Maoists: Growing Arsenal
On August 29, 2012, the Jharkhand Police seized a consignment of arms and ammunition in the Silodar Forest, on the border of the Barachatti Police Station of Gaya District of Bihar and the Chouparan Police Station in Jharkhand.
Two persons, Prafulla Malakar alias Pankaj and Anil Yadav, were arrested. Malakar, a conduit for supplying sophisticated arms to top Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) leaders, was supposed to deliver the consignment to Anil Yadav, who is in charge of the Maoist armory in Bihar and Jharkhand. Yadav had come with INR 900,000 to take the delivery. The seizure included a US-made M-16 rifle and 14 cartridges of 5.56 mm, one 9-mm pistol of Italian make, and one light weight bullet-proof jacket worth INR 400,000, manufactured in the United Kingdom. Malakar later told interrogators that he had recently supplied four AK-47 rifles, two AK-56 rifles and three Self-Loading Rifles (SLRs), to Yadav.
Significantly, the M-16 rifle, manufactured by Colt Defense, carried a 'U.S. Army property' marking on it. Officials in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) claim this is confirmation of the opening of "the northeast arms supply route" to Left Wing Extremists (LWEs). The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has already been investigating the existence of such an arms supply chain for the Maoists. The Jharkhand arms seizure case has also been referred to the NIA.
On July 11, 2011, the NIA registered a case arguing that the Manipur-based People's Liberation Army (PLA) had formed an alliance with the CPI-Maoist for procuring arms and ammunition for the latter. On May 21, 2012, the NIA filed a charge sheet in this regard before the special NIA court in Guwahati, against three arrested cadres of the PLA, N. Dilip Singh alias Wangba, Senjam Dhiren Singh alias Raghu and Kh. Arnold Singh alias Becon. Wangba was the self-styled 'chief of external affairs' of PLA, and was arrested during a raid in Paharganj in New Delhi on October 1, 2011. The other two accused were senior functionaries of PLA working under Wangba, and were arrested on February 4, 2012, from Kolkata, and 02 April, 2012, from Siliguri in West Bengal respectively. According to an NIA press release, the alliance between the CPI-Maoist and PLA was inked in 2008 after several meeting between the outfits since 2006. Subsequently, PLA established an office in Kolkata, which played a crucial role in coordinating the deals and meetings with the Maoists. Kh Arnold Singh alias Becon manned PLA's Kolkata office.
Subsequent to the charge sheet, NIA arrested another three persons - two Maoist cadres and one PLA cadre - further unraveling the PLA - CPI-Maoist nexus. Pallab Borbora alias Profull, who allegedly played a 'crucial' role in ensuring the link between PLA and CPI-Maoist, was arrested on June 3, 2012. Ajay Chanda alias Indranil Chanda alias Raj (37) was the other Maoist arrested in Kolkata on April 21, 2012. Asem Ibotombi Singh alias Angou, PLA's 'external affairs secretary', was arrested on May 27, 2012, from Gopalpur in the Ganjam District of Odisha.
While Maoist arms procurement is cause for rising concern, the Maoists also run a very organized programme of manufacturing weapons. This received wide attention with the arrest of Sadanala Ramakrishna alias RK alias Techie Anna (64), a Maoist 'central technical committee' member, and four other Maoists, during coordinated raids in Kolkata and Mumbai. On February 29, 2012, Police arrested Ramakrishna and another Maoist, Dipak alias Prakash alias Kumar alias Rajesh Kumar Sahu (40), from Kolkata and, on information provided by them, raided a workshop at Belghoria in North 24 Parganas and arrested another three Maoists - Sukumar Mondal alias Bablu alias Samar (61), of Khardah in North 24 Parganas, Sambhu Charan Pal (60) of Singur in Hooghly, and Bapi Mudi alias Janaki (25) from Burdwan. Twenty sockets of rocket launchers, 25 cartridges, 2.5 kilograms of explosives, a photocopy of the design of a rocket launcher, a diary, Maoist literature and INR 500,000 were recovered from them. The next day, Police raided workshops in Mumbai which were clandestinely manufacturing weapons for Maoists and seized several castings, believed to be used by Maoist cadres for making hand grenades, rockets and other materials used for fabricating Rocket Launchers (RLs). Police arrested four Maoists - Asim Kumar Bhattacharya (63), Dinesh Wankhede (30), Suman Gawde (40) and Paru Patel (40) from Dombivali and over INR 2.3 million cash, laptops, pen drives and books on manufacturing weapons were recovered from them. Wankhede, Gawde and Patel were the area committee members of the Korchi dalam (armed squad) in Gadchiroli. Bhattacharya had given refuge to the trio since October 2011.
Developing on these arrests and recoveries, Police raided a transport company godown in Raipur on March 4, 2012, and recovered materials used for manufacturing mortars and RLs. It was suspected that the materials, including bolts and pipes, packed in about 69 wooden crates, had been sent by Maoists to Chhattisgarh. Further, on March 5, the Kolkata Police Special Task Force (STF) raided an apartment in Birati, on the eastern fringe of Kolkata, and seized INR 3.5 million in cash, instruments to manufacture RLs and some Maoist documents. Intelligence sources further revealed that the Kolkata and Mumbai workshops had, thus far, dispatched parts which could make not less than 3,000 rockets.
The NIA has taken over the case and has filed a charge sheet in this regard against Ramakrishna and the other four Maoists arrested with him in Kolkata, at the NIA Special Court, on August 23, 2012. According to the NIA, the arms manufacturing units which were neutralized by the West Bengal Police and the NIA in March, had been set up under the direct supervision of CPI-Maoist 'general secretary', Mupalla Lakshmana Rao alias Ganapathy. Investigations further revealed that the units assembled thousands of low-cost RLs, at a total estimated of INR 50 million, over the past three years. The unit acted as a conduit to procure components for manufacturing launchers from various companies in Kolkata and Mumbai on the pretext of making Boilers or other machines.
Crucially, the designs of the RLs and rockets were found to be vastly improved, as compared with the RLs seized in Andhra Pradesh (AP) and in Chennai (Ambattur) in 2006. The recoveries, then, had been made with the surrender of Thota Kumaraswamy alias Srinivasa Reddy alias Tech Madhu, on November 4, 2006. Tech Madhu was the mastermind behind two projects in Chennai in 2003 - 'Rocket Launchers-I' and 'Rocket Launchers-II'. While RL-I was a pilot project designed to manufacture rockets with a launch pad, RL-II was for the development of shoulder-mounted RLs and rockets. Madhu subsequently disclosed that he had received INR 3.5 million from the outfit to manufacture 1,600 RLs in Ambattur, which were subsequently dispatched to Darsi (400), Kandukur (200) in Prakasham District, Mahbubnagar (600), and Kadapa (300) in AP, while the remaining were damaged during shipment. However, at that time, the Police failed to trace 200 RLs sent to Darsi, while the remaining consignments were recovered.
According to reports, the efficiency of the rockets seized after the surrender of Tech Madhu was estimated at about 60 per cent, while the RLs seized in March 2012 scored 90 per cent accuracy. A senior Police officer noted, "Until December, 2005 they were experimenting with rocket launchers by making modifications to their old designs. They prepared the latest model recently and the seized launchers are perhaps the first batch adopting the latest design."
NIA investigations have revealed that the Maoist dream of procuring and developing RLs, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and anti-personnel mines (APMs) can be traced back to 1994, when the erstwhile Communist Party of India - Marxist-Leninist - People's War [CPI (ML) PW, also known as the People's War Group, PWG] formed a Technical Development Committee (TDC) of Regional Committee status to coordinate the technical units producing light articles outside the field/combat zone. Maoist 'central technical committee' member Ramakrishna was instrumental in the formation of the TDC. Later, as the TDC failed to coordinate the units and to work up to expectations, a State Committee status body, the Central Technical Committee (CTC), was formed in July 2001, to work under the direct supervision of the Maoists' Central Military Commission headed by Namballa Kesava Rao alias Ganganna. The CTC was later transformed or renamed as Technical Research Arms Manufacturing Unit (TRAM) in 2005.
TRAM consisted of five members headed by an elected secretary. While the secretary coordinated and strategized the supply of weapons, the remaining members concentrated on the development and production of these weapons. Investigations exposed that, after the formation of the CTC, from 2002 to 2006, technical units were established at several places including Pune, Rourkela, Indore, Bhopal and Bhubaneswar, under close supervision and direct guidance of Ramakrishna. Some CTC members were arrested from Bhopal and Rourkela by the SF personnel in January, 2007. Later, in 2008, Ramakrishna formed CTC teams in Kolkata, Thane near Mumbai, and in other locations in Maharashtra and, with their help, started procuring raw materials and finished components for weapons.
Some of the components were processed in local workshops established for this purpose by team members, while others were processed in commercial workshops by mechanics and workmen who were provided with designs and detailed diagrams of samples of certain parts of the weapon. The finished products, assembly tools and related items were being regularly sent to Raipur in Chhattisgarh. From Raipur they were transported to the forests of Dandakaranya or Abhujmaad, where they were reportedly assembled into complete arms by mobile assembly units.
Further, Ramakrishna also disclosed that the Maoists had added 'Improvised Rocket Assisted Mortars' (IRAM) to their arsenal. IRAM 107mm was first used by the Iraqi insurgents by using elevated vehicles to launch the rockets, while the Maoists developed a shoulder-firing mechanism by reducing the bore of the launch tube and the length of the device.
The Maoists also manufacture a range of 'country-made' weapons. Intelligence reports claimed that nearly 500 arms manufacturing units had been established by the Maoists in Chhattisgarh alone. These manufacturing units are small in size, often run in huts and cottages deep inside forests, but were strategically located to facilitate a smooth supply of weapons and ammunition to armed squads. The presence of such arms-manufacturing units had been reported from Abhujmaad, Kanker, Nagari, Sihaba, Sitanadi, Chura, Gariaband, Debbhog, Ammamora, Charraunda, Rasela, Komakhana, Naram, Khati, Kasekara, and Tuhulu areas in the Bastar and Mahasamund regions.
The Maoists have also been found in possession of SLRs as well as AK-series and INSAS rifles. Further, their expertise in fabricating and detonating Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) has already been causing huge losses to the Security Forces (SFs). The Maoists' arms-kitty includes a range of weapons of varying sophistication, including .12 bore guns, .303 and 8 mm rifles, grenades, grenade launchers, 2-inch mortars, pressure mines, directional mines, Claymore mines, Light Machine Guns (LMGs), Stenguns, 30 mm Carbines, Smooth-Bore Breech-Loading (SBBL) and Double-Bore Breech-Loading (DBBL) guns, as well as 'tamanchas' - crude pipe guns - and booby traps.
Apart from procuring and manufacturing weapons, snatching weapons from the SFs has been an established practice and major source for the Maoists. However, numbers of weapons snatched by Maoists in recent years have shown a extremely uneven trend.
The Maoists are having an estimated 46,600 armed cadres - 8,600 'hardcore' armed squad members and 38,000 jan militia carrying rudimentary weapons and providing logistics support to the core group of the People's Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA).
The Maoists' search of arms has been a long journey from snatching of weapons from the SFs to developing expertise in fabricating and detonating IEDs, and the fabrication of rockets and RLs. Recently, addressing the annual meet of Directors General and Inspectors General of Police from State and Central Police Forces at New Delhi on September 6, 2012, Union Minister for Home Affairs, Sushil Kumar Shinde warned, "Naxalism continues to pose a significant challenge. There are indicators about increase in the number of trained and armed cadres, reorganization of military potential for formation of new battalions."
Deception has been an elemental tactic of the Maoists. The decline in the intensity of Maoist violence should not be misjudged as an index of Maoist capacities. It is evident that the process of a build-up of armed manpower and of weaponry of increasing sophistication has been sustained by the Maoists, and the SFs will, eventually, have to contend with this augmented force.
(The writer Deepak Kumar Nayak is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)