By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), facing continuous reversals on ground, is reportedly trying to strengthen its ‘Central Military Commission’, the group’s principal fighting force. According to a September 10, 2019, report, intelligence inputs suggest that around 250 Maoist cadres have joined the ‘CMC’, presently headed by Nambala Keshav Rao aka Ganganna aka Basavaraj (63), who is also the present ‘general secretary’ of the outfit.
Though the total strength of the ‘Central Military Commission’, then led by Basavaraj, in September 2004, at the time of formation of the CPI-Maoist, is not known, an October 2005 media report stated that the total underground strength of the Naxalites [Left Wing Extremists, LWEs] in 2003 was over 6,300 and rose to over 7,100 in 2004. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA)’s 2005-2006 Annual Report estimated the armed-underground cadre strength of the CPI-Maoist at over 9,300 (male and female), holding some 6,500 regular weapons and a large number of country-made arms. On February 12, 2014, the then Minister of State in the UMHA, R.P.N. Singh, had informed the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of India’s Parliament) that the strength of LWE cadres in the country was estimated at around 8,500 and the approximate weapon holding is 12,000 which included both factory-made and country-made weapons. According to a June 5, 2018, report it is estimated that the all-India armed-underground strength of the Maoists had dropped to around 6,000.
Indeed, successful intelligence-based operations by the Security Forces (SFs) have dealt a severe blow to the Maoist leadership at several levels, including the CMC. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the CPI-Maoist has lost at least 1,133 ‘leadership elements’ since 2010. These include 24 at the national level (three killed, 18 arrested and three surrendered); 250 State level (23 killed, 188 arrested and 39 surrendered); and 859 local level (144 killed, 393 arrested and 322 surrendered).
Moreover, as noted earlier, at the time of its formation in 2004, CPI-Maoist reportedly had a 16-member strong ‘politburo’, the outfit’s highest decision-making body, which is now left with only eight members of the original formation ‘in position’ or whose whereabouts are not known. Of the other eight, two have been killed, two died due to illness, and four have been arrested. Similarly, at the time of its formation in 2004, the CPI-Maoist reportedly had a 34-member strong ‘central committee (CC)’, the second highest decision-making body in the outfit, which included all the 16 members of the ‘politburo’ and another 18 members. Of the latter 18, at least two have been killed, nine arrested, one surrendered and one died due to illness. Thus, only five of these 18 remain ‘in position’ or whose whereabouts are not known. Moreover, of the five members who were added to the ‘alternative CC’, one has been killed, while the whereabouts of the remaining four are not known. Thus, out of 39 members of the ‘CC’, including the ‘alternate CC’, only 17 members remain ‘operational’ or are untraceable: eight ‘politburo’ members, five ‘CC’ members, and four ‘alternate CC’ members. Further, according to a September 27, 2017, report, another three members have been added to the ‘CC’, of whom one has already surrendered, while the other two reportedly remain underground.
Crucially, the existing leadership is rapidly ageing and many top leaders are chronically ill. According to the September 27, 2017, report, in a meeting of ‘CC’ members in February 2017, it was decided to relieve the ‘veteran comrades’ of crucial responsibilities, if they were unable to discharge their duties due to physical or health reasons. A resolution on this issue, adopted in the 2017 ‘CC’ meeting, was the culmination of a discussion on this serious problem of ageing leadership taken up during an earlier ‘CC’ meeting in 2013.
Unsurprisingly, according to an April 14, 2019, report, a study conducted by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), “Countering Maoism—Way Ahead”, asserted that the CPI-Maoist was mired in its worst leadership crisis.
Amidst efforts to strengthen the ‘force’ at the top, the Maoists were also attempting to recruit more cadres. However, Maoists ‘successes’ in this direction have been severely limited in their present ‘core areas’. An October 31, 2018, report quoted Brigadier B.K. Ponwar (Retd), Director of the Bastar-based Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College (CTJWC), as stating, “The Maoists are facing their worst days in Bastar. Their recruitment has entirely dried up, the arms supply network has been cut off…” More recently, R.K. Vij, Special Director General of Police (SDGP), Chhattisgarh, in an article published on August 12, 2019, wrote that “the ‘Central Committee’ of the CPI-Maoist has repeatedly admitted in various reports and meetings that their base area has shrunk, fresh recruitment almost dried up, and desertions increased.” Further, on September 2, 2019, Chhattisgarh’s Director General of Police D.M. Awasthi, disclosed that Maoists’ cadre strength in Chhattisgarh has declined from 10,000 in 2016 to around 1,000 cadres and 5,000 supporters in 2019. There were reports, however, to suggest that the Maoists were able to recruit some cadres in areas of their erstwhile dominance. For instance, according to an October 15, 2018, report, the Maoists were able to recruit about 60 persons in Andhra Pradesh.
In utter frustration and finding no youth attracted to their ‘ideology’, they are increasingly recruiting children. Worried about this trend, in a report on Children in Armed Conflict released on July 30, 2019, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that Maoist groups had recruited children as fighters. The report noted that there were reports of “systematic recruitment” of children by the Maoists. Further, on July 2, 2019, Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Shri G. Kishan Reddy, had disclosed in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of India’s Parliament), that there have been some reports of the CPI-Maoist inducting children in their outfit in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, using them for cooking, carrying daily use materials and collecting information regarding the movement of SFs. They were also imparted military training. However, no information was available regarding the number of such recruitments.
Meanwhile, the Government has taken several measures to keep the youth and children away from joining the Maoist insurgency. According to a July 28, 2019, report, for instance, in a school that is run by the Police, located in the Narayanpur Police Lines in Chhattisgarh, more than 300 erstwhile Maoists, many victims of the cross-fire between the Maoists and SFs, and 150 children, were getting the education they missed out on. Commenting on the effort, SP, Narayanpur, Mohit Garg, thus stated;
There are no schools in Abujhmaad and Maoists don’t want people to study. So, our aim is to educate all those who could either not study or had to abandon their education. It will enhance their knowledge, lend them self-confidence and enable them to improve their lives and those of their kids and families.
Earlier, on June 11, 2019, SP Visakhapatnam Attada Babujee disclosed that the Visakhapatnam District Police had trained over 500 youth in driving and provided them with valid driving licenses to eke out a living by running taxi services in places such as Araku and Paderu. The District Police also trained a few hundred youth as automobile technicians and provided kits worth INR 15,000 to each of them to start their own business. For the women, he said, the Police was providing training in nursing, and over 100 had already been trained and had been placed in jobs. SP, Babujee, further stated,
Apart from training the tribal youth in competitive examinations, we are also preparing them to take the test for police and army recruitment. There is a huge scope in tourism sector and we are focusing on training tribal youth for this sector and as security guards.
Nevertheless, though the Maoists are increasingly considered to be a spent force, they still remain a threat. The ongoing attempt by the Maoists to replenish their armed cadre, both at leadership levels and in the rank and file, is a significant and worrying development, despite its very limited success.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management