Hurt by incarcerations and “encounter” killings of senior leaders, facing desertions due to surrenders by cadres to security forces in various States, unable to build a workable organisation in new areas, and hemmed into what seems to be their last stronghold — South Bastar — such has been the status of the Indian Maoists lately. But this did not deter the insurgent group’s audacious ambush and killing of more than 20 paramilitary personnel in the Tarrem area in the Bijapur-Sukma district border in southern Chhattisgarh in early April, suggesting that the Communist Party of India (Maoist) might be down but was certainly not out.
The Tarrem attacks is believed to have been led by the heavily armed Battalion 1 belonging to the Maoists’ People Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) and is led by a tribal guerrilla leader, Hidma. This ambush raised the number of security forces killed in the Bastar region to more than 175 since the killing of 76 CRPF personnel in the Chintalnar attack in April 2010.
The Maoists have also been at the end of strong attacks by paramilitary and police forces in areas such as the Andhra-Odisha border that is close to south Chhattisgarh, in Gadchiroli in Maharasthra and even as far as the western ghat forests in the tri-state junction between Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The Chintalnar attack might have marked a turning point in the offensive by the Indian state against the insurgents — with a focus on a no-holds barred military campaign against the guerrillas even as governments sought to increase developmental work and infrastructure building in the remote areas with a strong presence and influence of the PLGA and Maoist organs to undercut any popular support.
The CPI (Maoist) came into being following the merger of two of the strongest Naxalite groups — the Peoples’ War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre — in 2004. The PWG was formed in 1980 by Kondapalli Seetharamaiah from the splinter groups that had broken away from the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), led by general secretary Charu Mazumdar in the early 1970s.
The PWG had a sizeable following in the 1980s and 90s in undivided Andhra Pradesh as it had led mass agitations on various issues, including peasant wages and land struggles. It had also graduated into a military force by forming guerrilla zones in northern Telangana, extending up to the Nallamalla forests. Anticipating state actions, a group from the PWG had already moved to present-day Chhattisgarh in the early 1990s and had formed mass organisations in the tribal areas in the southern part of the State. Mass organisations of the PWG included the Dandakaranya Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (DAKMS), which focussed on mobilising tribal villagers for rights to collect forest produce, besides some developmental work. While doing so, armed cadres of the PWG also used the difficult terrain to build guerrilla zones. Today, in places such as the Abujmarh forested areas in southern Chhattisgarh, the Maoists claim to have set up “janathana sarkars” — local government units.
The merger with the MCC, another armed Naxalite group that was founded by Kanai Chatterjee in 1975 and had strongholds in the Jharkhand forests, gave a fillip to the newly formed CPI(Maoist). By 2010, the Indian government already identified the Maoists as the “single biggest internal security challenge”.
While the PWG, in its initial years, combined mass activism with guerrilla warfare and violent attacks on police, the group, especially after its merger into the CPI(Maoist), had largely evolved into a military force. The Indian Maoists have steadfastly held that violent armed struggle is a must in its aims to achieve a socialist revolution in India and have sought to follow the Chinese path to revolution in the 1920s that sought to mobilise peasants in an armed struggle to overthrow the state and to form a one-party communist government.
The CPI(Maoist) rejects Indian democracy and electoral politics as they terms India to be a semi-colonial, semi-feudal country and the Indian state beholden to “imperialism, comprador big bourgeoisie [big business that is subordinate to foreign big capital] and feudalism” and which necessitates its recourse to armed struggle from the countryside to later encircling cities and capturing power. This is right from the playbook of the Chinese communists led by Mao Zedong in the 1920s. Yet, far from mobilising peasantry or even gaining their sympathies, the Indian Maoists have been reduced to seeking refuge in remote forested areas which offer them the camouflage and difficult terrain to engage in guerrilla warfare and to seek support from tribal people living in areas that are either under-developed or have limited access to the institutions of the Indian state.
In Bastar, the Indian government’s recourse to counter-mobilisation of tribals into armed resistance groups such as Salwa Judum was brought to a closure by the Supreme Court in 2011 following the resultant militant backlash that severely affected the tribal population. Tribal disenchantment with both severe state repression as well as Maoist violence had increased in the last decade, a fact that is also lamented by the Maoists in their internal documents and has limited their support and growth.
Despite severe reversals and setbacks — the capture and deaths of influential senior leaders and desertions by activists — the Maoists remain committed to militant insurgency even as they reject any call for a recourse to peaceful agitations or to enter the democratic process to further their goal. The elevation of Nambala Keshava Rao, a senior leader of the Maoists’ Central Military Commission, to the general secretary of the party in 2018 after replacing aged leader Muppala Lakshmana Rao was an indication that the proscribed outfit will continue to focus on military tactics and what it terms “strategic defence”.
This is despite its inability to graduate from guerrilla warfare and to build base areas where they could offer alternative governance — a key step for advance that has eluded them for decades. In other words, the Maoists refuse to change their understanding of the nature of the Indian state and continue to deny that conditions and aspirations of the poor necessitate alternative political work that do not draw from revolutions elsewhere.
The Maoist movement in India seems headed in the same direction that several violent and failed insurgencies, inspired by the Chinese revolution, went — from the Shining Path in Peru to the Communist Party of the Philippines. There have been exceptions — the Nepali Maoists, for example, managed to partake in power after peacefully ending the civil war — but if the Indian Maoists’ denunciation of these steps taken by their Nepali counterparts are any indication, such a step does not seem to be in the offing.
The CPI (Maoist) came into being after the merger of two Naxalite groups — the Peoples’ War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre — in 2004
They reject Indian democracy and electoral politics and term India a ‘semi-colonial, semi-feudal country’ that’s beholden to ‘imperialism’
The Indian government has launched a no-holds barred military campaign against the guerrillas, while taking steps to cut their popular support in remote villages
Indian Maoists, inspired by the Chinese model, have steadfastly held that armed struggle is a must in their aim to achieve a socialist revolution in India