The highest ranking Naxal leader in custody has rubbished many claims made by security agencies about the rebels, but acknowledged new challenges – a money crunch, tackling corruption among cadres, adapting to technology and reaching out to the middle class.
Misir Besra, 47, a member of the decision-making Politburo of the Naxalite organisation, made new revelations in an interview with the Hindustan Times as he awaited his court hearing in Ranchi.
He said the Naxal organisation had spread to at least 15 states – though armed fighters were present in fewer states. He declined to give precise details but said there would be between 15,000 and 20,000 armed guerrillas in the Naxalite movement – with up to 40 per cent of them women.
The Naxal movement is now described by the government as India’s largest security threat. It is the strongest force among all insurgent groups in India, who together have influence in one-third of the country.
Besra said the Naxalites are now embarking on its biggest-ever transformation – ending the days of guerrilla ambushes to begin attacking in much larger armed formations. “In guerrilla warfare, the aim is to attack suddenly in small groups, then withdraw and vanish. We will have to take it from company formation to battalion formation … guerrilla warfare to regular warfare,” said Besra, who has received combat training like most other Naxalites.
“So far we do not have RDX (explosive)… We are not using paper bombs yet… There are no suicide squads, and no plans immediately to set them up,” Besra said, referring to claims about Naxal operations and strategy by security officials in different states.
It is not possible to establish the authenticity of those statements. Hours before the Besra interview, a top police official told HT that RDX linked to Naxalites had been found in two places in Ranchi last year.
But elsewhere, Indian security officials have in the past made unverified claims that created a spectre of militants’ larger-that-life strength – like Kashmir rebels gaining access to chemical weapons, several anti-aircraft guns and even a dozen Stinger missiles, or purported links between Kashmir rebels and Nepal’s Maoist or Sri Lanka’s LTTE militants.
Besra, soft-spoken and wearing a blue T-shirt and trousers, said other challenges were emerging, meanwhile. “I cannot tell you about our funds. But yes, we are beginning to feel a financial crunch,” said Besra, who earlier had organisation-building responsibilities. “We are trying to step up fund collection in keeping with the growth of the movement.
“As the struggle and war evolve, we also cannot succeed without the internet or technological advancement,” he said. “We are short of computer engineers.” Besra said children are part of the army but claimed that they are not in the fighting force.
“They carry arms but they do not fight. A boy of 12 can keep a gun but not fight,” Besra said, asserting that it was for self-defence. “He can go into the battlefield only when he is 16 or 17.”
Norms remain tough: In the villages, rapists are asked to marry their victims. Among Naxalites, marriages are allowed within the ranks but no illicit relationships – a rule sometimes broken. Thieves are beaten and made to return what they stole. Those found guilty of causing the death of fighters or damage to bunkers are summarily killed. Police spies are given up to three warnings, then killed, Besra said.
But several Naxal splinter groups have been created. Besra said it was mainly related to the stealing by some people of “levy” money – a tax charged by the rebels from government contractors, officials and companies.
“There are instances,” he said. “But whenever they take place, there is an investigation and a self-purification campaign.”