The question of a tactical alliance between the Indian Maoists and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is perhaps no longer irrelevant. On July 19, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) submitted in a charge sheet before a special court in Delhi that ISIS was planning to procure weapons from the Maoists in order to carry out terror strikes.
However, on April 27, India’s minister of state for home affairs had intimated to Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house, that there is no nexus between ISIS and India’s various Naxal groups, even as far as training and seeking weapons from the Naxalites are concerned.
Interestingly, Abhinav Pandya speculated in The Quint on July 10 that there was a growing possibility of Bangladesh and West Bengal based jihadis joining hands with the Maoists in the Red Corridor to destabilize India. The author nevertheless did not provide any cogent evidence to substantiate his conjecture.
This is, however, not the first time that a possible nexus between foreign elements and the Indian Maoists has been highlighted. In an analysis for Stratfor, Ben West on November 18, 2010 reported an alleged meeting between the Maoists and members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). In his report, West referred to top police authorities in the state of Chhattisgarh saying that two LeT operatives had attended a Naxalite meeting in April or May 2010. It is noteworthy that West was cautious enough to mention that Stratfor was yet to see significant changes on the ground which would lend any credence to the scenario of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) colluding with the Maoists.
Though direct evidence of ISI-Maoist collaboration has been hard to discern, the unholy influence of ISI as a third-party entrant through the northeastern gateway of India is quite plausible. There exists direct linkage between Maoists and the northeastern terrorist/insurgent outfits like the Paresh Baruah-led faction of United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) or Manipur’s People’s Liberation Army, which in turn would have had no qualms in seeking financial and logistical help from ISI.
In late 2014, however, the Maoists spoke out against the state authorities linking Naxalites with the ISI. They have even accused the government of trying to hatch a “conspiracy” to establish their links with Islamist extremists and Pakistan’s ISI.
That reaction from Maoists is only natural.
First, the Maoists, as guerrilla fighters, lead the life of a fish in the sea of people. A nexus with anti-national, communal, and terrorist forces like ISI or ISIS or al-Qaeda, if established, is sure to tarnish their credibility as secular, communist revolutionaries. The masses in the rural and tribal heartlands may lose faith in the left-wing ultras because of their alleged association with unpopular forces. In this manner, the Maoists would jeopardize their source of nourishment, which by all means they would not desire.
Second, the Maoists are bound to lose the ideological support of intellectuals if any perceivable partnership with the ISIS terror mongers is found. The extreme left-wingers would hardly be willing to risk this either.
Third, the fundamental ideology of the Maoists is an antithesis to the basic doctrine of purely communal-terrorist forces like ISIS. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism focuses on class conflict and loathes religious discourse as a “poor man’s opium.” Jihad as advocated by ISIS is infinitely distant from the ideational position of the Maoists.
Though the age-old adage of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” still holds ground in the postmodern age of geo-economics, Maoists would in all probability interpret the saying in conjunction with reality. The Maoists are bound to experience an existential threat if they form an alliance with either ISI or the deadlier ISIS, even if as some analysts may term that as “tactical alliance.” After all, they have always upheld their presence in the sub-continent as indigenous insurgent group, born out of lack of governance and consequent exploitation on the tribes and backward castes by the bourgeoisie-comprador sections.
It is a fact that the Maoists have tendered vocal support to the Kashmir insurgency, to the extent of the right to self-determination of the people of the region. Further, they have also expressed philosophical support to the balkanization of the country if required to meet the aspiration of the people. But it would be indeed ludicrous for them to come out hand-in-glove with an anti-people fundamentalist terrorist network like ISIS.
Does this mean that Maoist-ISIS tactical alliance is a non-starter?
ISIS operatives in India can always contemplate joining hands with the Maoists, since for them it would be a beneficial situation in terms of logistics, arms, ammunition, and training. It is also a fact that any arms or logistics supply deal with ISIS would financially embolden the Maoists, who at present are very much under pressure from the security forces and would find any monetary transaction as oxygen for their “new democratic revolution.” But it is unlikely that the Politburo and the Central Committee of the Maoist hierarchy would acquiesce to such financial greed.
However, the administrative grip of the core leadership on the fringe groups located in various parts of the country is not guaranteed. Hence a tactical alliance of ISIS operatives with fringe Maoist elements or breakaway factions consisting of lumpen cadres always remain a possibility.
There is, however, one issue on which the Maoists find common ground with ISIS, and that is an insurrection against the perceived imperialistic juggernaut of the United States. But it is noteworthy to quote what current Maoist General Secretary Ganapathy had to say in that regard:
“Islamic jihadist movements have two aspects: one is their anti-imperialist aspect, and the other their reactionary aspect in social and cultural matters. Our party supports the struggle of Muslim countries and people against imperialism, while criticizing and struggling against the reactionary ideology and social outlook of Muslim fundamentalism.”
The upshot is clear and obvious. A Maoist-ISI connection may still be in the cards through the northeastern insurgent outfits, with the latter being an arms-cum-logistics supplier, but a Maoist-ISIS tactical alliance is simply not a marriage of convenience for the Maoists. It goes against their very basic principles and theoretical standpoint. Nevertheless, if any cooperation of that nature occurs in the future, then the four-decade-old insurgency would provide its weakest façade to the security forces for final demolition.
Dr. Uddipan Mukherjee, IOFS is Dy. Director at Ordnance Factory Board, under the Ministry of Defense, Government of India. He has been published widely in various national and international think tanks and magazines since 2009. He specialises on insurgency related issues and specifically the Maoist problem in India. The views expressed here are personal and do not reflect those of the Indian government