An alliance of convenience in 2004 brought together former bitter rivals, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War, and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), to form CPI (Maoist). Photo: AFP
An alliance of convenience in 2004 brought together former bitter rivals, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War, and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), to form CPI (Maoist). Photo: AFP

CPI (Maoist) faces fracture rather than oblivion

If there is dissension over the chain of command when the old CPI (Maoist) leadership gives way to the new, it could do so as splintered entities, not as a rebel conglomerate

Last week’s column discussed possibilities of a change of guard to head the Communist Party of India (Maoist), or CPI (Maoist). This is about where India’s largest rebel outfit could be headed.

My primary estimate remains fracture over oblivion. I’ve been maintaining this for over five years, but it’s not so much about a craving for being proved correct. If Maoists don’t sue for peace—and right now there is little indication of a positive response from the government should such an overture materialize, either from rebel leadership or a significant faction—it still remains the most likely long-term outcome. Because, it is all about natural fault lines in a seemingly natural alliance.

An alliance of convenience in 2004 brought together former bitter rivals, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War, and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), to form CPI (Maoist). The two groups realized they were better off together to take on the state and effect a pan-India rebel blueprint than sniping at each other for territory and influence.

This worked brilliantly during the upswing years through 2009, when a massive state counter-response kicked in, with more deployment of paramilitaries, better training, and specialized troops like CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action). It triggered a shrinking of rebel territory, arrests and deaths of leaders and cadres, in addition to a steady leaching of strength through surrender and rehabilitation. This continues.

Through its years of relative crisis and introspection—what I discussed last week—CPI (Maoist) has never quite overcome the aspect of territoriality, which underscores aspects of dominance as well as control of finances. Such fault lines are made more vulnerable by the tendency of left-wing groups to break along ideological—sometimes, egotistical—and operational lines, especially in times of crisis.

Broadly, the structure of the erstwhile CPI (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War and its allies, collectively the People’s War Group, runs the rebellion in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, western Maharashtra, and the south-western slice of Odisha. This “Telugu" creamy layer—several Maoist leaders are from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana—continues to attempt ingress in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka; and is also trying a renewed push up into southern Madhya Pradesh.

The erstwhile MCC aspect controlled rebellion in Bihar, Jharkhand, northern Chhattisgarh and northern Odisha bordering Jharkhand—the Saranda area, for instance—and some parts of West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Pressure has reduced this largely to Bihar, Jharkhand, and the northern slice of Odisha.

CPI (Maoist) has already seen several breakaways in Jharkhand—more armed extortionists than ideological purveyors of revolution, like PLFI or Peoples’ Liberation Front of India. Earlier this year a key Maoist leader, Kundan Pahan, who was essentially a warlord with impressive political reach in the borderlands of Jharkhand and West Bengal, surrendered to police in Jharkhand. Warlord-ism more than rebellion with a cause remains a likely future for the Maoists.

Meanwhile, though, there appears to be a quite desperate attempt by the ideological old guard and their relatively new inductees brought up on a diet of righting wrongs with whatever means at hand, to keep it all together. There is more than one reason.

Some years ago there was a buzz, which I wrote about in this column, that the Maoist leadership was planning an alternative sanctuary across Chhattisgarh’s eastern border in Odisha and had tasked a member of its politburo with the responsibility. The area being spoken of then in security circles was adjacent to the Chhattisgarh districts of Bastar and Kondagaon—like several other districts carved out from Bastar in 2012.

Adjacent to the rebels’ core holding ground of the Dandakaranya zone—which mainly comprises southern Chhattisgarh and stretches of Gadchiroli in Maharashtra—the plan was also to bolster a corridor along Odisha’s western border with Chhattisgarh to link up with comrades further north in Jharkhand. This plan would facilitate easier transit of rebel cadres northward into Jharkhand, and strengthen the southward movement of weapons and ammunition from Bihar and Jharkhand into Odisha and Dandakaranya. The sanctuary would form the centrepiece of this corridor.

This holds true today, this search for alternative sanctuaries besides the Abujmarh area of Bastar in southern Chhattisgarh.

In the absence of peace, CPI (Maoist) has nowhere to go except into newer areas, and continually devise ways of survival. If the bid for party unity fails, and there is dissension over the chain of command when the old leadership gives way to the new, it could face the reality of doing so as splintered entities, not as a rebel conglomerate.

Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India, Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights, runs on Thursdays.

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