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On 21 September, an anniversary went unnoticed in the crush of several events. There is the build-up to the assembly election in Bihar. The fracas over Nepal’s new constitution and disappointment of that country’s Indian-origin citizens that is now inextricably tied to electoral posturing in neighbouring Bihar. The meat ban in Maharashtra beat both drought and floods to headline space. And so on.

The forgotten event was the 11th foundation day of the Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Insignificant? After all, last year was the big deal, the 10th, so why bother?

In that relative insignificance lies the significance. For an organization rarely shy of drum-beating even in times of adversity—and in these past five years, it’s been downhill, with numerous leadership and cadre deaths, arrests and surrenders—the shrunk CPI (Maoist) is curiously silent. Just a few anniversary posters in a few parts of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

What gives?

In Mao-speak: “The enemy advances, we retreat".

It’s the licking of wounds and reorganization stage in a dynamic rebellion set in rhetorical stone by guerrilla-guru Mao Zedong in the 1930s and 1940s.

Ganapathy-speak is less pithy, hoarier: “Our party issued a call in 2013 to Bolshevize the party and it is being carried out in the party, PLGA (People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army) and mass organizations now."

Even if it seems remarkable these days to trot out phrases that in Russia would be laughable, it’s what Muppala Laxman Rao (aka Ganapathy), general secretary of CPI (Maoist), maintained last year. It was in an interview to the sympathetic Maoist Information Bulletin to mark 10 years of the merger of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), People’s War and Maoist Communist Centre of India to form India’s largest, most widespread rebel conglomerate.

The interview offered both a blunt review and broad blueprint in typical Maoist style. Ganapathy spoke of the “revolutionary movement" having weakened in “rural plains and urban areas", and the “need to expand the movement to newer areas and open new battlefronts in order to broaden the arena of the people’s war" beyond forested, tribal-inhabited (and coincidentally, mineral-endowed) central and eastern parts of the country.

A year hasn’t changed things. Indeed, the government’s pincer against the Maoists grows tighter, with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government fully adopting the previous government’s approach of stuffing such areas of conflict with paramilitary forces—largely Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), but also Border Security Force and Indo-Tibetan Border Police—in an attempt to both intimidate and immobilize Maoist force and influence in the rebellion’s heartland areas. Indeed, a renewal of brutality appears to have moved from Chhattisgarh to Telangana, with local police in the past fortnight killing two rebels—horrifically mutilating one, a woman—to keep India’s dirtiest war bubbling along.

Neither side has talked peace in this war that kills and maims combatant and non-combatant alike since the last serious attempt in 2010. Then it peaked with a farce. The home minister at the time, P. Chidambaram, on 23 February that year asked Maoist leaders for “an authentic statement" of negotiations, “to be faxed" to the ministry’s control room. Mallojula Koteswara Rao, who went by the nom de guerre of Kishanji responded by saying Chidambaram should call him on 25 February “but after 5pm", and provided a mobile telephone number.

Subsequently, a key Maoist leader and peace negotiator was killed in a staged encounter by the police in mid-2010. The brash and over-ambitious Kishanji—he orchestrated the Lalgarh rebellion in West Bengal—was killed by elite CRPF commandos in late 2011. Chidambaram, along with the peacemaking bandwagon, moved on to other things.

His eventual successor Rajnath Singh has tightened the screws, and the ministry’s approaches to the Maoist issue, like most internal security situations, is carrot and stick—mostly stick.

The Maoists appear to be no less determined to carry on. In a rare cosmopolitan flourish, Ganapathy spoke of his rebellion’s call for “Jal, Jungle, Zameen, Izzat and Adhikar". It’s the water-forest-land-respect-rights ambit that has generally enjoyed deep resonance since the last years of the United Progressive Alliance government—and found new life with the blatant pushing of anti-citizen moves such as the rights-unfriendly land ordinance and its repeated pushing as a bill in Parliament by the current NDA government.

The land ordinance is now dead. I wonder what Ganapathy thinks of it. The Maoists didn’t kill it. Robust, realistic opinion conveyed through media, public protests and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s political allies who saw the light did.

The Maoist space is shrinking.

Sudeep Chakravarti’s latest book is Clear. Hold. Build: Hard Lessons of Business. His previous books include Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business, runs on Fridays.

Respond to this column at rootcause@livemint.com

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