Assaying Naxalism, India’s seven decades old Maoist ‘revolutionary’ movement, with all the complexities it inheres, is a complex task. For, in over seven decades, despite having common basic features from what began in the 1940s in British India in the throes of partition and independence in Telangana region of the state of Hyderabad, it has changed shades, despite the predominating red that has continued to be its pervading shade all along. Second, even as the movement is weakening, almost terminally, under its own weight as well as due to fierce campaigns of the security forces, issues that it exposed in its different phases – the need for land reforms, development deficit, displacement rehabilitation hiatus, et al – continue to be issues that dog India even as it braces to enter the third decade of the twenty-first century. Third, it presents before us three entirely opposite and contrasting perspectives with several strands, each encompassing paradoxes of governance and security. The three perspectives are that of the Maoist revolutionaries, the people (particularly tribals and dalits inhabiting the area) and the Indian state.
India’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist (MLM) movements, popularly known as the Naxalite movement after Naxalbari village in eastern state of West Bengal where the movement erupted in 1967,present perfect examples of conflict situations arising out of ‘revolutionary’ movements erupting due to centuries of lack of governance and the emerging paradoxes of mal-governance and the dilemma of the society and the polity to resolve them with approaches aimed at security (predominantly) and economic development. Its beginning in 1944 in Telangana, a region in Andhra Pradesh state and a state since 2014, was in a situation of complete lack of governance and economic deprivation and the presence of a dehumanizing and a suffocating feudal order. Indeed, the rejection of India’s independence, the new democratic regime and the constitution by the Communist Party of India (CPI), perpetuated the movement since 1947. While it was suppressed with security measures, the beginning of the Bhoodan(donation of land) movement by Gandhian Acharya Vinoba Bhave that weaned away a substantial section of the people involved in the movement indicated that redistribution of land and economic development could be the key to resolving the rationale for revolutionary politics.Its re-eruption in 1967 in Naxalbari was also in a similar scenario of the absence of governance and development and presence of feudal exploitation. Though suppressed with a heavy hand by 1972, land reforms carried out by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) led government in West Bengal during 1969-72 also helped. Obviously, its spread since to one-third of the districts in the country, with some popular following, to the extent that it is perceived as a serious security threat to the country, reflects continuing development deficit.
From the perspective of the communist parties, their leaders and their MLM lens, which gives them the objective situation of the presence of extremely poor and exploited peasants by a bourgeois Indian society and state to organise the masses for ‘revolution’. Indeed, though the government of independent India could not have changed the situation overnight, but to the communists it was a sham independence as power continued to be monopolized by the bourgeoisie and the landed aristocracy. Hence, the constitution and democracy too did not favour the poor and the working class. Hence, the situation was apt to apply the logic of ‘revolution’. If the successful model of the Soviet Russia was there to be followed and applied in 1944-51, the initiatives in the late 1960s and in the 1980s were inspired by Mao’s Chinese revolution. The emphasis on armed struggle against the Indian state and ‘annihilation’ of class enemies brought them in confrontation with the state and its security establishment.
From the perspective of the people in the midst of the MLM ‘revolution’, we are looking at both similarities and differences. If there are similarities in objective situation, differences are also stark – from the peasants of Telangana and West Bengal to the tribals of Andhra Pradesh (both united and bifurcated), Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa/Odisha and Maharashtra (Gadchiroli district) and dalits of Bihar form the universe of the exploited and those mobilised for the ‘revolution’. Acute economic deprivation and socio-economic exploitation of this universe inhabiting different states and regions by farmers, landlords, money lenders and administration are the similarities that created the rationale for initiating the revolutionary struggle, creating a fertile ground for these people for being recruited among the ranks of the ‘red revolutionaries’.
The Indian state that transitioned from a colonial government when the movement was first organised between 1944 and 1951 to a constitutional democratic government since 15 August 1947, could immediately look at it only as a security issue. Significantly, the need for looking into the grievances of the people in the paradoxical vortex of deprivation and the revolution was also recognized. Engaged with settling multiple crises of partition, integration of states and the task of framing a constitution, the responsibilityof soothing the social rage was given to Acharya Vinoba Bhave. The initiative brought up the need for looking into and settling the land question. Thus, even though the Indian state recognized the acute deprivation, landlessness and inequity leading to a disequilibrium in human security in the regions where the MLM movements grew, it has viewed the phenomenon largely from the security perspective because it has been unable to bridge the persisting economic hiatus.
From the Forties to the Millennium
The six-decade journey of the MLM movements (despite the ideological and party linkages, each movement had its characteristics rooted in the local specificities, hence movements in the plural), before they regrouped in the new millennium, is not unilinear. Yet commonalities can be discerned in each of the three significant phases of its formative period. The plight of the people exploited by the established socio-economic structure, a repressive state structure unsympathetic to their miseries and a party with ideologically motivated leadership were the required conditions that were present.In each case, a spark was needed to trigger the revolt; the party took over the uprising thenceforward. Obviously, the state had little option but to tackle the emerging security scenario.
The Telangana Movement: With the exploited peasants of Telangana region of the Hyderabad state in ferment over repressive regimes of the Doras (the local landlords) and the Deshmukhs (the revenue collectors) under the rule of the Nizam, it was a perfect political setting for the Communist Party of India (CPI) to step in. Andhra Mahasabha, a local organisation formed in 1928, was the ready platform for mobilization.
While the food crisis during the Second World War brought inflation in its wake, the peasants got reduced price for their food grain and paid more for their necessities. Taking advantage, the Deshmukhs seized their land, swelling the number of landless peasants. The Nizam’s compulsory grain levy campaign of 1941 added to the discontent.When the economic crisis of 1945 came, the peasants resisted any attack by the landlords. When the movement turned violent in 1946,the Central Committee of the CPI launched a militant mass struggle . With three million peasantry from 3,000 villages setting up gram raj (village republic) with the help of a village militia (10,000 village squad and 2,000 guerrilla squad), one million acres of land were seized from the fleeing landlords and distributed among the peasantry, forced labour was abolished and an increased minimum wage was fixed.
After the accession of Hyderabad state to India in 1948, the martial law administration suppressed the Communists. The CPI unsuccessfully attempted re-launching guerrilla warfare. By the beginning of the 1950s the movement was considerably weakened. On 9 February 1951 a delegation of the CPI met Russian leader Stalin, who advised them to give India’s parliamentary democracy a chance. On 18 April 1951, Acharya Vinoba Bhave launched the Bhoodan movement at Pochampally village in Nalgonda district. These two incidents brought India’s brush with the first-ever Marxist-Leninist revolution to a close. The CPI began preparing for its participation in India’s first parliamentary elections under the constitution enacted in 1950.
Naxalbari: Between the withdrawal of the Telangana movement in 1951 and the tribal-peasant uprising on March 3, 1967 in Naxalbari village in West Bengal’s northern district Darjeeling, the CPI’s mulling over its politics in parliamentary and revolutionary modes naturally caused an ideological rupture and a split in 1964 and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) came into existence. While the CPI worked in the Siliguri subdivision of Darjeeling district during 1950s, the CPM took over the mantle in 1964. The CPI contested each of the four general election 1952, despite practicing China’s revolutionary path, CPM, also contested 1967 elections.
The Naxalbari uprising was precipitated due to decade-long mobilisation, indoctrination and arming of the exploited and oppressed tribals and peasants by the CPI/CPM of the peasants in the area. Since the 1954 land reforms Act was not implemented effectively, of 17,000 acres available for redistribution only 7,500 acres could be redistributed till 1967. Consequently, over fifty percent of the cultivators in this area were left with one to five acres of land, insufficient to make both ends meet. Compelled to share crop jotedars’ land, they also got only half of the harvest in kind (paddy) against two-thirds provided for in the West Bengal Estates Act of 1954, they were dependent on the jotedars for all their needs, which came at a high interest.No wonder the situation culminated in an attack on a jotedar’s granary. Clashes with the police in Naxalbari, Phansideva and Kharibari Police Stations (PS) of Darjeeling signalled beginning of the Naxalbari movement. However, since the CPM had won 43 seats in 280-member West Bengal Legislative Assembly in the 1967 general election, making it a significant player in the anti-Congress coalition that formed the government in the state, the CPM-in-government and the CPM-in-revolution developed a major ideological hiatus that caused another split in 1969.
Before that, the stir also fell victim to doctrinaire leaders Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal, who agreed that ‘Chinese path is the path of liberation in India; (and) agrarian revolution can be completed through armed struggle’, but differed on strategy. Following the Burragunj Conference in April-May 1967 the emerging consensus advocated seizure of land from the jotedars and planters (who had purchased land from the poor peasants), cultivate the land and share half the produce from plantation workers’ land.
In the meantime, the government followed a carrot and stick policy, asking the leaders of the movement to surrender by 4 July 1967, which was predictably ignored leading to arrest of the key leaders. It also acted on land reforms to restore confidence among the people and by September, the government claimed to have distributed 984.22 acres of land among 686 persons, but the basic problem of peasant alienation could not be solved.
The CPM split in 1969 and the new-born CPI (ML) decided to resume the movement in December 1969, which turned more party-based, conspiratorial and violent, relying increasingly on terror by its guerrilla squads, neglecting mass mobilization of the peasants and focus on agrarian issues. Interestingly, despite frequent labour unrests in West Bengal industries during the late 1960s and marked increase in the left-supported student agitations, the Naxalite movement did not have a significant urban impact. The government retaliated strongly, crushing it by mid-1972.
The Srikakulam Movement:
The tribal-peasant movement against the miseries of the hill tribes in Srikakulam, the northernmost district in Andhra Pradesh, in 1959 with the formation of the Irian Sangham (Hill People’s Association) indicated persistence of the issues of the 1946 ‘revolution’. In 1965, the Sangham organised a conference of 300 representatives of the agricultural workers in the area, making them conscious of their rights.
Vempatapu Satynarayana, a schoolteacher, organised the girijans of Parvathipuram taluk of Srikakulam district into a non-violent movement against exploitation. Impressed with his struggle and commitment, Andhra Communist leaders persuaded him to join the CPI. His peaceful agitations on the wage issue were frustrated in face of the organised violence by the landlords with the complicity of the state administration and the police. The agitation turned violent. He was eventually killed by the police in 1970.
In this primarily agricultural district with overwhelming agricultural labour and non-working population, big farmers routinely grabbed the land belonging to small cultivators, despite legal restrictions on the transfer of tribal land to other. The legislations to prevent the indebtedness and the creation of Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Tribes Cooperative Finance and Development Corporation in 1956 had failed in their purpose. Government rules and corrupt local officials created hurdles for tribal access to forest land for the collection of forest produce and for cultivation. Sometimes in the process of reserving forestlands, the tribals were forced to leave their homes .
The death of a tribal on October 31, 1967 at the hands of a landlord eventually provided the spark and, “between early 1968 and late 1970 the revolutionaries had mobilized almost the entire tribal population in the Srikakulam Agency Area, carried out numerous attacks resulting in the death of at least 34 landlords. In … July 1969, the revolutionaries controlled nearly 300 villages out of the 518 in the Agency. The … Ryotanga Sangram Samithis, ruled over the region, tried the moneylenders in Praja Courts (People’s Courts), annulled debt agreements, redistributing land and conducted military training among the people.”
The Andhra Naxalite leaders joined the newly formed CPI(ML) in mid-May 1969, adopting Charu Mazumdar’s strategy of annihilating landlords, police personnel and informers and shifting from mass activity to relying on guerrilla squads for annihilation, which weakened the movement by mid-1970 . The police retaliated by declaring Srikakulam a disturbed area, killing and arresting a number of Naxalites. Their annihilation tactics proved disastrous in the plains, where the movement was organisationally weak, and boomeranged. In the hills, it did not remain confined to the dalams (squads) as hundreds of girijans participated in brutal killings, alienating a portion of the population, including the girijans.
The movement had nonetheless succeeded in setting the social agenda in the area. Aside from trying to give immediate visible relief to the girijans and introducing developmental schemes, the AP government tried to address the question of landlessness among the tribal population. However, the steps were still inadequate to attend to the problem of tribal landlessness and the government’s objectives were defeated by corruption and mismanagement. Since the ruling elite was not prepared to upset the social power balance, the beneficiaries were wealthier vested interests. They were not able to destabilize the local power structure that reasserted as soon as the Naxalite threat was disposed of.
By the late 1970s, Maoist movement resurfaced again in the same region. The peasant labour associations (Ryotu Coolie Sanghams, or RCS) under the leadership of CPI (ML) launched a movement ‘more mature and deeper than the Naxalbari flare up’ . Aside from ‘problems of caste, sex, corruption, drink’, redistribution of land and illegally occupied wasteland by the landlords, was an important function of the RCS. They either divided the land equally among the landless or cultivated collectively by them – the latter being more common in the tribal regions.
The state repression during the national emergency imposed by Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi during 1975-77 had completely crushed the Naxalite movement. Several leading Maoist leaders were jailed. After their release in 1977 many of the Charu Mazumdar’s colleagues left the party and formed their own groups. Two groups, led by K. Seetharamaiah and C. P. Reddy, were from Andhra Pradesh. The third group led by Vinod Mishra and Reddy’s group were active in Bihar too . This explains organisational part of the re-emergence of Naxalism in Andhra Pradesh by 1979.
The founding of the PWG by K. Seetharamaiah on 22 April 1980 gave Naxalism a new life when he discarded the Charu Mazumdar line of total annihilation of class enemies as the only form of struggle and laid stress on floating mass organisations and taking up of economic struggles to spread the movement. During the 1980s and 1990s, this witnessed indiscriminate and fierce binary violence between the Naxals and the Indian state, with people haplessly and helplessly falling in the collateral damage zone. The Maoists developed and perfected guerrilla tactics and employed measured and indiscriminate terror against the state, as well as suspected ‘traitors’ and ‘police informers’, while the state stuck to its security-oriented approach. As a result, the police either focused on eliminating the Naxals and their sympathizers, many a time in fake encounters, or putting them through custodial torture and death.
The merger and consolidation between 2003 and 2004 resulted in the emergence of three major Maoist groups – CPI (Maoists), CPI (ML)-Liberation and CPI (ML), aside from several small ones that operate mostly independently. The merger of the two most militant groups – CPI-ML (People’s War) and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) – to form CPI (Maoist) on September 21, 2004, the largest and the most powerful Maoist group ever, was the most noteworthy development at the beginning of the millennium. It was followed by the formation of People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) of nearly 3,500 fighters equipped with sophisticated arms and well-formed organisational structure. The CPI (Maoist) thus developed an edge with which, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs Report (2005-06), took control of nearly seventy-six districts in nine States. It followed the Charu Mazumdar line of rejecting parliamentary politics, describing its campaign as the ‘New Democratic Revolution’ (a variant of the ‘people’s democratic revolution’ of the 1970 programme), aimed at achieving agrarian revolution by liberating ‘the rural areas first and then having expanded the base areas – the centre of democratic power in rural areas – advance towards countrywide victory through encircling and capturing the cities.’ It enjoyed considerable support among the tribal and peasant populations in many States.
The CPI (ML)-Liberation, led by S. N. Sinha and Vinod Mishra in central Bihar focused on mass organisation, but did not give up the parliamentary option and participated in the electoral processes with limited success. The CPI (ML) led by Kanu Sanyal (now deceased) of the Naxalbari fame, had a significant influence in Andhra Pradesh through a network of organisations.
Indeed, the mergers and consolidations, very significant from the perspective of organizing and strengthening the revolutionary politics, sorted out the prevailing ideological incoherence that introduced the splintering tendencies in the movement. The commonalities in the three streams made coordination possible despite the inherent dogmas, which is reflected in the conference of South Asian revolutionary parties organized by the Naxals in 2003. Since only the CPI (Maoist) completely rejects parliamentary politics, the rest of the two groups could coordinate their activities. Yet the existence of a few smaller groups put a question mark on the cohesiveness of the Compact Revolutionary Zone and the red corridor from Nepal to the south of India claimed by the Maoists despite a large number of areas in this stretch under the control of various Naxal groups.
Manoranjan Mohanty, who characterized Naxalite movement in its first decade as a ‘pre-organisational’, practicing mechanically ‘ideological parallelism’ of the Chinese revolution and over-emphasized revolutionary violence ,in his reassessment three decades later felt that in spite of ‘significant changes in all three respects’, ‘some elements of each dimension persist’ . The pre-organisational character of the Maoists remained due to the underground nature of the parties. The ideological parallelism and revolutionary strategy were reflected in violent actions by local squads (dalams), at times under pressure of being pursued by the paramilitary forces, which is later regretted by the central leadership. This reflects prevailing perplexity and mystification in organisational, ideological and strategic aspects of the Naxal movement despite its impressive expansion since 2000, greater organisational and ideological cohesion and concerted and pinpointed attacks on the police, government establishments and public property, counter movements (Salwa Judum in Chhatisgarh for example), traitors and the police informers.
Sumanta Banerjee, revisiting Naxalism over two decades after his first analysis, is more forthright about the decline of the ideological fibre in the Maoist movement, whose ‘courageous’ battles against a vicious state machinery, ‘self-sacrifice by thousands of guerrillas’, and efforts by dedicated cadres to initiate land reforms ‘in their areas of control’, has often been marred by ‘lumpen’ acts like extortions, and ruthless killing of innocent people suspected of being police informers.
Thus, the first decade since the emergence of the unified party was been characterized by its phenomenal expansion. The movement expanded from ten states to twenty and from 168 districts to 223 (out of 626 in 2009). However, in the process, the party was also deideologized, as it were, and its cadre indulged in brutal violent actions against the security forces and suspected police informers. It is also reported to have compromised its goals and ideals for survival, for resources are needed to run the organisation and maintain and support the cadre. Thus, it covertly aligned with the mainstream political actors to guide the course of politics to its convenience .
Between Security and Governance
The origin and growth trajectory of the MLM movements in the country since the 1940s till the first decade of the millennium has elicited similar responses from the Indian state. Indeed, once a movement turns violent, the establishment has to quell it with force. In each of the three cases discussed above, the movement was episodically sparked, leaving the use of force as the only option for the Indian state. However, in each case context-specific social disequilibrium, exploitative structures and development deficit were unravelled, which the government attempted to attend – Bhoodan in Telangana, land reform in West Bengal and land reforms and tribal development programmes in Srikakulam agency area. However, these context-specific reforms did not do away with development deficit and structural issues of governance. This explains the emergence and spread of the MLM movements during the 1980s and 1990s to half the states one-third districts of the country. The branding of these movements as the Left-wing Extremism (LWE) and their description as the most serious internal security threat by the government reflected an admission of inability to pace up the development process and a resolve to primarily use the security option.
Since the relationship between government coercion and political violence is essentially shaped like an inverted U; the most democratic and the most totalitarian societies have the lowest levels of oppositional violence, the growth and persistence of the MLM/LWE movements indicates two things. On the negative side, it indicates the weaknesses of democracy at the socio-economic level and on the positive side that the government has been circumspect in the use of force. Paul Wilkinson has cautioned that overreaction and general repression almost always pose more serious threat to democracy than terrorism, an observation that would facilitate an understanding of how the Maoist movement and Indian democracy have been interacting.
Governance and development are long-term agenda and given India’s development deficit, they also lead to adverse fallout, what could be described as development dichotomy. For example, construction of large dams since the 1950s were considered as essential multi-purpose developmental projects, described by Jawaharlal Nehru as the ‘temples of modern India’. However, the process of construction of these dams also led to large scale displacements, many a time of the tribal population that was low on development indices. A report by the World Commission on Dams says: ‘Large dams have had serious impacts on the lives, livelihoods, cultures and spiritual existence of indigenous and tribal peoples.’ Estimates indicate that close to eighty per cent of the displaced belonged to the economically weaker sections –tribals, dalits and extremely backward castes, mostly voiceless people. Not surprisingly, it has resulted in a high displacement-resettlement hiatus, mostly in the states where the MLM movements are strong . Nothing but mal-governance and policy deficit could be blamed for the situation that created a fertile ground for rebellion and recruitment of foot soldiers for the MLM/LWE.
Lack of land reforms as a main causatory factor and modest efforts at land reforms have been referred earlier in the discussion that have had a salutary effect in Telangana and West Bengal. This is one of the post-independence agenda that could not be universally applied across the country. A recent example is Bihar government’s half-hearted effort. In 2005, soon after assuming office as chief minister Nitish Kumar appointed a Land Reforms Commission chaired by D. Bandyopadhyay, a retired IAS and the architect of land reforms in West Bengal. He submitted his report in 2007, but the state still under the leadership of Nitish Kumar has not implemented any of his recommendations. The lack of land reforms contorted the MLM’s revolutionary politics curiously into caste wars with different caste armies, including Lal Sena (red army) consisting of dalits and some backward castes, was engaged in an open war between the late 1970s and mid-1990s.
In May 2006, the then Planning Commission set up a sixteen-member Expert Group on ‘Development Issues to deal with the causes of Discontent, Unrest and Extremism’. The Terms of Reference included, inter alia, identification of processes and causes contributing to continued tensions and alienation in the areas of unrest and discontent, such as wide-spread displacement, forest issues, insecured tenancies and other forms of exploitation like usury, land alienation, etc. It also included special measures to be taken for strengthening the implementation of Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Area Act (PESA). Obviously, the government of India took cognizance of exploitation, alienation and unrest feeding the MLM/LWE. Its report presented in 2008 characterized the LWE as ‘a political action for armed conquest of State power’. However, since the Indian state is ‘required to function through the law’, state interventions (are required) to remove the basic causes of discontent, disaffection and unrest. It acknowledged that the LWE ‘districts suffer from lack of proper governance and appropriate implementation of poverty amelioration programmes.’ In order to reduce the people’s alienation in the affected areas, the report recommended effective implementation of protective legislation, land related measures, fine tuning the processes of land acquisition and rehabilitation and resettlement, livelihood security, freeing Common Property Resources from the clutches of the land mafia and restoring them to the village community, universalising basic social services and several other governance issues.
Since the MLM movements involved a large number of the Scheduled Tribe population in Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and so on, their exploitation by contractors, officials and moneylenders and consequent alienation from the forest resources was addressed with the passing in December 2006 of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act. However, an assessment of its impact indicated paradoxes arising out of the existing loopholes between enactments and implementation. Those responsible for exploitation and alienation could ensure that the benefits did not reach they were meant for.
Obviously, the government and the successive political leadership, both in the states and the Centre, have been aware of development deficits and dichotomies as well as the issues relating to governance that have been feeding the LWE. However, a reading of the Annual Reports of the Ministry of Home Affairs year after year indicates predominant preoccupation with the security-centric approach. Some of the governance related initiatives discussed above have made limited headway. Enabling the security forces with training, equipment and technology has been a priority with the government. If the Andhra Pradesh government raised the Greyhounds, said to be the best anti-Naxal commando force in the country, the Union Government raised Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) in 2008. It is equally significant that a Rs 250 billion three-year package announced on September 27, 2017 by the Union government commencing from 2017-18 for ‘police reforms’ and modernisation has a priority 40 per cent of the budget (Rs 101 billion) assigned to Jammu and Kashmir, the north-eastern states and states affected by the LWE.
One of the major initiatives involving local population in Chhatisgarh named Salwa Judum (SJ), struck down by the Supreme Court of India in 2011, deserves a mention in this context. The SJ, variously translated from the Gondwani dialect as peace march or peace movement, was an armed tribal ‘vigilante group’ set up by local Congress leader Mahendra Karma in 2005 to counter the influence of the Maoists and give the local tribals scared of them a sense of security. In course of time, both the state and the Union governments stepped in and selected members of the group were designated Special Police Officers (SPO) and given firearms. Also, special enclaves were created in certain cases where the evacuated villagers from the areas affected by LWE were kept. Several SPOs, according to some reports, turned a law unto themselves and began tormenting their own people they were supposed to protect. Several human rights activists pointed out this anomaly and a group of intelligentsia went to the Supreme Court with a PIL in 2007 to abolish the system . The SC verdict in 2011 strongly criticised the SJ and abolished it. A judgement that was criticised strongly for its moral overtones and sermonizing criticised India’s developmental model: ‘Predatory forms of capitalism, supported and promoted by the State in direct contravention of constitutional norms and values, often take deep roots around the extractive industries…. The argument that such a development paradigm is necessary, and its consequences inevitable, is untenable.’ The judgement further criticised the Indian state for ‘adopting the same modes, as done by Maoist/Naxalite extremists’. It disapproved of the use of the SJ: ‘The problem, it is apparent to us, and would be so to most reasonable people, cannot be the people of Chhattisgarh, whose human rights are widely acknowledged to being systematically, and on a vast scale, being violated by the Maoists/Naxalites on one side, and the State, and some of its agents, on the other.’ However, the Chhatisgarh government persisted in deploying the personnel who were part of the SJ as SPOs under the Chhatisgarh Police Act 2007.
Despite criticisms from the human rights activists the Union government launched Operation Green Hunt in 2010. The assault mounted by the security forces resulted in heavy casualties to the cadre and leadership.
No wonder the MLM movement is facing existential issues today. In fact, according to some experts, it is in terminal decline. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs Annual Report 2016-17: ‘The declining trend which started in 2011 continued in 2016 as well. The last two and a half years has seen an unprecedented improvement in the LWE scenario across the country. There has been an overall 07% reduction in violent incidents (1136 to 1048) and 30% reduction (397 to 278) in LWE related deaths since end-2013. Over the same period there has been an increase of 50% in encounters (218 to 328) and an unprecedented 122% increase (100 to 222) in elimination of armed Maoists cadres.’ The concerted assault by the security forces has witnessed two of its top commanders killed since 2010. Cherukuri Rajkumar, alias Azad, number three in the hierarchy of the CPI (Maoist) and in charge of its southern operations, was killed on 2 July 2010 in an encounter with the security forces that became controversial. Several human rights activists claimed, and approached the court, that he was caught in Nagpur, brought by a chopper to Andhra Pradesh and killed in cold blood. Within a year, on 23 November 2011, politburo member Koteshwara Rao, alias Kishenji, who looked after party’s operations in Jangalmahal area in West Bengal, was killed in forest areas in Paschim Medinipur district in West Bengal in a police operation. Both the leaders were in their mid-50s. These killings gave a bodyblow to the Maoists.
Two things come out clearly. First, the leadership core of the CPI (Maoist) is shrinking fast. Most leaders are ageing, and the cadres are shrinking. Neither new leadership is forthcoming, nor they are getting new recruits to their cadre. Several of their committed cadre have either surrendered or killed in operations by the security forces. They have also alienated villagers, who are not forthcoming for help either due to their heavy-handed behaviour, or a perceptive improvement in living conditions due to the developmental programmes of the state.
Second, the security operations of the government have in recent times become more subtle and sophisticated. It is not surprising that the Annual Report of the MHA reports low casualties to the security forces. Their operations are now intelligence based and targeted against the top leadership, which leaves the cadre rudderless, who either fall in trap, or surrender. No wonder, according to the Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management and South Asia Terrorism Portal only 104 (25 seriously affected, 31 moderately affected and 48 marginally affected) districts across the country were under the influence of the Maoists in 2017.
The question, however, remains whether the issues – development deficit, development dichotomy, land reforms and mal-governance – that have been at the root of the development of the revolutionary politics of the Maoist variety have been conclusively attended to.
By Ajay K Mehra