A tiny caveat: when the first edition of my book on the cause and effect of the present-day Maoist rebellion was published in 2008, the Maoist mouthpiece People’s March, too, reviewed it. The review highlighted an area of weakness—that I did not possess “living links with the revolution”. And, as I have no “living links” either with politics, government or business, collectively the ‘other’ side, I presume to comment without fear or favour.
For the first time in five years or so, the current phase of Left-wing rebellion—the fourth major phase since the 1960s—appears vulnerable. Year-long attempts by the home ministry and various state governments to step up intelligence gathering and share it, place police on heightened alert and ship more paramilitary into rebel zones to create pressure points, have affected the Maoist leadership.
Several politburo members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), or CPI (Maoist), are in jail, along with many other senior, seasoned, higher echelon leaders who were pivots in both military and propaganda operations.
As a result, Maoist discourse has in these past months begun to point to the need to recruit quickly and widely—including in urban spaces; open up more battle lines in rural spaces including the mineral-rich states of Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh; and scale up alliances with non-government and human rights organizations, for instance, to boost both its reach and public relations ability.
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Maoist chief Ganapathy said in an interview to Leftist intellectuals reproduced in the January-February issue of People’s March: “…unlike what the enemy wants, end this in a short period, we want to stretch this war and transform the situation to our advantage, favourable to the revolution. They are trying to limit our area, while we are trying to expand.”
So are we approaching a sort of tipping point? In some ways, yes. Ganapathy, the nom de guerre of Muppala Laxman Rao, and his remaining colleagues know as well as their enemy that expansion is directly related to the ability to gather rebels, resources to feed and arm them and prepare people to lead them. The government’s approach in the past year has been to decidedly weaken all three abilities.
I believe Maoists are far from conceding defeat—unless a series of spectacular security operations forces their hand. And, as yet, offers of talks from both the Maoists and the government are little more than posturing, a continuation of the precept of talk-talk, fight-fight.
But if push were to come to shove, Maoists would not disappear. Instead, they are likely to fragment, representing in some ways the situation that existed prior to September 2004, when the CPI (Maoist) arose from a merger of two key rebel groups after years of bitter, often violent power plays: Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). People’s War, which led a clutch of smaller outfits, and so earned for itself the appellation of People’s War Group, held sway in central and southern India. MCC, also a gradual merger and acquisition construct, had a run in eastern and northern India.
Under pressure, these could again prove to be fault lines. Further, it is entirely conceivable that the conglomerate that is the CPI (Maoist) could splinter more emphatically into regional groups, as it were, made independent by the control of an individual or group of rebel leaders is able to exert over, say, operations in Orissa, or Jharkhand, and so on. This pattern could be replicated across much of India.
Over time, such groups could again begin the rebel merger and acquisition game, coming together, splitting, coming together again, justifying its DNA that at once offers unity of stated purpose—fighting for India’s enormous mass of the discarded and trampled—as well as divergence on account of ego and nuances of Left-wing ideology, a sort of my Marx is bigger and better than your Marx.
The continued existence of Left-wing extremism will, I believe, remain a reality for several decades. The reason is simple: India will not have sorted out the reasons that permit such rebellion to grow in the first place.
As the home ministry leads the battle against Maoists, it must surely recall its own admission, in its annual report for 2006-07, that Maoists, which the report interchangeably refers to as Naxalites, “typically operate in a vacuum created by inadequacy of administrative and political institutions, espouse local demands and take advantage of the prevalent disaffection, perceived injustice among the underprivileged and remote segments of population”.
Sudeep Chakravarti writes on issues related to conflict in South Asia. He is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. He writes a column alternate Thursdays on conflicts that directly affect business.
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