As the CPI (Maoist) begins preparations to celebrate the 10th year of its formation, memories of the last 12 months will haunt its members. Though they launched their biggest ever assault on a political convoy this year, it included one of three major tactical blunders whose repercussions continue to undermine their ideological highland. They also found their fighting prowess seriously questioned as they lost as many as 50 cadres in only six gunbattles dominated by security forces or splinter groups of their own former cadres, who lost only one member to the Maoists.
The killings of PCC chief Nand Kumar Patel and his son Dinesh Patel in the Darbha attack, and the separate murders of journalists Nemichand Jain and Sai Reddy in Bastar, have brought them widespread flak, even from their sympathisers. These were the first instances Maoists had killed journalists. The rebels had to apologise for Jain’s murder saying it had been committed by their lower cadres, and admit that the killing of the Patels too was a mistake.
Bastar journalists unanimously boycotted Maoists, while the People’s Union for Democratic Rights’ secretaries referred to the CPI (Maoist) constitution, a document considered sacrosanct by the rebels, and noted, “The two killings (of journalists) were carried out by the Maoists without even complying with the provisions of their own constitution. This raises a question if they take their own constitution seriously.”
In the two months preceding the May 25 Darbha attack, when the Maoists killed 27 persons including the Congress leaders, the organisation suffered huge losses in quick succession across its various zones. A Jharkhand-based ultra-Left outfit, Triteeya Sammelan Prastuti Committee, killed 10 Maoists in Chatra on March 28; the Gadchiroli police killed nine Maoists in two encounters in April; a joint team of Andhra Greyhounds, Chhattisgarh police and CRPF killed nine Maoists in Sukma the same month. In July, the Gadchiroli police killed six women Maoists; in September, the Malkangiri cops killed 14 Maoists.
The encounter most embarrassing for the Maoists was in Chatra where the TSPC, an outfit comprising their former cadres, held 25 Maoists hostage and released them only on a written undertaking that they would immediately leave the CPI (Maoist).
The rebels, however, did win some psychological battles against the forces. One was when they implanted IEDs in the bodies of CRPF men in January. Then in April, a bunch of Maoists “trapped” over 250 elite Jharkhand cops on a hill in Gumla in April and blocked around 1,000 cops for over 24 hours from reaching and rescuing them. The rescue team was led by Jharkhand DGP Rajeev Kumar. Maoists also looted the CRPF of two “generation-X” Israel-make X-95 rifles January, and a grenade launcher in Bijapur in November.
Yet the year brought heavy casualties to the Maoists. Including those killed in battle, nearly 100 Maoists of varying ranks have died, a few of them of malaria, due to snakebite and by drowning.
According to home ministry data, 74 Maoists had been killed in 2012, 99 in 2011, 220 in 2010 and 172 in 2009. The gap between this year’s losses and the previous year’s, wide enough as it is, will be even wider if one takes into account the fact that the ministry data include victims of alleged fake encounters until they are proven innocent by an inquiry commission. Few such inquiries get completed and the ministry data continue to include such deaths. The count also includes slain members of other banned outfits such as People’s Liberation Front of India and Jharkhand Jan Mukti Parishad, while the nearly 100 losses of this year have been admitted by the CPI(Maoist) itself.
Describing these as major losses, Maoist documents have said the Chatra incident almost wiped out the top leadership of Bihar-Jharkhand Special Regional Committee, the Sukma encounter virtually eliminated the Karimnagar-Warangal-Khammam Special Committee, and the Gadchiroli encounters caused them a major setback in the Maharashtra division. The KWK blow was crucial as the Maoists had been trying to regroup in the Telangana region for years.
Significantly, the setbacks have come in a year termed one of a relative decline in violence.
The year also saw the arrests of two members of the central committee, the topmost unit of the CPI (Maoist). Aklanta Rabha alias Mahesh was arrested from Guwahati in April, Gajanand Bhaskar alias Paresh da from Silchar in May. Maoists lost senior cadres to encounters in Assam.
Once, the movement had grown following support from urban areas as the Maoists promised a fight against inequality. As the last few years saw more emphasis on violence, veteran members are disillusioned.
“Ours was a class struggle, but it has now fizzled out,” says Palamu-based Satish Kumar, a former Maoist who is now an All Jharkhand Student Union leader. “The party could not lead the peasant to the desired goal. It has no longer remained a peasant movement, only armed attacks with little mass participation.”
Kumar joined PWG in 1982, then became a senior leader with the CPI (Maoist) before he decided to leave and contested 2009 assembly polls on a JMM ticket. He warns against the presumption, however, that the movement will disappear. “The party is still strong but it needs to reorganise the masses, something it did in the 1970s and’80s in Andhra,” Kumar says. “Inequality still persists, armed groups still attract the disillusioned youth. It may not lead to a revolution but unless the administration addresses the needs of the people, violence will linger longer than one can imagine.”