India Maoist Assessment: 2014
In a searing self-assessment, the Central Committee (CC) of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), at its 4th Meet, some time in April-May 2013, conceded, "the condition of our countrywide movement is critical". And further,
No official or outside assessment has been quite as devastating as the 4th CC's resolutions, reiterated thereafter in the Revolutionary Greetings for the 9th Anniversary of the party (September 21-27, 2013). Unsurprisingly, given the acknowledged weakening of the party, fatalities linked to Maoist violence across the country have remained relatively low, at 421 in 2013 [including 159 civilians, 111 Security Force (SF) personnel and 151 insurgents], less than 36 per cent of the peak fatalities in 2010, at 1,180 (626 civilians, 277 SF personnel and 277 Maoists), according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database. The 2013 figure, however, represents a significant escalation, after three years of continuous decline, from 367 fatalities in 2012 [146 civilians; 104 SF personnel; 117 Maoists]. Initial data for 2014 suggests a continuation of this escalating trend, with 81 already killed by March 17. Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) data, however, indicates a continuance of the declining trend through 2012-2013, with 394 fatalities recorded in 2013, as against 415 in 2012, 611 in 2011 and 1,005 in 2010.
In a frustratingly familiar pattern, 16 persons – 11 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, four Chhattisgarh Policemen and one civilian, were killed on March 11, 2014, when CPI-Maoist cadre and militia ambushed a road opening party at Tahakwada on National Highway 30 near Tongpal in Sukma District. The incident occurred just eight kilometres away from Jeeram Ghati, where Maoists had massacred 31 people, including the top State leadership of the Congress Party, on May 25, 2013. The incident demonstrated, once again, the Maoist capacities to deliver lethal strikes against SFs, despite the reverses they have suffered, even as they exposed the persisting weaknesses of State response.
Crucially, in the immediate aftermath of the Tahakwada attack, the CRPF Inspector General (IG) in Chhattisgarh, H.S. Siddhu, blamed the State Police leadership for blocking a 'massive operation' across Maoist 'base zones' in Bastar, which, he asserted, could have prevented the March 11 attack. Siddhu told the media, "The plan was to mobilize forces and undertake effective operations in all the base areas of the Maoists before the beginning of the Tactical Counter Offensive in March. The CRPF saw it as a window of opportunity to destabilise the Maoists and damage their military capacity before the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) elections." The requisite force of 3,000 CRPF personnel had assembled at Jagdalpur and was on its way to Bijapur, from where operations were to commence, when permission was denied by the State Police. The last leg of the proposed operations was intended to target the Darbha and Tongpal zones, around March 10, and, Sidhu points out, "the massive entry of Forces would have sanitized the entire area and the recent incident would have been averted." The denial of permission by the State Police appears to have been based on the assessment of the Bijapur Superintendent of Police, Prashant Aggarwal, who cautioned against 'military adventurism', arguing that he did not have sufficient Forces to lend for the operation (the CRPF is required to be accompanied by contingents of State Police), and that the CRPF's proposals "were risky" as "the area being addressed is one of the highly affected." Senior Chhattisgarh Police leaders subsequently criticized Sidhu for "raising confidential issues of national security through media".
The merits or otherwise of the CRPF proposal notwithstanding, the spat exposed the continuing discordance between Central and State Forces on issues of strategic and tactical response to the Maoist challenge. The incoherence, indeed, pointlessness of political reactions in the wake of the incident gives little further grounds for confidence, with the Union Minister for Home Affairs, Sushil Kumar Shinde, issuing a gratuitous threat, "We will definitely take revenge", and ordering an investigation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) into the attack. This, it seems, has become a UMHA ritual for major incidents now, ignoring the rather discouraging fact that there is still no word on the progress in the investigation by NIA into the earlier Darbha Valley incident of May 2013. The principal function of the NIA, it would appear, is now to give politicians the cover of an illusion of response, in the absence of any real effort to address the challenge of the Maoist insurgency.
Chhattisgarh State Chief Minister Raman Singh added to the vapidity of these responses, declaring grandly that there would be "no let up on anti-Naxalite operations". The fact that his own Police leadership was complaining, at precisely the same time, of a lack of sufficient Forces in the core areas of response, appears to have no bearing on this expression of 'determination', or on the Chief Minister's assessment of existing operational capabilities of the State Police. Worse, recent cases of visible political collusion with Maoist facilitators in Raipur and Kanker have provoked neither comment from the Chief Minister, not effective response against political leaders of both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the principal opposition Congress Party in the State, months after the arrest of eight conspirators, who were running an urban network for the Maoists. The 'kingpin' of this operation, Dharmendra Chopra, was arrested while fleeing in a car belonging to Sohan Potai, the BJP Member of Parliament from Kanker. In his interrogation, Chopra disclosed that he was knowingly supported in his activities by Potai, as well as by BJP Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Vikram Usendi, and Congress MLA Mohan Mandavi.
Chhattisgarh is not alone in the confusion of its perspectives and responses. At a time of considerable weakening of the Maoist operational capabilities across the principal theatres of their activity, almost all the worst afflicted States continue to display a comparable lack of focus, with the notable exception of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal. There have, of course, been dramatic gains in Odisha as well, but these are the consequence, principally, of the disintegration of the Party structure in the State after CPI-Maoist 'State secretary' Sabyasachi Panda's defection in August 2012. The cumulative impact, however, is a significant reduction in Districts affected by Maoist activities and violence, from a total of 223 in 2008, down to 182 in 2013, including 76 Districts recording violence during the year, and another 106 in which Maoists retained some influence, according to official sources. Significantly, UMHA had indicated a decline to 173 Maoist affected Districts [87 recording violence, and 86, other activities], in June 2012.
The Maoists have pinned some hopes for a revival in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, where they had spearheaded the movement for the formation of a separate State, with the legislative separation of the Telangana and Seemandhra regions receiving Presidential assent on March 1, 2014. The 4th CC Meet Resolutions thus observed, "In Telangana the movement for Separate Telangana is developing in militant forms. Revolutionary political and propaganda agitations are ongoing widely in AP, NT and AOB. People are getting consolidated through various people's movements." Maoist optimism on Telangana, however, is likely to be belied by future events. Even if a politically sympathetic regime is installed after the formation of the new State in June 2014, sheer administrative imperatives will eventually make it necessary for the Government to eventually restore anti-Maoist operations in the region - a pattern that has been repeated on several occasions in the past. Moreover, the social, economic and administrative conditions in the Telangana region, graphically documented in the CPI-Maoist's Social Investigation of North Telangana: Case Study of Warangal, have rendered the region and population substantially unreceptive, if not actively hostile, to the Maoists' revolutionary creed. Moreover, with the capital city, Hyderabad, going to the new Telangana State, the administrative and security leadership, as well as the resource and infrastructure profile, are unlikely to suffer the kind of haemorrhaging that afflicted new States such as Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand after their formation in 2000.
Among the various responses to their current crises, the Maoists have emphasised that their efforts must be focused to "preserve the subjective forces (from CC up to party cell) from enemy onslaught" and "particularly priority should be given to preservation of top level leadership forces". After sustained leadership losses since 2007, the Maoists appear to have taken some effective measures to contain this trend. Only one Central Committee member from Assam was arrested in 2013, while Maoist fatalities through the year included no leader above the level of State committee members. However, in a major shock to the system, the high profile spokesperson of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC), G V K Prasad alias Gudsa Usendi, surrendered to SFs on January 8, 2014.
The Maoists have also resolved to "fight back the enemy onslaught on strategic area and guerilla bases. As part of this people and the People’s Militia should be rallied on a vast scale and mine warfare should be intensified." The efficient harnessing of diminished resources, and concentrated attacks on the weakest links of the state Forces are integral to this effort, and at least some successes have been notched up by the Maoists. For instance, nearly 70 percent [78 out of 111] of SF personnel killed in Maoist attacks in 2013, have been killed in major incidents (each resulting in three or more fatalities); the proportion of SFs killed in major incidents was just around 50 per cent [53 out of 104] in 2012, indicating a sharp increase in lethality, despite the declining frequency of attacks. The most notable single strike was the killing of Mahendra Karma, the controversial leader of the Salwa Judum, former Union Minister V.C. Shukla and Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committe president Nandkumar Patel and his son in the Darbha Valley ambush, in which a total of 27 persons were massacred on May 25, 2013.
The Maoists have also fully exploited the overwhelming posture of passive defence adopted by state Forces, particularly State Police formations, in the affected States. Partial data compiled by SATP indicates that, of total of 76 armed confrontation between the Police and Maoist cadres resulting in fatalities in 2013, 49 were initiated by the Maoists, and 27 by the SFs. Of these, 28 were major incidents, among which 16 were initiated by the Maoists and 12 by the SFs.
In another element of their tactical response to the crisis within the movement, the Maoists have enormously escalated their campaigns against alleged 'police informers', and civilians seen to be sympathetic to the state or to 'enemy classes'. UMHA data, for instance, indicates that 465 alleged "police informers" were killed by the Maoists between 2011 and 2013, accounting for over 44 per cent of the 1,049 civilian fatalities over this period. Such killings are ordinarily executed with a high measure of demonstrative cruelty on the principle, "kill one, frighten ten thousand".
The Maoists have devised a 15 point two year plan for the revival of their 'countrywide movement'. The losses they have suffered over the past years have tempered the euphoria and adventurist expansionism that followed the unification of the People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre, and the formation of the CPI-Maoist, in September 2004. Despite defections, losses and a visible degree of demoralization, however, the core leadership remains committed to its radical project of revolutionary violence, and its conviction that the present reverses are only part of the inevitable cycle of 'advancing and retreating' that is the essence of the 'revolution'.
Past experience has, moreover, demonstrated repeatedly that the insurgents' capacity for recovery is overwhelmingly a function of the quality, character and persistence of state responses, rather than of revolutionary intent. It is here that India's greatest vulnerabilities lie: in the inability of the political executive and bureaucracy to create the necessary capacities to confront this challenge on any of its component dimensions, despite the unending deluge of rhetoric on 'holistic' and 'multi-pronged' solutions. Indeed, the 'battalion approach' - the mechanical shuffling about of troops - and fitful operations to secure transient 'area domination', remain the core of the state's 'strategy'. This is despite the recurring failure of this expedient, and the repeated loss of life among troops flung far and wide in grossly insufficient numbers, often with little training, poor technical and technological support, and little chance of quick reinforcement in case of ambush.
The Maoists have displayed tremendous capacities for resurgence in the past, and surviving is, for any insurgent formation, the essence of winning. For all their reverses, the Maoists have survived, and continue to hope for a future victory.