By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On November 20, 2017, a ‘commander’ of Communist Party of India (CPI-Maoist)’s ‘Jan Militia (People’s Army)’, identified as Baman Kawasi aka Chaman, carrying a reward of INR 100,000, was arrested by Chhattisgarh Police from neighbouring Telangana. Acting on specific inputs, the Chhattisgarh Police arrested Chaman from the Husnabad area in the Khammam District of Telangana. Chaman was a native of the Kuwakonda Police Station area in the Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh. The ‘People’s Army’, with an estimated current strength of around 12,000 cadres, forms the backbone of the Maoists’ operational capabilities, and is responsible for intelligence gathering, spreading ideology and also mobilizing people into joining the group.
On the same day, Akash Singh (24), an ‘area commander’ of the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a breakaway faction of CPI-Maoist, surrendered before Simdega (Jharkhand) Superintendent of Police (SP), Rajiv Ranjan Singh. Akash Singh of the Kolebira area in Simdega District had joined PLFI in 2012 and carried an INR 200,000 reward on his head in Jharkhand.
On November 17, 2017, Police claimed that two CPI-Maoist ’commanders’ were killed in an encounter with the Police in the Kanhaiguda Forests of Sukma District of Chhattisgarh. Each of the two slain Maoists carried a reward of INR 800,000. Interestingly, however, their identity was not revealed in media reports.
On October 31, 2017, a PLFI ‘area commander’, identified as Maina Gope, and three other cadres were killed in an encounter with Security Force (SF) personnel at Palsi village under Karra Police Station in the Khunti District of Jharkhand.
On October 25, 2017, SFs killed three Maoists, including Rakesh Dugga and Ranjit Nureti, ‘commander’ and ‘deputy commander’, respectively, of the Pallemadi Local Operation Squad (LOS); and Mahesh Potavi of the Madanwada LOS. The three operated together in the Kopenkadka village forest in the Khadgaon Police Station area of the Rajnandgaon District in Chhattisgarh. While Rakesh and Ranjit carried head money of INR 500,000 each, Mahesh carried a reward of INR 300,000. Dipanshu Kabra, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Durg Range, disclosed, on October 26, “After last night’s [October 25] action, the Pallemadi LOS has virtually been finished off.” The Pallemadi and Madanwada LOSs were instrumental in the July 12, 2009, attack at Manpur in Rajnandgaon District in which cadres of the CPI-Maoist had killed 29 Police personnel, including Rajnandgaon Superintendent of Police (SP) Vinod Kumar Chaubey. The Pallemadi LOS, according to reports, was looking after Maoist activities in tri-junction forests of Rajnandgaon, Kanker and Balod; all Districts of Chhattisgarh.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 949 leadership elements of Left Wing Extremists (LWEs) across the country have been neutralized since 2010 (data till November 26, 2017). These included at least 19 national level leaders, 214 state level leaders, and 716 local level leaders. In 2017, at least 131 LWE leadership elements were neutralized across the country, including 23 State level leaders and 108 local level leaders.
Source: SATP, *Data till November 26, 2017
While SFs killed 125 of these 949 leadership elements (three national level leaders, 20 state level leaders and 102 local level leaders), they arrested 513 (15 national level leaders, 163 state level leaders, and 335 local level leaders). Mounting SF pressure also resulted in the surrender of 311 Maoist leaders: one national level leader, 31 State level leaders, and 279 local level leaders. In 2017, SFs have killed at least 29 LWE leadership elements across the country (two State level leaders and 27 local level leaders), while another 58 were arrested (10 state level leaders and 48 local level leaders). 44 Maoist leaders surrendered in 2017 (11 State level and 33 local level).
At the time of its formation in 2004, CPI-Maoist reportedly had a 16-member strong ‘politburo’, the outfit’s highest decision making body. Those listed in the ‘politburo’ included: Muppalla Laxmana Rao aka Ganapathi, Prashanth Bose aka Nirbhay, Cherukuri Raja Kumar aka Uday aka Azad, Mallojula Koteshwara Rao aka Prahallad aka Kishenji, Nambala Keshavarao aka Basavraj aka Ganganna, Kobad Ghandy aka Saleem, Pramod Mishra aka Ban Bihari aka Janardhan, Sumanand Singh aka Sujith Da aka Sumith, Malla Raji Reddy aka Meesalanna aka Sathenna, Mallajula Venugolpal aka Bhupathi, Katakam Sudershan aka Anand aka Mohan, Mishir Besra aka Bhaskar aka Sunirmal, Akilesh Yadav aka Prabodh aka Satish aka Prashant, Balraj aka B.R. aka Arvind, Sushil Roy, B Narayan Sanyal aka Naveen Prasad aka Bijoy Dada. Of these, two have been killed: Cherukuri Raja Kumar aka Azad (killed on July 2, 2010) and Mallojula Koteshwara Rao aka Kishenji (killed on November 24, 2011). Another two died due to illness: Sushil Roy (on June 18, 2014) and B. Narayan Sanyal aka Bijoy Dada (on April 17, 2017). Four have been arrested: Kobad Ghandy aka Saleem (arrested on September 21, 2009); Balraj aka B.R. (arrested on February 8, 2010); Pramod Mishra aka Ban Bihari (arrested on May 11, 2008, acquitted on August 2, 2017); and Akilesh Yadav aka Prabodh (arrested on June 12, 2011, and acquitted in 2015). There are, at present, only eight members of the original ‘politburo’ ‘in position’ or whose whereabouts are not known.
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. The ‘CC’ included all the 16 members of the ‘politburo’ and another 18 members: Ashuthosh aka Bipul, Chandari Yadav aka Prayag aka Pralay, Ranjit Bose aka Kanchan, Vijay Kumar Arya aka Dilip Ji, Jantu Mukherji aka Shahebda, Rohit aka Mohit, Mohan aka Mahesh, Thipparthi Tirupathi aka Devuji aka Chetan, Jinugu Narisimhareddy aka Jampanna, Akkiraju Hara Gopal aka Ramakrishna aka RK, Krishnan Srinivasan aka Vishnu aka Sreedhar, Kuppu Dev Raj aka Kuppu Swamy, Anuradha Ghandy aka Janaki, Sande Rajamouli aka Prasad aka Murali, Gajanand aka Paresh, Lanka Papireddy aka Ranganna, Dev Kumar Singh aka Aravind, and Varanasi Subramanyam aka Sukanth. Of these latter 18, at least two have been killed, nine arrested, and one surrendered: Sande Rajamouli aka Prasad (killed on June 22, 2007), Kuppu Dev Raj aka Kuppu Swamy (killed on November 24, 2016), Ashuthosh aka Bipul (arrested in March 2009), Ranjit Bose aka Kanchan (arrested on December 3, 2010), Vijay Kumar Arya aka Dilip Ji (arrested on April 29, 2011), Jantu Mukherji aka Shahebda (arrested on April 30, 2011), Rohit aka Mohit (arrested, date not specified), Jinugu Narisimhareddy aka Jampanna (arrested on August 8, 2010), Krishnan Srinivasan aka Vishnu aka Sreedhar (arrested on August 19, 2007), Gajanand aka Paresh (arrested in May 2013), Varanasi Subramanyam aka Sukanth (arrested on April 20, 2011), and Lanka Papireddy aka Ranganna (surrendered on February 2, 2008). Further, Anuradha Ghandy aka Janaki died due to illness on April 12, 2008. Thus, at present there are only five of these 18 ‘in position’ or whose whereabouts are not known. Moreover, at least five members appear to be added to the ‘alternate CC’: including Pulluri Prasad Rao aka Chandranna, Kadari Satyanarayana Reddy aka Sadhu aka Gopanna, Modem Bala Krishna aka Bhaskar, Pankaj, and Patel Sudhakar Reddy aka Vikas. Of these five ‘alternate CC’ members, Patel Sudhakar Reddy was killed on May 24, 2009, while the whereabouts of the remaining four are not known. Thus, only 17 members of the 39-member ‘CC’, including the ‘alternate CC’, are ‘operational’: eight ‘politburo’, five ‘CC’, and four ‘alternate CC’ members. Further, according to a September 27, 2017, report, another three have been added to the ‘CC’ – Milind Teltumde (54), Ravalu Srinivas (53), and Sudhakar aka Oggu Burlal Satwaji (60), all of whom are reportedly underground. Further, Madvi Hidma, according to unconfirmed reports, has been promoted to the ‘CC’.
Crucially, the existing leadership is rapidly ageing and many top leaders are chronically ill. According to a September 27, 2017, report published in Telangana Today, seven of the existing 19 active ‘CC’ members (17 according to the SATP database) were 60 years old, or more: Muppalla Laxmana Rao aka Ganapathy (66), Katakam Sudershan (61), Ranjit Bose (61), Dev Kumar Singh (60), Malla Raji Reddy (60), Sudhakar aka Oggu Burlal Satwaji (60), and Prashant Bose (70).
Indeed, the report stated that, 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.
These developments have had cumulative impact on Maoist activities across the country. According to partial data compiled by SATP, the number of total fatalities recorded in LWE-linked violence in 2017 stands at 285 (data till November 26) as against 411 during the corresponding period of 2016. More significantly, the number of civilian fatalities has come down considerably, from 123 in 2016 to 88 in 2017. It is only for the second time since the formation of the CPI-Maoist that fatalities in this category have remained within two digits – in 2015 there were 93 civilian fatalities (lowest ever recorded in a single year) – though there is still over a month to go in the current year.
Indeed, Union Home Minister (UHM) Rajnath Singh stated, on November 3, 2017,
During the meeting, it was brought out that the declining trend of LWE (Left-Wing Extremism) violence continues across the country which has seen an overall reduction of 21 per cent in violent incidents over the corresponding period of last year. The LWE continue to remain under pressure with ever shrinking influence, both in terms of geographical spread and public support.
The Maoists are manifestly in decline. According to another report published in Telangana Today on September 27, 2017, the CPI-Maoist ‘CC’, which met in February 2017 to review the progress of the ‘revolutionary movement’ in the country, had passed a resolution admitting that their movement was going through a ‘difficult’ stage all over the country. Several expressions, such as ‘weak’, ‘set back’, ‘difficult state’, and ‘stagnation’, were used in the resolution to describe the status of the ‘revolutionary movement’ in areas falling under four of their Regional Bureaus across India:
Northern Regional Bureau (NRB)
Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh (UP)
Eastern Regional Bureau (ERB)
Bihar Jharkhand Special Area Committee (BJSAC)
North-Bihar North East Jharkhand SAC
2 U Special Area Committee – parts of UP and Uttarakhand
West Bengal State Committee
Upper Assam Leading Committee
Weak/ Set Back
Central Regional Bureau (CRB)
Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee
Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee
Odisha State Committee
Telangana State Committee
South West Regional Bureau (SWRB)
Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu
Stagnation with only mass organisation activity
Clearly, the Maoists are a worried lot. In an effort to restore activities, efforts to strengthen their top leadership has been initiated to overcome this “difficult phase”. According to unconfirmed media reports, the ‘chief’ of ‘Battalion No.1’ of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), Madvi Hidma (32), has reportedly been ‘promoted’ to the ‘CC’. If this is confirmed, Hidma would be among the youngest ever ‘CC’ members. Moreover, it seems that the Maoists have made ‘strategic shift’ in identifying future leaders. An unnamed senior Police officer observed, “The ramifications of his (Hidma’s) promotion are many. This could be a new era of Maoist leadership as this is the first time that a Bastariya will be given command of the region…” In the past, the ‘CC’ almost entirely comprised Telugu leaders from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and had long been accused of ignoring local tribal ‘commanders’ of the Bastar region, despite the fact that Bastar had emerged as a Maoist stronghold over the last many years, particularly after the set back the Maoists suffered in undivided Andhra Pradesh . An unnamed senior officer noted that, though informers had confirmed Hidma’s promotion, things were still not clear: “We can confirm only when we see it in any Maoist literature.”
With their top leadership in doubt after suffering tremendous losses over the past years the Maoists are now at in disarray. This is an opportunity for the state to consolidate its power and activities, to fill the existing vacuum in areas of past Maoist ‘disruptive dominance’, and to restore governance and public services. The Maoists are certain to attempt a revival; their success or failure will depend essentially and inversely on the failure or success of SFs and the administration to take advantage of the present reverses the rebels have suffered.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow; Institute for Conflict Management