CPI-Maoist: Anxious Course Correction
By Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management
After nearly eight years of its formation on October 14, 2004, the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), admitted that the party had ‘considerably weakened’. In a statement issued by its Central Committee (CC), dated July 5, 2012, the group acknowledged, “Our failures and shortcomings in studying the deceptive strategy of the enemy and taking up counter tactics by understanding the tactics taken by them to wipe (out) our leadership and subjective forces as part of that strategy are reasons behind the serious losses we are facing.”
Earlier, on June 12, 2012, in a press statement issued by Gudsa Usendi, the spokesperson of the Dandyakaranya [forest area situated between the borders of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Odisha] Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC), the rebels admitted that the party had lost 150 members, including senior leaders, cadres and guerrilla fighters, across the country in the preceding year, of which 40 were lost in Dandyakaranya alone.
The Maoists have lost several top leaders since the formation of the group. According to data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, the outfit has lost at least nine members out of the 16-member Politburo of 2007, the highest decision making body, as well 18 members of its 39 member CC [including the 9 politburo members, who are also the members of the CC.] The most prominent losses include Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad (Politburo member and spokesperson, killed on July 2, 2010), Mallojula Koteswara Rao alias Kishanji (member of the Politburo and Central Military Commission killed on November 24, 2011), Kobad Ghandy (Maoist ideologue arrested on September 21, 2009). The Maoists have also lost at least 65 top leaders at various levels. The most recent of these losses was Mohan Vishwakarma, a senior member of the Maoist’s Central Technical Committee and Technical Research and Arms Manufacturing Unit, who was arrested in Kolkata (West Bengal) on July 26, 2012.
The impact of the loss of these leaders is evident, for instance, in West Bengal, where the insurrection had experienced a surge under the leadership of Koteshwar Rao in 2009-10, but has ground to a standstill in the aftermath of his killing in November 2011. West Bengal had registered 636 fatalities in Maoist-related violence in just under three years, since 2009, till the time of Koteshwar Rao’s death, but has recorded just three killings in more than eight months since.
Overall fatalities in Maoist violence across the country have also decreased considerably over the past two years, at least partly due to the impact of leadership losses within the Party, though also, in some measure, due to the winding down of the Centre’s so-called “massive and coordinated operations” against the Maoists after the Chintalnad massacre of Security Force (SF) personnel in April 2010. Thus, just 232 fatalities have been recorded through 2012 (till August 5) as against 602 in 2011, a peak of 1,180 in 2010, and 997 in 2009.
The loss in leadership has also affected party unity, with increasing evidence of rising dissent within the organization, particularly as the Telugu (Andhra Pradesh)-dominated leadership coming under increasing challenge. In Odisha, one of the prominent Maoist leaders, who dominated the ‘Banshadhara Divison’ – Rayagada, Gajapati and Kandhamal Districts – Sabyasachi Panda, Secretary of the Odisha State Organizing Committee (OSOC), has announced his defection from the party and has in a 60 page letter (including a 20 page ‘Basadara Report’ dating back to 2003) criticizing the leadership, recent strategic failures, growing ‘deviations’ - ideological, tactical and cultural, including an increasing proclivity to autocratic command, regional partisanship (in favour of Telugu cadres and leaders), the absence of grievance redressal, ‘cultural hegemony’, intolerance of dissent, “financial anarchy” and sexual improprieties. Reports indicate that Suresh, a ‘unit commander’ belonging to Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC), backed by about 30 cadres, has been searching for Panda across the tribal hamlets in this relatively inaccessible region. An undated letter, signed by ‘Subhash’ of the ‘Banshadhara Divisional Committee’, notes that “senior Maoist leaders of Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh have taken note of the anti-organisational activities of Sabyasachi (Panda). He is suspected of being a mole working for the Intelligence agencies of the government... There is evidence suggest(ing) that he has embezzled party fund and has deposited money in different banks in the name of his wife and children… All his supporters will be given due punishment at an appropriate moment.” In his letter to “comrades in Jail and outside” Panda had voiced his fears that he would be 'annihilated' by the Party.
In another index of declining morale, 145 Maoist militia members surrendered before Police in the Khammam District of Andhra Pradesh, at one time, among the ‘heartland’ areas of the Maoist insurrection, on July 24, 2012. The militia members were from 30 villages on the border of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
With a visible weakening of the movement, even in ‘heartland’ areas, SFs have, for the first time, begun to venture into the Maoist ‘central guerilla zone’ in the Abujhmadh Forest, which extends across roughly 4,000 square kilometers, between Gadchiroli in Maharashtra and Narayanpur in Chhattisgarh. Though the SFs failed to record any major successes, and have conducted at least one botched operation, resulting in the death of 18 persons, most of them civilians, at Sarkeguda in Bijapur District on June 28, 2012, the mere penetration of SFs in the jungles of Abujhmadh symbolizes diminishing Maoist prowess. Inspector General of Police (Operations) in Chhattisgarh, Pankaj Singh, disclosed that 33 Maoist cadres were arrested during an operation carried out through March 5 to 20, 2012.
The Maoists have clearly recognized the crisis within the movement, and have initiated efforts towards course correction. The July 5, 2012, statement notes:
A change must occur in our work methods in accordance with the material conditions, level of the movement and our tasks. Our methods must be improved such that the three magic weapons for victory of revolution — party, people's army and united front — get consolidated and strengthened. (We must) guard against losing manpower by amending flaws that have crept into the outfit.
In an effort to unite separate groups fighting for the same ideology, the CPI-Maoist has decided to call off violence against various Left Wing Extremist (LWE) factions and splinter groups for three months. The Bihar-Jharkhand-North Chhattisgarh Special Area Committee (BJNCSAC) spokesman, Gopal, in a statement issued on June 24, 2012, disclosed that the decision for a ‘unilateral ceasefire’ against other armed groups was taken to invite them to work from a unified and stronger front for the common people, instead of expending their energies in working in their individual capacities: "We can set aside our personal differences in ideology for the betterment of common people and when the government is harassing villagers and trying to suppress their movement for new democracy, all the groups must understand the need of the hour and join hands.”
On the strategic front, the Maoist leadership is reported to have sent key leaders to the AOBSZ from Chhattisgarh to strengthen the party and lift the sagging morale of cadres, to counter losses in the interior forests of Odisha and Chhattisgarh. Gajarla Ashok aka Ranganna aka Janardhan aka Aitu, in-charge of the ‘South Bastar Division’ in DKSZC, has been assigned the crucial responsibility of reviving the party in the AOBSZ, and is to replace current AOBSZ ‘military chief’ Pratapareddy Ramachandra Reddy alias Anjaneyulu who, according to the party, has ‘failed miserably’.
The Maoists continue to insist that the socio-political-economic environment in India creates an ‘excellent revolutionary condition’ in the country, arguing:
Material conditions in our country are increasingly turning favorable to the revolution. All kinds of social contradictions are sharpening. The most reactionary 'Saranda Action Plan' is part of this. Adivasi and other oppressed masses are advancing forward in the revolutionary path under the leadership of the party and the PLGA [People’s Liberation Guerilla Army] by valiantly fighting back such repressive policies of the government. All comrades martyred in B-J [Bihar-Jharkhand] laid down their lives in battles with the enemy while preserving the natural riches that rightfully belonged only to the local people.... If we have to advance the revolution towards victory by utilizing this excellent revolutionary condition, then we must fulfill the following immediate tasks... developing guerilla warfare into mobile warfare and developing PLGA and to turn Dandyakaranya and Bihar-Jharkhand into liberated areas.
The Maoists gained significant momentum in West Bengal during the course of the Nandigram and Singur agitations of 2008-09, but appear to have entered a phase of stasis since 2011. They have created a foothold in Arunachal Pradesh in India’s troubled Northeast, instigating the locals to join anti-dam movements in eastern part of the State, even as reports indicate a consolidation in parts of Assam and Manipur. Andhra Pradesh, which had seen the Maoists virtually expelled from their traditional heartland in the Telangana region, has seen some efforts at restoration, on back of the Telengana agitation for separate statehood. The State recorded its first SF fatality after 2008, on April 26, 2012. While there is evidence of a retraction of the strategy to “extend the people’s war across the country”, in the wake of leadership losses, efforts for consolidation in ‘heartland’ areas, and extension into vulnerable areas, are in evidence along faultlines across the nation, even as the infirmities of governance continue to provide ample opportunities for the resurrection of their ‘dwindling movement’.
Union Minister of State for Home, Jitendra Singh, thus observed, on May 27, 2012:
The Government and the political system is to be blamed for the Maoist problem in India… (There has been a) lack of communication between the government and the people in different areas of the country, which has led to impoverishment. People with vested interest are now taking advantage of the underdevelopment and negligence and instigating the poor to take up arms leading to the Maoist movement in India.
Despite reverses, the Maoists appear to have initiated a course correction. The Government, on the other hand, appears to remain clueless. Despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram repeatedly stressing the enormity of the internal security threat posed by the Maoists, many, both in the States and at the Centre, continue to articulate the position that the Maoists are "misguided youth who have to be dealt with a soft hand”. Reports indicate that several members of the National Advisory Council (NAC), headed by ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, which ‘guides’ the Government in policy making, remain committed to this notion and approach. Several State leaders also advocate the line of ‘negotiating’ with the Maoists to restore ‘peace’. The Odisha Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, on May 21, 2012, thus stated, "I appeal again to my misguided young brothers and sisters who have gone to the Maoist cause... to return to the mainstream."
The Maoists still have an estimated 46,600 armed cadres – 8,600 ‘hardcore’ armed squad members and 38,000 jan militia carrying rudimentary weapons and providing logistics support to the core group of the PLGA. If the present and whimsical approach of clueless state agencies and Governments persist, the Maoist ‘course correction’ is likely to create new dangers in the foreseeable future.