It’s interesting to hear chatter in various parts of national media about the imminent fading of Maoist chief Ganapathy, or Muppala Laxman Rao. It is based on rebel chatter and correspondence that security agencies compile and share from time to time.

A major newspaper even termed the possible elevation of Ganapathy’s colleague, Nambala Keshav Rao, who goes by the nom de guerre of Basavraj (or Basava Raju), as heralding a shift to a “military movement" as opposed to a primarily ideological one for the Communist Party of India (Maoist), or CPI (Maoist), the country’s largest and most active rebel group.

While a change of guard has been indicated for several years, including in this column, the second assertion is bunkum.

The movement, whether in its 13-year-old avatar of CPI (Maoist) or its earlier components that in late-2004 merged to make up the rebel conglomerate, military action through its armed wing, the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army, has always gone hand-in-hand with indoctrination. It’s the pipeline that feeds the movement with recruits from urban areas as well as those—as is increasingly the case—in the hinterlands, the rebel strongholds in parts of central, south and eastern India. Indeed, it was a massive spurt of military action from 2004 onwards that led Manmohan Singh, the prime minister at the time, to describe the Maoist rebellion as India’s “single biggest internal security challenge" in April 2006.

Even with current security chatter of Maoists attempting to expand their base in the Balaghat region of southern Madhya Pradesh near a tri-junction with Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, is about how Maoists are moving up from areas of Bastar in southern Chhattisgarh where they are under severe pressure from security forces, to prepare the ground for another sanctuary. Indeed, much like Maoist rebels of the day did in Bastar in the late-1980s and early 1990s to prepare ground with research, propaganda, and indoctrination, to create a rebel sanctuary as an alternative to the Telangana area where they were being actively hunted down, their networks infiltrated, their sympathizers weaned away.

(It is easy also to forget that Balaghat was not long ago counted as an active Maoist zone. All that changes is the ebb and flow of rebellion driven by the intensity and success of the state’s response to it.)

The Maoists are the last to deny they are severely stressed at present—and they have been so since 2010 when security response began to be massively ramped up—but that is not the reason for a change of leadership.

At 68, Ganapathy, and his more elderly number two, Prashanta Bose, or Kishan-da, are past their prime. I wrote in this column four years ago: “The brutal fact is that, even as its aftermath can often resemble extended geriatric enterprise, active rebellion and revolution is a younger person’s game … the era of rebel churn will inevitably witness a leadership transition. At the very least, it will evidence the anointing of future leadership to secure the movement and quell the restlessness of the remaining—and younger—first- and second-tier leaders."

Basava Raju, 10 years younger than Ganapthy, and long-time head of the CPI (Maoist)’s Central Military Commission, the umbrella operational command, is seen as one who fits the bill.

The Maoists have been open about victories as well as vicissitude. I mentioned in this column an introspective letter written by Ganapathy in 2013 to his senior colleagues in the already beleaguered rebel party, as much a revelation of vulnerability as an aggregation of observations that had been voiced by many—including Maoists themselves—for close to two years.

The introspection began over the Lalgarh uprising in West Bengal—the movement culminated in the death of top Maoist leader Mallojula Koteswara Rao, or Kishenji, in end-2011. In the letter Ganapathy bemoaned the loss of several of the party’s top leaders through arrests, death in combat or staged encounters, and ill-health, since 2007. He underscored the loss of territory. Ganapathy urged the need for revival, and even suggested jailbreaks to free leaders from prison. A formal resolution passed by the party’s central committee in 2013 was as introspective.

Then, as now, while matters remain greatly sobering for Maoists, they are far from done. I would keep my eyes on the two distinct Maoist areas of control that are peopled by two distinct leadership groups. The Bastar, or “Telugu" lot, and the Bihar-Jharkhand lot. The give and take here will be crucial for whatever transpires. More on that next week.

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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