected in the preposterous claims made in these cases. Significantly, while these claims have been made in disclosures to the Press by senior Police authorities in connection to correspondence allegedly seized from some of the accused, reports indicate that this correspondence has not yet been placed as evidence before any Court. This suggests efforts to provoke a trial by the media in express violation of earlier Court directives. Such efforts have been complemented by statements emanating from high offices in Delhi warning of the “spread of Maoist agenda from jungles to the city” – carefully worded statements, themselves possibly innocuous; but they acquire particular significance in view of their timing, implicitly endorsing the actions of the Pune Police, even as they leave open sufficient spaces for a quick backtrack.

For a State which has successfully countered a significant Maoist threat, particularly concentrated in and around the Gadchiroli District, the Police leadership of Maharashtra displays a bizarre lack of knowledge of the rudiments of Maoist strategy and tactics in their disclosures around the present ‘urban Maoist’ cases.

The elaborate documents ‘recovered’ from the alleged conspirators, specifically named, which ‘expose’ criminal conspiracies explicitly to assassinate the Prime Minister, overthrow the state, acquire and transport large quantities of weapons and ammunition, and channelize funds (specifically sourced during the de-monitization exercise) for violent operations, have all the hallmarks of mischievous fabrication. Reports indicate that no integrity of process has been maintained during the seizure of the electronic equipment (computers, cell phones, etc.) during the raids and arrests, from which these documents have supposedly been extracted, and it is unlikely that these letters (yet to be placed before the Courts, but widely circulated in the media) will stand up to judicial scrutiny. Crucially, the language, content and character of this purported ‘correspondence’ militates against everything that is known about the Maoists.

An obsession with secrecy is quintessential to all Maoist activity. For instance, in the guiding CPI-Maoist operational manual, Strategy & Tactics of the Indian Revolution, the words ‘secret’ and ‘secrecy’ occur at least 35 times, emphasizing that, “The Party has to function through secret methods, very cautiously, with an organisational structure impregnable to the enemy.” As a result, in the large body of documents recovered from the Maoists over the years, collaborators, conspirators or targets are never mentioned by name. Such references are invariable made in code, through mutually understood symbols and markers. Nor are materials requisitioned or acquired mentioned by name; bullets may be ‘magazines’; guns could be ‘books’; detonators, ‘pencils’ or ‘dot pens’; explosives, ‘soda’ or ‘cement’. The lexicon, moreover, undergoes frequent elaboration and change, particularly when specific operational plans are being communicated. It is significant that the Pune Police had reportedly opposed bail to the first set of arrestees on the grounds that the large volume of documents recovered were ‘in code’ and could not be understood without the active participation of the accused. Further, established overground workers or sympathisers would rarely be jeopardized by direct involvement in operational matters; nor would such individuals be directing operations and conspiracies or identifying targets for murder. That is the prerogative of the core underground leadership, and not of the necessary, but far from influential, networks of overground workers, sympathisers and ‘useful idiots’.

There has been massive and sustained propaganda, escalating in recent months, regarding the ‘growing’ threat of ‘urban Maoists’ or ‘half-Maoists’. This, again, is nonsense. The Maoists do, of course, have an elaborate plan for penetrating urban areas, detailed in their document “Urban Perspective: Our Work in Urban Areas”, in which they described strategies and tactics to create a nationwide network of over-ground and underground organisations, and to engage in revolutionary propaganda, agitation and violence. But that document dates back to 2007, and efforts to construct such an organisational network were sustained through the period of wildfire expansion that was experienced in the wake of the merger of the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre, to form the Communist Party of India – Maoist (CPI-Maoist).

This phase of vigorous efforts to expand into urban areas was, however, one of their most consequential strategic errors, resulting in the major loss of leaders, in their overreach into regions where the population was far from receptive to their ideas and plans of action. Despite violent manifestations in some areas at this stage, the then Governments (at the Centre and in the States) acted effectively, but did not, by and large, find it necessary to go in for indiscriminate and heavy handed methods targeting ‘sympathisers’. Arrests did occur, but these were of identified Maoists; members of ‘lead teams’; of those who were engaged in explicit acts of violence or of violent mobilisation; or in some cases, facilitating the transportation of Maoist cadres, weaponry or materials. [In at least some cases of the last category, the individuals participating were found to be connected to prominent political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, demonstrating that these ‘networks’ are not necessarily ideological, but operate on purely commercial considerations as well]. Some of the most prominent losses of Maoist leaders occurred during this phase, and as a result of this ill-conceived programme of rapid expansion. They included, for instance, B. Narayan Sanyal aka Navin, CPI-Maoist Politburo member and chief of the ‘central-eastern regional bureau’, arrested at Bhadrachalam in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh on January 3, 2006; Krishnan Srinivasan aka Vishnu aka Vijay aka Sreedhar aka Shekhar, Central Committee Member, arrested from Mumbai on May 15, 2007; Amitabh Bagchi, aka Anil, Politburo member, arrested at Ranchi, Jharkhand, on August 24, 2009; Central Committee member Kobad Ghandy, arrested in Delhi on September 21, 2009; Baccha Prasad Singh, Politburo member arrested from Kanpur on February 8, 2010; Anil Ghosh aka Ajoyda, West Bengal State Committee member, arrested in Kolkata onDecember 3, 2010; among a host of lesser luminaries.

After the failure of the urban mobilisation of 2004-11, and the subsequent and sustained losses in both urban and ‘heartland’ areas, the Maoists have all but abandoned the ambitions to expand existing networks, concentrating, instead, on survival imperatives of the present phase of ‘tactical retreat’ during a period when their movement is going through a “difficult stage”. Some unsuccessful efforts have been made to secure escape hatches from their last strongholds by seeking to establish a presence in areas of purported state vulnerability, such as the tri-junction regions of Madhya Pradesh-Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh (MMC) Zone, Gadchiroli-Rajnandgaon-Balaghat (GRB) zone and Kerala-Karnataka-Tamil Nadu (KKT) Zone; but these, again, have been far from successful. Crucially, recent arrests of prominent Maoists have not been within the context of any attempted ‘expansion’, but rather, are cases of underground cadres and leaders, under heightened security force pressure, shifting to ‘softer areas’, to take advantage of the anonymity offered by the urban environment.

The 10 activists arrested on June 6 and August 28, crucially, have been vigorously involved in a range of protests, demonstrations and legal processes on issues that overlap with the Maoist agenda for decades. Their activities and affiliations have long been under the scrutiny of successive regimes. Odious though some of their statements, actions and postures are to those who do not share their ideological proclivities, they fall well within the scope of legally permissible ‘advocacy’. In all these decades of their activism, outright criminal conspiracy with the Maoist cause has not been evidenced.

What, then, has provoked the present and sad spectacle of pliant officers disgracing themselves and pretending to act in the national interest, while they are, in fact, doing nothing more than acting on the instructions of bent elements in the political executive? Self-righteous indignation may, of course, be part of their logic: ‘our men are dying fighting the Maoists, and these people are speaking in favour of those who are killing them’. This is a natural source of frustration and rage, and can be understood at a personal level. But the state cannot act in frustration and vent its rage outside the bounds of the law, or by abusing legal processes.

These cases, in fact, articulate little more than spite. They are nothing other than a continuation of the polarization project of the Hindutva formations, in this case through the agency of a compromised Police establishment. The effort is to capture greater influence by multiplying ‘enemies’ and targets of hate across several locations and segments of the population. Critics of state policies are now routinely reduced to either of two bogies, maovadi or jihadi, even as a false narrative of linkages between these, and between the Maoists and Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence is promoted. The idea is to pit the evil jihadi and maovadi against the good Hindutvavadi or, as one BJP Minister more colourfully expressed it, the Ramzadas (children of Ram) against the haramzadas (bastard children). Urban Maoist and half-Maoist are merely terms of ideologically-led abuse, rather than any meaningful descriptive of phenomena in reality. The construction of these straw men has nothing whatsoever to do with neutralizing residual Maoist influence and activities.

The present chain of arrests and motivated disclosures reflect the slow but steady erosion of national and state credibility. This entire petty, pathetic and incompetent plot is a disgrace. It dishonours the thousands of police and paramilitary personnel who risk (and often sacrifice) their lives to actually fight real Maoists; it dishonours the state; it dishonours India.


At least six persons – among them three Chinese engineers – were injured in a suicide attack on a bus in the Dalbandin area of Chagai District in Balochistan in the morning of August 11, 2018. The bus carrying 18 Chinese engineers was being escorted by Frontier Corps (FC) troops to the Dalbandin airport from the Saindaik copper and gold mines when a suicide bomber tried to drive his explosives-laden vehicle into the bus. “The explosives-laden vehicle exploded near the bus on Quetta-Taftan Highway – and as a result three Chinese engineers, two FC soldiers and the bus driver were injured,” an unnamed Levies official stated. Saifullah Khatiran,Deputy Commissioner of Chagai District, disclosed that the engineers were working on the Saindak project, a joint venture between Pakistan and China to extract gold, copper and silver from an area close to the border.The three injured Chinese engineers were identified as Huo Xiaohu, Shi Jiangpeng and You Riwei. The suicide bomber was killed. All the Chinese engineers were later sent to Karachi.

The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility for the attacksaying it was carried out "to warn China to vacate Balochistan and stop plundering its resources".Jiand Baloch, a ‘spokesperson’ for BLA, stated, “We targeted this bus which was carrying Chinese engineers. We attacked them because they are extracting gold from our region, we won’t allow it.” In a statement issued on Twitter, the militant group identified the suicide bomber as Rehan Baloch,who died in the attack,the elder son of BLA's ‘senior commander’ Aslam Baloch.

On February 5, 2018, a Chinese national, Chen Zhu (46), who was a top official at a shipping firm, was shot dead by unknown armed assailants in a 'targeted' attack at Zamzama Park in Clifton in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh.Azad Khan, Deputy Inspector General of Police (Karachi south zone) stated, “The incident appears to be [a] targeted attack, [it] doesn’t look [like] a mugging… The victim is associated with Cosco Shipping Lines Co, a Chinese shipping company. We are trying to get further details.”

While there was no claim of responsibility and the motive was not immediately clear in the February 5, 2018, attack,the ChineseGovernment had, on December 8, 2017,warned its nationals in Pakistan about plans for imminent attacks on Chinese targets there.The ChineseEmbassy in Islamabad hadstated that it had been informed that terrorists were planning “a series of attacks soon” against Chinese nationals:

The embassy alerts all Chinese organisations and citizens in Pakistan to stay vigilant, safeguard personal security, reduce time spent outside and avoid going to crowded places as much as possible.

The Dalbandin suicide attack was the first of its kind in the history of the Baloch insurgency, when a suicide bomber was used in an attack to target the Chinese in Balochistan. The Province is at the heart of the USD 62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a massive series of projects that includes a network of highways, railways and energy infrastructure spanning the entire country.CPEC is a flagship project in China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). 

Nevertheless, the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing claimed thatBaloch militant organisations were no longer a threat to the CPEC, in an interview to BBC Urdu on February 2, 2018, arguing, "If they [Baloch militants] are true Pakistanis, they should work in the interest of Pakistan". He also hadasserted that Gwadar Port would soon become one of the world's trading hubs, as the security situation in Pakistan had improved to a large extent over the past few years.Yao Jing also expressed satisfaction over the security provided to about 10,000 Chinese nationals working on different CPEC projects in Pakistan, which also had some 60,000-local people employed on different jobs.

Significantly, China has reportedly been quietly holding talks with the Baloch militants for more than five years in an effort to protect the USD 62 billion worth of infrastructure projects it is financing as part of the CPEC. TheFinancial Times, citing three unnamed people with knowledge of the talks,claimed that the Chinese had been in direct contact with the Baloch insurgents, since many of the scheme's most important projects were located in the Province.

On February 22, 2018, however, China rejected reports claiming that it has been engaged in a dialogue with Baloch separatists in a bid to secure the CPEC project. China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang, when asked about such reports, asserted,"I have never heard of such things as you mentioned." On February 23, 2018, Pakistan alsodenied the reports that China was holding talks with Baloch insurgents to ensure the security of CPEC projects. Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson, Dr. Mohammad Faisal, said that the Chinese Foreign Ministry had already rejected this speculation, and that both the Governments were constantly in touch and working in coordination on CPEC security matters.

Talks or no talks, discontent persists among the ethnic Baloch people and groups with regard to CPEC. There was, consequently, always a persistent threat to Chinese engineers and people associated with CPEC projects from Baloch nationalists, who considerCPEC part of a 'strategic design' by Pakistan and China to loot Balochistan's resources and eliminate their culture and identity.

Dubbing China a 'great threat' to the Baloch people, UNHRC Balochistan representative Mehran Marri argued, on August 13, 2016,

China really-really is spreading its tentacles in Balochistan very rapidly, and therefore, we are appealing to the international community. The Gwadar project is for the Chinese military. This would be detrimental to international powers, to the people's interest, where 60 percent of world's oil flows.So, the world has to really take rapid action in curbing China's influence in Balochistan in particular and in Pakistan in general.

Asserting that CPEC would convert the Baloch people into minorities in their own homeland, Noordin Mengal, a human rights campaigner from Balochistan, stated that, with an influx of outsiders as a result of the project, the identity of the Baloch was being threatened.

Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal, thepro-Government Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) president, asserted, on March 5, 2017, that successive rulers of the country over the preceding 70 years had given nothing to the people of Balochistan, except hunger, poverty, unemployment and lawlessness. He alleged that the rulers had deliberately kept Balochistan backward, and had never paid attention to development, depriving its people of their due rights, including their share in the natural resources of their own Province. He claimed that no development could be seen in Balochistan under the CPEC, and that this project would not benefit its people, as not a single development project had been launched in the region as part of the mega project.

Pakistan currently hosts a sizable Chinese population and the numbers are only slated to grow as the project progresses. Concern about the demographic transformation of Balochistan had been reiterated in a report by the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) on December 28, 2016, which noted that, at the current and projected rate of influx of Chinese nationals into Balochistan, the native population of the area would be outnumbered by 2048.

Since the start of the ground work on CPEC, more than 39,000 Chinese have come to Pakistan over the past five years, according to official data and documents reportedon March 5, 2018.As many as 7,859 Chinese were issued visas in 2013, at the start of the CPEC projects, soon after the Nawaz Sharif Government came to power. Another 69 visas were issued in 2014; 13,268 in 2015; 6,268 in 2016; and, according to informed officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an estimated 12,287 in 2017.In addition, officials told the media that about 91,000 Chinese nationals visited Pakistan on tourist visas over this period.

Militants trying to disrupt construction of CPEC projects in Balochistan had killed 44 workers between 2014 and September 7, 2016. According to Colonel Zafar Iqbal, a spokesperson for the construction company Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), speaking on this date, “The latest figure has climbed up to 44 deaths and over 100 wounded men on CPEC projects, mainly road construction in Balochistan, which began in 2014.” Since September 7, 2016, according to theSouth Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), another 17 persons have been killed in different CPEC related projects across the province (till August 31, 2018).

The Government of Pakistan has deputed an estimated 37,000 security personnel to guard Chinese workers engaged in some 22 projects directly associated with the CPEC and another 214 related small and mega projects in Pakistan. These include 15,780 military personnel trained under the umbrella of the Special Security Division (SSD) and the Maritime Security Force (MSF). Balochistan is to get more security with the addition of 450 personnel of the MSF for coastal areas; six wings comprising 6,700 personnel of the Frontier Corps; 3,210 Police constables; and 1,320 Levies personnel to guard project routes.

Despite this,China appears to lack confidence in Pakistan’s assurance of security to all Chinese citizens, and is reportedly building a city to house half a million Chinese nationals at a cost of USD 150 million in the port city of Gwadar. According to media reports, only Chinese citizens will live in this gated zone, thus paving the way for the establishment of a Chinese colony within Pakistan. The proposed city will also be a Financial District.The China-Pak Investment Corporation has bought the 3.6-million square foot International Port City and will build a gated community for the anticipated 500,000 Chinese professionals who will be located there by 2022.

On August 20, 2018,Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan assured Chinese Premier Li Keqiang that his Government would take “strictest precautions” for the security and safety of Chinese personnel working on CPEC.Khan assured Keqiang of all help to protect projects under the CPEC, which had come under sporadic militant attacks. However, as long as, Pakistan’s all-powerful Army and civilian leadership fail to address legitimate grievances of the Baloch people, the threat to CPEC related projects in the Province will persist.


Chinese Foreign Ministry denies any plans to have military base in Afghanistan: China on August 29 denied that it planned to build a military base in Afghanistan. Earlier, The South China Morning Post quoted unidentified sources with ties to the Chinese military as saying that Beijing was building the camp in the narrow Wakhan Corridor that links the two countries. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying dismissed the report. “Since the construction and training, this situation, it doesn’t exist – it’s not true,” she told reporters. “So anything related naturally is not true,” Hua added. Bakhtar News, August 30, 2018.

Pakistan’s military plotted Ghazni attack, says Afghan Ministry of Interior: The Ministry of Interior (MoI) on August 29 said Pakistan’s military establishment planned and provided the necessary aid to Taliban insurgents to carry out the coordinated attack on Ghazni city earlier this month. “Pakistan and Pakistan’s military were involved in the plan to attack Ghazni; Pakistan provided all sufficient aid to them and it’s very clear,” said MoI spokesman Najib Danish. Tolonews, August 30, 2018. 

Pressure forced militants to release Police personnel’s kin in Jammu and Kashmir, says UHM Rajnath Singh: Hardening stand against militants in the wake of surge in violence following abduction of Police personnel’s kin, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on September 1 declared that there will be no compromise with violence in Kashmir and said it was due to pressure build by Security Forces (SFs) on the militants that they were forced to release all 11 relatives of the Police personnel abducted by them in South Kashmir. “Security forces built strong pressure on the militants in the Kashmir valley after kidnapping of 11 kin of police personnel from different places in South Kashmir. Within 35 hours, the militants were compelled to release all the hostages,” Rajnath said. Daily Excelsior , September 2, 2018.

Tripura, Mizoram and Nagaland demand NRC: Leaders of Tripura tribal parties pressing the Government of India (GoI) conducting National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state. INPT General Secretary Jagadhish Debbarma stated, “We have submitted a memorandum to the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India in Delhi explaining the reasons for NRC in Tripura. We are also trying to meet Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh”. He said that INPT’s other demands include more constitutional power to the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) and withdrawal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. Nagaland Post , August 30, 2018.

BIMSTEC summit concludes in Kathmandu condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations: The fourth summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) concluded in Kathmandu on August 31 with the signing of the 18-point Kathmandu Declaration condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. The declaration stresses there can be no justification of any act of terrorism. The member states called upon all countries to devise a comprehensive approach to combat terrorism. The Himalayan Times , September 1, 2018.

Civil society organisations urge Government to provide info about missing persons: Civil society organisations amid a function organised in Kathmandu on the International Day of the Disappeared on August 29 urged Government to provide info about missing persons. The International Committee of the Red Cross, Nepal Red Cross Society and Nepal Society of Families of the Disappeared and Missing observed the International Day of the Disappeared. The event included a theatre performance titled ‘The Waiting Eyes’ and the unveiling of the publication called ‘Missing Persons in Nepal: Updated list 2018’. The Himalayan Times, August 31, 2018.

United States cancels USD 300 million 'aid' to Pakistan: The United States (US) military on September 2 said it has made a final decision to cancel USD 300 million in ‘aid’ to Pakistan that had been suspended over Islamabad’s perceived failure to take decisive action against militants. The Coalition Support Funds (CSF) were part of a broader suspension in aid to Pakistan announced by President Donald Trump at the start of the year, when he accused Pakistan of rewarding past assistance with “nothing but lies & deceit.” “Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy the remaining $300 (million) was reprogrammed,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner said. The Express Tribune, September 3, 2018.

Won’t accept any unjust US demand, says Prime Minister Imran Khan: Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan on August 31 said his Government will not accept any unjust demand by the United States (US). The PM said Pakistan cannot fight with the US and wanted good ties with the superpower. He, however, added this did not mean that Pakistan will accept any unjust demand by Washington. The Nation, September 1, 2018.

Terrorism, development can’t go together, says CoAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa: The Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa on August 29 said that terrorism and development can’t go together therefore collectively we have to make sure that unrest doesn’t return. The CoAS Bajwa was addressing combined Jirga of elders from North and South Waziristan Districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at Wana during his visit to South Waziristan. The News, August 30, 2018.

President assures equal development in Northern and Eastern Provinces: President Maithripala Sirisena convening the Presidential Task Force on the development of the Northern and Eastern Provinces for the second time on August 27 at the Presidential Secretariat assured equal development in Northern and Eastern Provinces. He said there is no differentiation or discrimination in the development of the country and the benefits of the development to the people living in the Northern and Eastern provinces will be delivered equally as promised. ColomboPage , August 29, 2018

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