Naxalites of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), according to a media report of Sep 10 credited to unnamed intelligence officials, have forged links with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in India's northeast.
The report is not entirely baseless. There is adequate evidence, and has been reported earlier too, of the Maoists' intent and design. In fact, the Maoists have developed a variety of fraternal and non-fraternal ties with terrorist groups within India, the South Asian region and beyond.
The links with the LTTE and ULFA are entirely opportunistic and have no ideological basis. As the intelligence report correctly notes, these are meant for the procurement of arms and explosives. However, it needs to be noted that these ties are not continuous but have been on-and-off.
A senior police officer from Andhra Pradesh told this researcher in 2002 that a Naxalite leader had visited Dhaka and met leaders of ULFA and inquired of them the fate of the money they paid (to the tune of Rs.10 million) for the purchase of sophisticated arms. In August 2005, the Bangladesh media reported that a meeting of Maoist outfits of South Asia was held in Rajshahi, in preparation for the annual conference of the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA) - which was founded on July 1, 2001. Thereafter, in December 2005, a media report from Guwahati said ULFA would be providing security and logistics support for the conference.
Much later, a media report of July 28, 2007, said that a meeting had indeed taken place between Maoist leaders and ULFA members in West Champaran district in Bihar. At the time, Gupteshwar Pandey, the deputy inspector general of police (DIG), Tirhut range, reportedly said: "A meeting of Maoists took place somewhere in the border area of India and Nepal in which (a) few ULFA activists also participated. This is a matter of grave concern for us."
The rationale behind the Maoists establishing ties with ULFA is not far to seek -- procurement of sophisticated weapons, occasionally though.
The Maoists' links with the LTTE are by now documented to some extent. The earliest, and most authentic, report came in 1991. Speaking in the Andhra Pradesh assembly, then home minister M.V. Mysoora Reddy said the Maoists (in their then avatar as People's War) had acquired 60 AK-47s and 20 Sten guns from the LTTE. This was reiterated in the Lok Sabha, on Dec 10, 1991, by Bandaru Dattatreya, then an opposition MP who later rose to the office of minister of state for railways.
In 1995, Mallojula Venugopal, who earlier styled himself as 'Bhupathi' and currently uses the alias 'Sonu', the then secretary of what is now the Dandakaranya Special Zone Committee, alluded to the LTTE link. He claimed that some ex-LTTE cadres had initially trained them in fabricating landmines.
Maintaining the same line, when questioned about LTTE instructors conducting training camps, Muppala Lakshman Rao alias 'Ganapathy', the Maoist chief, said in an interview in 1998: "They were not LTTE. They were ex-LTTE. What happened was that these people came to India after leaving their organisation and formed Communist groups. (We) had relations with these groups. As part of that, they held training camps for us."
He added: "We have had no relations with the LTTE till now. But we are not against having relations with them. We will certainly have links with them if an opportunity arises. We feel that such relations would be conducive to the revolutionary movement."
Further proof of the Maoists' LTTE links surfaced, once again, when two video cassettes containing LTTE's training modules were recovered in December 2001 from an arms dump of the rebels in Nelimaliga village of Visakhapatnam district, Andhra Pradesh. Further, reports of late-December 2002 indicated that they had some months earlier struck an arms deal with the LTTE, but the modalities (pricing) had to be finalized.
In the aftermath of the failed Oct 1, 2003, assassination attempt on then Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, then deputy prime minister L.K. Advani said that the rebels had links with the LTTE and had received expertise in using improvised explosive devices (IED) from the Sri Lankan outfit.
Confirmation from the Maoists of their links with the LTTE came in 2005 too. Speaking to mediapersons in a village in Madhuban block in Supaul district of Bihar, the spokesperson of the CPI-Maoist, Azad, said Dec 14 that they had learnt "new warfare tactics from the on-the-run and purged LTTE military commanders in 1986-87". He added that the "LTTE commanders gave them training (in landmine) mine production and its laying techniques".
Admittedly, the Maoist arsenal is indigenous and ingenious. As Vishwaranjan, the director general of police of Chhattisgarh, told this researcher in an interview: "The Maoists' purchase of arms is only in fits and bouts. Largely, they fabricate their weapons at their production units."
In principle, the Maoists seek to equip themselves through weapons looted from the police, which they have been doing rather successfully. But if the Maoists were to change tack and opt to shop in the grey arms market within the country or in India's neighborhood, the LTTE and ULFA links would be of particular advantage. And the Maoists are flush with funds. According to Vishwaranjan, their annual extortion is "to the tune of INR 1,500 crore (Rs.15 billion).
(P.V. Ramana is Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)