Financing a 'revolution' is not child's play. It is all the more tough when the organization is proscribed and hence operates underground. For the Indian Maoists, also known as Naxalites, the conditions are a little more unfavorable because they claim to be fighting for the deprived and neglected sections of society who are poor. And the Maoists do not enjoy the support of the affluent.
But still the Maoists are being able to collect and manage vast sums of money. According to a media report of April 9, 2008, the annual 'extortion' by the Maoists is a whopping Rs.1,000 crore. A former official of the Intelligence Bureau and now a senior police officer in Chhattisgarh told this author in 2007 that the annual extortion totals Rs.1,500 crore! This is truly impressive.
The question that naturally arises is: how is this possible? The answer is not far to seek. The Naxalites extort money from those who they can reach, and those who have ill-gotten wealth. The fear of violent retribution makes people pay money. Those who pay up include politicians -- big and small, corrupt government servants, businesses and rich landlords. Besides, the rebels also raise funds through contributions from sympathizers and activists.
According to the 'constitution' of the Maoists, which was prepared in September 2004 during the foundation of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) and reportedly amended at the Unity Congress of January 2007, each cadre (party member) has to pay an 'annual subscription' of Rs.10. Besides, the rebels will decide the sums to be paid annually by supporters who are gainfully employed.
Writing in December 2001, well-known environmental writer Richard Mahapatra claimed that in Orissa, bamboo fellers, who have been organized by the rebels, 'contribute' Rs.5 every day from their wages to the rebels.
Similarly, poor tribals who are engaged in the collection of kendu/tendu/beedi leaf (similar to tobacco) that is grown in forest areas also contribute to the Maoists. They have reason to do so. The rebels have organized them, fought for their cause against beedi leaf contractors and ensured that they get at least the minimum wages stipulated by the government, if not more. In the 1970s, when the minimum wage prescribed was 5 paise for a bundle of 100 leaves in Andhra Pradesh, the beedi leaf contractors were paying 4 paise.
And then the Naxalites came on to the scene. After that, every year they have been able to successfully negotiate with the beedi leaf contractors and secure better wages for the tribals. This has been the greatest success of the Naxalites. But they also 'extort' huge amounts from beedi leaf contractors in order to let them to do business. Indeed, extortion from these contractors is the single largest source of income for the Naxalites.
A variety of businesses generate money to the Naxalites. A senior intelligence official in Andhra Pradesh told this author that Class A, B, C and D public works contractors pay 8, 6, 4 and 2 percent respectively of the total bid. That apart, a large paper mill in Andhra Pradesh is believed to have paid Rs.5 million every month in 2001. Similarly, a rayon factory, also in Andhra Pradesh, pays Rs.10 million annually to the Maoists, a senior superintendent of police told this author.
The Naxalites demand and secure money from politicians of various hues and from different levels. The home minister of one of India's highly affected states is said to have paid a huge sum to the rebels to get elected from his constituency. Another political leader who went on to become a cabinet minister in the central government paid Rs.1.7 million to the Maoists to facilitate his election, a senior intelligence official from Jharkhand told this author in February 2007. Reportedly, a former union minister paid money to the Maoists to win elections.
A junior central intelligence official in Visakhapatnam said that government servants, including teachers in the GK Veedhi mandal were asked to pay a 'fine' of approximately one month's salary for continuously being absent from work.
The chief editor of the Ranchi-based Prabhat Khabar Hindi daily said in January 2005 that in Bihar and Jharkhand the Naxalites had circulated a limited number of booklets listing the sources of their funds. Reportedly, some government employees too have paid levy to the Naxalites. All this persuades one to wonder if Naxalism is indeed not a thriving business proposition!
(P.V. Ramana is Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. The views expressed here are his. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)