Five Maoists were arrested in the southern peninsula this month, and Home Minister Rajnath Singh said last week that incidents of Maoist violence were on the decline. How relevant is that claim? ASHUTOSH BHARDWAJ answers key questions on the activities of the CPI (Maoist), both in its forest strongholds and clandestine urban bases, and gives a status report on its operations.
Is the CPI (Maoist) on the decline?
Compared to the 2006-2010 period, attacks have been fewer in the last two-three years. But they remain entrenched in the forest zone across central India, and dominate a far wider territory in Dandakaranya now than they did in 2004, when the MCC and CPI (Maoist) merged. In Chhattisgarh, over 50,000 CRPF, BSF, ITBP and state police personnel are fighting the Maoists, but politicians and officials still cannot enter many areas. 2014 is considered among the calmest years in a decade, but it was also the year in which the CRPF suffered its second biggest casualty in a calendar year in Chhattisgarh.
According to Home Ministry figures, from 2008-14, 992 LWE cadres were killed, 13,657 were arrested, 2,608 surrendered. But the data does not distinguish between CPI (Maoist) and other groups, several of which are active in Jharkhand.
It also does not differentiate between Maoists and suspected Maoists, and women and children killed in alleged encounters and tribals sent to jail against flimsy evidence inflate the figures. Again, Home Ministry figures show 671 LWE cadres surrendered last year, the most in the last seven years. Except in 2012, the number of annual surrenders has never crossed 400. Chhattisgarh claimed 421 in 2014, but as The Indian Express has reported, 70% of these individuals did not qualify as Maoists, and were ineligible to surrender. In a way, the data contradicts itself. There are not more than 20,000 armed cadres, and if over 16,000 were accounted for in the last 7 years, the insurrection ought to have nearly disappeared by now.
Underground cadres who operate from cities, sympathizers and supporters. Maoist documents stress on building a strong base in cities, and mention three kinds of urban mass organisations: secret, open and semi-open, and legal, the last including cover organisations and affiliated activists. The forest-based rebellion survives mostly on what Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao calls the “movement in urban areas”. From the urban network come logistics, moral and intellectual support, and the ideological argument for violence. The network is in several cities, and sympathisers occupy prominent positions. Central Committee member Malla Raji Reddy’s daughter Snehlata and son-in-law C Kasim live on the Osmania University campus in Hyderabad. Kasim teaches Telugu, Snehlata edits a journal on revolutionary politics. “We support the Maoist movement, the only path available for the poor and oppressed. There have been setbacks but the movement will go on,” says Kasim.
How does the CPI (Maoist) operate?
A mammoth hierarchical structure operates on a ‘need to know’ basis. At the top is a 20-member Central Committee headed by Muppala Laxmana Rao or Ganapathy. Other CC members include Nambala Keshava Rao or Ganganna who heads the Central Military Commission, military expert and Giridih resident Misir Besara, and Dalit Maharashtrian Milind Teltumbde whose brother is married to the sister of Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of B R Ambedkar.
Under the CC are four regional bureaus, the most significant and active of which, the Central Regional Bureau, is headed by Katakam Sudarshan alias Anand. The CRB has three units: Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee, North Telangana Special Zonal Committee and Andhra Orissa Border Special Zonal Committee. Slain leader Kishanji’s younger brother and CC member Mallojula Venugopal Rao or Bhupathi is in charge of the DKSZC, the headquarters of the CPI (Maoist), and home to some of the top leadership. CC member Akkiraju Haragopal, who led the talks with the YSR government in 2004, is in charge of AOBSZC. Its secretary is Modem Bala Krishna, also a CC member. CC member Pulluri Prasad Rao alias Chandanna heads the NTSZC. The North Regional Bureau comprises units in Delhi, Punjab, J&K, Himachal, Uttarakhand and UP, and is mostly defunct.
Zonal or state committees are divided into area committees, which form the Revolutionary People’s Council in villages. These have successfully replaced panchayats in many areas of Dandakaranya.
What is their military capacity?
Bastar has two major battalions, Jharkhand has a fledgling one. The South Bastar battalion, formed in 2009 and headed by Hidma, has the finest guerrillas and has carried out nearly all major attacks in recent years. The Abujhmaad battalion, headed by Ramdher, was formed in 2012 primarily to protect the top leadership soon after CRPF entered the area. Each battalion has formations of company, platoon and squad, but their numbers vary. Bombmaking capacity was hit after the head of the Technical Research Arms Manufacturing Unit Sadanala Ramkrishna was arrested in 2012. His aide Deepak Parghania, an award-winning technician from SAIL’s Bhilai plant, was arrested too. Units in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Jharkhand and Andhra manufacture artillery, rifle parts, pressure mines, rocket launchers.
Are there any fissures within?
Over the last decade, several senior cadres have questioned the preeminent focus on violence, to the exclusion of mass awakening, building bases in universities. Public executions in Jan Adalats have earned the wrath of tribals in many cases. “They are leading a necessary movement, but they need to review their violence,” surrendered CC member Lanka Papi Reddy has said. Former DKSZC spokesperson Gudsa Usendi alias Sukhdev has voiced reservations against highhandedness by cadres. Of late, the Maoists have issued several apologies for attacks.
Where has the state failed?
A democratic state functioning within the Constitution and law has a fundamental handicap in dealing with the challenge. There have been no killings in Andhra and Telangana of late, but teachers, writers and journalists in cities from Warangal to Guntur feed the movement many ways. Seminars in Hyderabad celebrated the 10th anniversary of the CPI (Maoist) last year. Spokesperson Azad lived in Delhi for years with his wife. There are enough disillusioned youth who are attracted to their ideology, and to the lure of the gun and romance of a forest life. In the end, the state must be able to demonstrate that the political system is not just for the moneyed, manipulative and powerful.