India: Kishenji’s End Could Be New Beginning – Analysis


By all means, the November 24 killing of Kishenji, the third-ranking leader of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) in West Bengal’s Jangalmahal area, is an achievement for the security forces. The usual allegations of the encounter being ‘fake’ by the Maoist bandwagon notwithstanding, the fact remains that in the war between the state and the extremists, the former’s policy of targeting the top leaders has met with a significant success.

The impact of Kishenji’s killing on the Maoist movement in the country has been debated upon. While a writer termed the death as the precursor of the end to the “third wave of the Naxalite movement in the country”, others have been vociferous in saying that this ‘serious setback’ does not essentially end the movement that seeks to overhaul the system of governance in the country. The movement has suffered several losses among its senior leaders in the past. But the CPI-Maoist has managed to quickly fill up the vacuum rather easily.

Even then, from an operational point of view, the killing of Kishenji constitutes a far more serious setback for the outfit than the earlier series of losses. Whereas most of the other neutralised leaders like Azad, Kobad Ghandy, Patel Sudhakar Reddy, Lanka Papi Reddy et al belonged to the Central Committee of the outfit and were essentially responsible for its political activity, for the first time the forces have been able to neutralise somebody so high in the organisational hierarchy of CPI-Maoist and much more importantly, belonging to its Central Military Commission (CMC) that oversees and implements the outfit’s military operations. Kishenji was almost single-handedly responsible for the uprising in West Bengal for the past couple of years. Maoists will still be able to replace him, but the process will take much longer than the earlier replacements.

The loss also gives the CPI-Maoist something to ponder over its strategy over peace talks. Way back in 2004, when the outfit conducted its famous peace negotiations with the Andhra Pradesh government, the Maoist cadres carried out open campaigns across the state organising public meetings and rallies to explain their activity in the state. They went on to recruit cadres and carry out extortion activities in complete violation of the spirit of the peace talks. However, the cessation of violence between the Andhra Pradesh police and the Maoists also provided the former an opportunity to gain significant insights into the movement in terms of its strength and dynamics. As soon as the peace talks broke down over the issue of surrender of arms in January 2005, the Andhra Pradesh police could use the information it had collected over the past months, to strike a series of bloody blows on the extremists. And that was, in short, the counter-Maoist success story in Andhra Pradesh.

Coming months would unveil whether the same method had been duplicated in West Bengal in the past several months when the Maoists and the state government did attempt to play out a ‘peace process that never took off’. It is difficult to premise whether Kishenji’s killing was the result of a meticulously planned operation or the maverick extremist leader simply fell due to his fetish for being overtly media- friendly and thereby giving away his possible location. In fact, Kishenji had been previously castigated by the Maoist top leadership for being far too accessible to journalists and had been instructed not to use mobile phone. In any event, senior security officials in West Bengal had mentioned privately that they used the ‘period of no operation’ to collect intelligence about the movement and its leaders. It is not unlikely that this ‘wealth of information’ came for good use once the state Government lifted its restrictions on the operations against the extremists, following the killing of party workers of the Trinamool Congress.

The removal of Kishenji is an opportunity for the West Bengal government to consolidate its hold in the Jangalmahal area. The government of Mamata Banerjee now must get down to the task of reviving governance in the area and address the issues concerning the alienated tribal population, among whom Maoists have found not just silent support, but also a steady stream of cadres. It is also a time for the Rural Development Ministry to unveil a development plan for the area. And more importantly, the huge number of security force companies stationed in the state must now be put to effective use to deal with the demoralised extremists.

In a nutshell, it all boils down to the pace at which the Government can consolidate its hold over the area vis-à-vis the accelerated efforts of the Maoists to recoup and regain control.

This article appeared at

Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray

Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray served as a Deputy Director in the National Security Council Secretariat, Government of India and Director of the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM)’s Database & Documentation Centre, Guwahati, Assam. He was a Visiting Research Fellow at the South Asia programme of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore between 2010 and 2012. Routray specialises in decision-making, governance, counter-terrorism, force modernisation, intelligence reforms, foreign policy and dissent articulation issues in South and South East Asia. His writings, based on his projects and extensive field based research in Indian conflict theatres of the Northeastern states and the left-wing extremism affected areas, have appeared in a wide range of academic as well policy journals, websites and magazines.

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