India: Is the CPI (Maoist) Losing Ground?

South Asia Conflict Monitor, February 2014

For the third year running, Maoists also known as Naxalites (Indian version of left-wing-extremism) related fatalities and incidents have come down in the affected provinces of India. The Maoist conflict review reports indicated that in the year 2013 a total 1,129 incidents took place as compared to 1,415 incidents in 2012. Similarly, the number of fatalities across the country came down to 394 in the review period from 415 in previous year. Jharkhand was the worst-affected with 383 incidents and 150 deaths, which is lower in caparison to the previous year, followed by Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Odisha.  


Does this trend reflect success of government policy or change in the Communist Party of India (Maoists) tactics? A cursory review of the CPI (Maoist) documents, related incidents and government policy indicates that the Maoists have lost ground in terms of popularizing  the movement. There could be a combination of factors behind this trajectory. Some of the important factors are: First, the government policy of targeting top Maoist leaders disturbed the political hierarchy of the outfit. Over the last five years a large number of central committee leaders have been arrested, have surrendered or have been killed. This led to a serious leadership crisis in the party. The security agencies took advantage of differences within the central committee (CC) and the leaders in the state committees, regionalism in the party, ideological differences, debates over the domination of Telugu leaders in the central committee and the politburo and also the views of the People’s War (PW) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) at the lower level especially in the central-eastern part of the country. Apart from this, many top leaders surrendered due to age, poor health and disillusionment with the party ideology. 


Important central committee members who were killed or deserted the party in the last five years include:

•           November 24, 2011: Mallojula Koteswara Rao alias Kishanji

•           July 02, 2010:  Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad          

•           March 12, 2010: Sakhamuri Appa Rao alias Ravialias Venkanna      

•           May 24, 2009: Patel Sudhakar Reddy alias Suryam alias Srikanth K. Venkataiah

•           April 02, 2008: Gajerla Saraiah alias Azad alais Bhaskar

•           June 22, 2007: Sande Rajamouli alias Prasad


Importantly, most of the leaders who deserted the party were second-rung leaders. Further, the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC) spokesperson, GVK Prasad, who surrendered to the Andhra Pradesh police in January 2014, told the media that the CPI-Maoist will have a serious leadership crisis in future since many of its top leaders are either planning to quit the party or surrender due to health, age and ideological differences. Prasad’s surrender was a surprise and a major loss for the party. Media sources indicated that the outfit has 17 CC and six politburo members as of January 2014. The numbers were 40 and 14 respectively in 2007.


The second factor could be the implementation of the two-pronged strategy (development programmes and police action in Maoist-affected areas) by the Centre. Under this strategy, the pressing socio-economic and governance issues in Maoist-affected provinces are addressed, which have been the major planks that help  the Maoists to retain sympathy in tribal and rural areas. Deployment of more than 80 battalions of paramilitary forces along with the state police, modernisation of state police forces, fortification of remotely located police stations, frequent joint-operations, etc., adversely affected the Maoists’ free recruitment and training drives. The use of UAV(unmanned aerial vehicle) facilitated information gathering about Maoist cadre movement in the jungles and training camps. This resulted in speedy and resolute action against them by security forces. Besides this, reactivation of civil administration in the remote areas, police-villagers interaction programme and periodic local body elections severely curtailed recruitment into the outfit. The presence of heavy security and intelligence gathering capacity of the state police forced the Maoists to adopt ‘retreat tactics’ in some newly established zonal committees and base areas. For example, just before the 2009-parliamentary elections, the party decided to change the structure and manpower strength in the squads in certain pockets to evade police attention and used IEDs instead of direct confrontation with the security forces. The party did this to preserve its manpower and inflict maximum damage to the security forces.


Third, the government’s tactic of choking materials supply, funding and source of weapons affected the organisational expansion and capability of the outfit. The central government declared that anybody supporting the Maoists in terms of material and money would be treated as a serious offender. It specially instructed the mining companies operating in the Maoist-affected areas not to give any security money for smooth operation of their business. This policy resulted in breaking of some linkages between mining companies and the Maoists. Fortification of police stations and the district armoury, extra vigil at the borders, initiation of the peace process in the Northeast , dissipation of the LTTE and the mainstreaming of Nepalese Maoists, etc., affected regular supply  of sophisticated weapons into the outfit’s armoury.  In the last five years, therefore, the outfit used mostly explosives collected domestically. Most importantly, the change of government in Bangladesh in 2009 and Awami League’s actions against anti-India elements drastically affected the free-flow of the ISI-supplied weapons to the ULFA and other Northeast-based militant outfits.


Fourth, the degradation and criminalisation of the Maoist movement gave rise to an anti-Maoist movement in some pockets, especially in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha. This local resistance against the Maoists helped the security agencies to regain the areas earlier dominated by the Maoists. The state also carried out anti-Maoist propaganda by citing these examples. Since the Maoists frequently targeted the leaders of these anti-Maoist protests, later, the state obliged them with security. The state also recruited local tribal youths in manage the conflict.


Lastly, some other factors like attractive terms for surrender, recruitment of tribal and rural youth in the Indian army and paramilitary forces, job opportunities in private companies, etc., adversely affected the cadre inflow to the outfit. The youth of these regions were attracted more towards the availability of jobs in the cities than the CPI (Maoist) rank and file. Moreover, a large number of youths from both the rural and urban areas were engaged in civil society-led anti-government movements since 2009. The Maoists, to some extent were supported by these youths earlier on these issues. This alternative political platform has turned many urban and rural youths away from the revolutionary path.


Among the above factors, the leadership in the party was most affected. The party found it difficult to replace the top leaders. Since most of the top leaders are senior citizens, have been ailing, and a committed and dynamic second rung leadership is missing, the outfit may find it difficult to retain its present geographical reach and revolutionary ethos. Moreover, criticism of Maoism in China and failure of the movement in Nepal will make it difficult for the party to justify the relevance of revolution in India before the informed masses. Therefore, the party will focus more on political campaigning to generate awareness among the masses. This will upset the hardline leaders of the party, who have been arguing for immediate armed struggle (military campaigning) to achieve the political goal. This will further intensify the so called ‘two-line struggle’[1] in the party. In the absence of a committed second rung leadership and deepening ‘two-line struggle’ may lead to a split in the party in the near future.

[1] NOTE: There are two views-hardliner and moderate- in the Maoist party. The hardliners argue that the party should immediately capture power through armed revolution. Moderates argue that the party should first initiate awareness programme about the movement then go for military campaigning.


Author Note
Courtsey: South Asia Conflict Monitor, Vol. 1 (9), February 2014