The giant statues loom large over the lush green paddy fields. An epitaph is engraved on a pillar adorned with the hammer and sickle of communism along with four stars. Nearby stands a giant hoarding with images of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao.
This is Nayakankottai in Dharmapuri district, the only village in the whole of Tamil Nadu to have statues of its Naxalite leaders, L Appu and Balan. The epitaph marks their contribution to the movement.
It was in their time the late 1970s that the movement reached its peak. Says Siddhanandam, one of the pioneers of the movement: "We were successful in doing away with the double tumbler system (one for Dalits and one for other castes), which was discriminatory. "
The 54-year-old, who has eluded police for the last 24 years, has been witness to the transition of communist China and the fall of the Soviet Union. Today, the recession has brought a smile to his face. "American capitalism has lost. Everybody believed in it. Now look what it has brought. It is the victory of socialism."
The Maoist movement in Dharmapuri was disbanded in 2003 after many of their leaders were either killed or arrested. These days,
however, the party is positive about regaining its base in the state. Its leaders believe current neo-liberal policies that have led to an "increased socio-political polarisation" favour it. "More and more people are joining the movement," says a Maoist source. "The party may have gone underground, but there has been a shift in strategy."
These days the Maoists focus on urban areas instead of the traditional rural pockets. The reason, again, is the same. They believe the new economic policies have created a divide within the urban population. The special economic zones have displaced millions of people in the urban (and rural) areas, spawning slums and deepening poverty. A late surge in the number of unorganised labour due to growing infrastructure activity gives the Maoists an ideological tool to win over people deprived of any guarantee of a dignified life.
Says a Naxal source: "Tamil Nadu has more than 40 cities with large numbers of migrants. A majority of them are poor. Besides the financially backward in the urban areas, we are targeting the middle class. They are fed up with corruption and failure of the state machinery in resolving their woes."
And then he adds. "Do you know Tamil Nadu is a state that has attracted huge investment, most of it in the rural areas? Multinational companies and Indian conglomerates have invested nearly Rs 3 lakh crore in the state, buying rural land for export-based trade. This has affected small-scale farmers and industries."
But why the sudden shift now? Has the movement failed to penetrate the rural areas? Some naxals agree. The say it could not penetrate the hinterland partly because of the Dalit movement and parties. "Recruiting cadres is tough due to the presence of Dalit parties who consider them their vote-bank. There have been many instances where they have turned police informants," says a party cadre.
The other reason is the failure to attract youth they constituted the mainstay of rebel activity in the early 1980s. "For every movement to succeed," says the cadre, "you require the support of youth. However, the rise in rural unemployment and lack of pro-farmer schemes has led many to migrate to the cities. This has affected our movement."
Some Naxalites believe the lack of proper planning crippled the movement in the last few years. "Even before it strengthened down south, the high command moved the whole cadre to Dharmapuri. Initially, the plan was to form a triangle linking the rebels in Tamil Nadu with Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka," says a Maoist-turned- sympathiser of the movement.
"But a lack of proper training and foresight saw the movement crumble as the police crushed it decisively," he says. "Even Maoists in Karnataka were forced to move their base to Shimoga from where they operate successfully. "
The Maoists admit to links with other separatist movements in South Asia, though they say the LTTE doesn't figure. All these movements come under one umbrella — the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and the Organisation of South Asia. They include parties from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Balochistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Kashmir. In fact, the Maoists have developed a variety of fraternal and non-fraternal ties with militant groups, including United Liberation Front of Asom, within India, the South Asian region and beyond.
A senior Naxalite says ULFA does provide arms to the Maoists, but not the LTTE. "Their arms are too sophisticated. They aren't suitable for our kind of operations." Another ultra says most of the weapons are of indigenous make. And sometimes they steal arms from the police. The seizure of parts of rockets and launchers from Ambattur near Chennai a few years ago provides some evidence that the manufacturing units are located in the state. But with police hot on their heels, the Maoists refuse to provide any information on training camps.
Crucially, a few years back, police successfully busted an arms training camp near Periakulam in the southern Theni district. "The party allocates nearly Rs 15 lakh for operations in Tamil Nadu. Most of it is through nidhi (fund-raising) and through funds allocated by the central committee," he says.
"Most of it is spent on party literature and payment of wages for full-timers, who number around 60," he adds.
What is the reason for the movement, which was completely crushed in the 1980s and 1990s, regaining its vitality? "It is mostly due to economic policies, failure to stem corruption and also failure to implement land reforms," says a Naxalite in a cocksure tone.
Even the report of an expert group to Planning Commission highlights similar reasons for the spread of the Maoist movement in India. "Naxalites typically operate in a vacuum created by inadequacy of administrative and political institutions, espouse local demands and take advantage of the prevalent disaffection and perceived injustice among the underprivileged and remote segments of the population.' ' The paper goes on to add that Naxalism ``is not merely a law and order problem; it has deep socio-economic dimensions."
So far, the Central government has released Rs 3,677.67 crore to the Naxal-affected states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. In 2006-07, nearly Rs 434.61 crore was allocated.
According to an Empowered Group of Ministers, the police alone cannot resolve the problem. States should address socio-economic issues such as land reforms, employment generation, healthcare, economic development and poverty alleviation.
As Siddhanandam points out, "For every action, there is a equal and opposite reaction." And it may be true. As Mao Zedong stated, "Fish were the militants, and the disgruntled peasantry constituted the water. So long as there was dissatisfaction among the peasantry, militants could operate freely."
Focus now on the masses
The Maoists are increasingly deploying their female cadre to expand their base in semi-urban and industrialised areas. The non-implementation of labour laws and the plight of unorganised sector workers and farmers in various parts of the country have helped the Maoists. "The female cadres are not involved in violent activities. They take jobs as labourers and through their interaction with the people, try to bring them into the Maoist fold," says a senior Naxal leader.
In the southern districts, the Maoists are making their presence increasingly felt. This area includes Theni, Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi, Coimbatore and Ramanatha-puram. They are also trying to use the Sri Lankan Tamil issue to broaden their appeal. They feel nobody can do politics in the state without the issue. "If you can back Palestine, Kosovo and other separatist movements, then why don't you back the Tamils in Sri Lanka for a separate Eelam?" one of their leaders asks. Their pro-Tamil stance has enabled the Maoists to recruit more people.
But do the Maoists have LTTE connections? "The Tigers don't back any movement waging an armed struggle against the Indian state," says a senior Naxalite. But he adds that some ex-LTTE cadre did give them arms training. "These people came to India after leaving the organisation, and formed communist groups," he says.