On 14 September, as it rained early in the morning along the Naxal-infested Odisha-Chhattisgarh border, 14 Maoists were killed in an encounter in the border district of Malkangiri in Odisha. Rain muffled the sound of approaching footsteps and the rebels were literally caught napping.
A week later, in a signed resolution, CPI (Maoist) General Secretary Muppalla Laxman Rao alias Ganapathy admitted that the Maoist insurgency is at its lowest ebb. The 7,000-word resolution that made headlines last week, laments the decreasing influence of the rebels in key areas — like Dandakaranya in Chhattisgarh, Bihar-Jharkhand area, Andhra- Odisha border, and North Telangana — as well as the “non-proletarian” tendencies creeping within the rebels. It also bemoans the blows suffered by the rebels on the arms front, as the government has “damaged” their “central weapon manufacturing and supply departments”.
The number of cadres — earlier thought to be between 10,000-12,000 — the resolution claims, has decreased. Ganapathy pointed out that only three Central Committee (CC) members working outside guerrilla zones were free. The rest have been killed or are in custody.
During the last party congress in 2007, the CPI(Maoist) had around 40 CC members and 14 Politburo (PB) members. Today, only 20 CC and seven PB members exist. The resolution called on the rebels to free jailed comrades through legal or illegal means, including jailbreaks.
While many rebels have surrendered or joined mainstream politics, several others have become police informers, joined vigilante groups or formed gangs of extortionists.
Coincidentally, last week rebels in Jharkhand sent out a press release stating that former Bihar-Jharkhand Special Area Committee members Madan Pal, Ranjan Yadav and Karimji are police stooges. The release also claimed that a Jan Adalat (people’s court) has decided to hand out capital punishment to the three. All the three want to contest MP and MLA seats in the coming 2014 elections by procuring tickets from a political party based in Jharkhand.
A senior home ministry official and counter-insurgency expert says the Maoist assessment of the ground situation is realistic and corroborates government findings. “In the resolution adopted by the Central Committee, Ganapathy mentions that they have been forced out of their traditional homes. This refers to the several areas where they had strongholds, including their ‘liberated zones’ such as Garu, Saranda and Chakrabandha in Jharkhand; and Medinipur and Jangalmahal in West Bengal. They also refer to losing four or five ‘arms factories’ and that shows their weakening position,” he says.
The government, however, continues to maintain caution as it believes that the resolution is an indication of a protracted war. The rebels, the government believes, will use this as a ruse to open up channels of communication while they go on a recruiting spree — a simple diversionary tactic. “This letter and the way it has been presented cannot be taken at face value. But, the violence suggested in terms of jailbreaks is not surprising and there is need for caution. Look at the jailbreak in Giridih, Jharkhand. The commander who was freed, Parvez, then went on to assist Chirag, the zonal commander in Jamui, Bihar, in several incidents that gave the state a headache,” says the official.
With the Maoist resolution making no bones about raising the level of violence, both security circles as well as those who have opposed Indian state’s offensive on the Naxals are anxious. EN Rammohan, former director general of the BSF, feels that the situation is only going to get more ugly. “From the resolution, I cannot make out whether the facts are as on the ground. The facts mentioned could be misleading or true. This will have to be corroborateed with available data to assess whether this is the genuine condition or whether this letter has been leaked to mislead the government,” he says. The only way the government can end the Naxal problem, says Rammohan, is by implementing the Fifth Schedule and granting the tribals their land rights.
Following the resolution, several newspapers and think tanks have claimed that the Maoist movement is indeed at its lowest. “Doubtless, the influence of the Maoists is reducing. Their movement has plateaued, and, hence, the attempts to penetrate urban centres,” says PV Ramana, a security analyst at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses.
Human Rights activists, who have been voicing their dissent against the State’s offensive, feel Operation Greenhunt has now reached our cities. Following arrests of Hem Mishra, a cultural activist, and Prashant Rahi, a journalist-turned- activist, in Gadchiroli, the Delhi Police Special Cell landed at the doorsteps of GN Saibaba, a Delhi University professor, who is also the convenor of the Forum Against War On People, a civil society group. “They want to silence me as the home ministry has received thousands of protest letters thanks to our efforts in the international arena against Operation Greenhunt. On the one hand, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh consults me on village development and, on the other hand, his government sends police who lock me up in my own house for four hours,” he told TEHELKA. Saibaba — with 90 percent disability — has decided to stand his ground.
In an effort to win over the hearts and minds of the tribal population, the Centre has also set up a high-level committee directly under the PM, headed by Virginius Xaxa, a well-known tribal scholar, to examine their socio-economic condition. Xaxa is also part of the National Advisory Council working group that is examining possibilities of government intervention in development projects where the human costs are high.
Welcoming these steps, human rights activist Himanshu Kumar says that violence could be on the wane in the future. “There is no doubt that the Naxals brought the question of Adivasi rights to the forefront of national discourses. However, this government at one point was going for a completely militaristic approach to deal with Maoists. Thankfully, they are now looking at granting Adivasis their land rights, and providing healthcare and education. When this happens, young educated Adivasis will want jobs and will be on the government’s side,” he says.
Currently, there are over 75,000 personnel, along with state police, SPOs and other paramilitary forces like the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Indo- Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), fighting “the biggest internal security threat”. Apart from state-of-the-art weaponry, the State has drones as well as combat helicopters that are aiding the offensive. On the other hand, the Maoists with their stolen cache of sophisticated weapons, are promising a bitter protracted war. Himanshu’s optimism notwithstanding, a collision course has already been paved as far as armed Maoists and security forces are concerned. In this case too, proponents of a strong State are willing to embrace collateral damage and civilian casualties. The war is far from being over yet.
With inputs from Ushinor Majumdar