It is a question worth asking due to two reasons. One is of a rumour arising from the Bihar Jharkhand North Chhattisgarh Special Area Committee (BJNCSAC). The second: recent statements by the spokesperson and member of the Central Committee of the Maoists Venugopal Rao alias Abhay, the younger brother of slain Maoist politburo member Koteswara Rao alias Kishenji. In the statement, Abhay says that peace talks are ruled out while the government continues its counter to the Maoist offensive.
The grapevine is ripe with rumours that the party has been dealing with internal strife for sometime. A source claims that trouble is brewing for two reasons. First, a majority of the tribal Maoists feel alienated by the upper hand exercised by the Telegu cadre (an old complaint) and second, there has been some conflict between BJNCSAC’s political and guerilla army chief, Dev Kumar Singh alias Arvindji and Abhay.
There is little or no murmur about this in the Central or state intelligence circles, but Abhay’s recent statements add fuel to the speculation of a possible split in the CPI(Maoist).
The party was formed after a merger of the CPI(Marxist-Leninist) and its various factions with the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) active in Bihar, Jharkhand and parts of West Bengal. Their areas of operations overlapped in several places and often led to fratricide among otherwise ideologically aligned groups.
On 7 January 2013, Arvindji, a protégé of the jailed Maoist politburo leader Narayan Sanyal, was conducting a guerilla drill in the heart of Katiyar forest in Latehar district of Jharkhand when some counter-insurgency operations were launched to cut him off. It led to an exchange of fire between security forces and the Maoist guerillas.
The security forces suffered at the hands of the Maoists and 10 CRPF personnel were killed. When the security personnel tried to recover the bodies of slain CRPF jawans the next day, villagers helping the forces died in explosions as the bodies of the slain jawans were found booby-trapped with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
According to earlier reports, it is believed that Nambala Keshava Rao, or Basavraj, head of the Maoists’ central military commission, had masterminded the booby-trapping of the slain CRPF jawans’ bodies. Human rights groups, including several that sympathise with the Maoist cause, decried the incident.
In a recent interview, Abhay condemned the actions of Arvindji’s battalion in planting IEDs inside corpses, especially when it can cause damage to bystanders, and went on to say that it was “unacceptable”.
He also said that in the ongoing “civil war” the State “inflicted serious damages to the revolutionary movement” and the guerillas now have to function under extreme conditions.
“In this course, due to lack of experience, due to lack of knowledge about the norms, rules and regulations regarding wars that are prevalent in the world, our people and fighters are acting in manners which are unacceptable even to our supporters. Such instances are painful. The well-wishers of the revolution and pro-people forces are asking us to avoid such things,” Abhay said. The Central Committee spokesperson goes on to say that this has given ammunition to the Indian government to sway support away from the Maoists.
“The party, which is fighting to build a new society and the people’s army, regardless of the pressure under which we work, should choose appropriate forms of struggle to fight the enemy. When seen from such a point of view, although mistakes such as this occur rarely, it is necessary to avoid them. When weapons like IEDs are planted with the aim of inflicting damage on enemy forces, the possibility of causing damage to the people and those who are not directly participating in the war like employees in civil administration, medical personnel and civilians, should be avoided,” he added.
Abhay stressed on ensuring due respect to the dead bodies of jawans and sticking to the party’s policy on this issue. “We instruct our cadres that they should treat the bodies of slain enemy soldiers keeping this in view. On behalf of our Central Committee, I appeal to our party and our comrades in the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army that this incident should be taken as a lesson and our party policy should be implemented.”
Last month, Maoist cadres in Chhattisgarh killed 15 CRPF personnel who chanced upon a group of Maoists while on an ‘area domination patrol’. Last year, the Maoists killed several Congress leaders and others in Darbha Ghati, Chhattisgarh.
In the same statement, Abhay rules out any peace talks till there is a change in the government’s attitude towards the Maoists. This, according to Abhay, includes recognising the Maoist insurgency as a civil war, lifting the ban on Maoist outfits, recognising it as a political outfit engaged in people’s causes, freeing Maoists lodged in jail and withdrawing government troops.
According to the Maoists, the Indian government has used peace talks in the past to intensify its counter-insurgency operations. Abhay drew references to a 2009 incident in which Maoist leader Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad was killed, while he was supposed to represent the Maoists at peace talks with the government, ruining the chances of any further dialogue. He also cites the example of Riyaz who was killed the same way and said that the ground for peace talks between the Maoists and the government would be laid only when there were judicial inquiries into the two killings.
The Maoists maintain that historically, governments have come to power with the promise of holding talks with the Maoists. Take the case Andhra Pradesh: Chenna Reddy in 1990, Chandrababu Naidu in 1996 and YS Rajasekhara Reddy in 2004 came to power promising talks with the Maoists. YSR later went on to launch a heavy counter-offensive against the Maoists using the AP Police’s elite special task force called Greyhounds.
Maoists lay down these conditions for any peace talks claiming that CMs and Congress leaders have directly or indirectly approached them for peace talks. Since these are pre-conditions that the Indian government will not agree with, it is evident that the Maoists are not amenable to talks in the present climate despite the possibility.
As expected, the Maoists want the polls to be boycotted and slam all the three parties in the limelight — the Congress, the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Abhay says that the Congress’ failures and oppression in the past 10 years is evident, and given a chance, the BJP would resort to the same on a dictatorial, fascist mode.
They shelve AAP as a “safety valve to divert people’s anger into peaceful and parliamentary solutions and trying to cash in on it”, saying the party employed Gandhian principles when a revolution was required. The Maoists also reject the NOTA option on the electronic voting machines, asserting that it is not a right to recall or reject a candidate.
Despite the statement, candidates in some states have been negotiating with local Maoist commanders to ensure support, because in many places, the armed man from the jungle has a stronger voice than the security personnel and the politician who strolls into the hinterland for a few days every five years.