Author : Niranjan Sahoo

Originally Published 2014-04-03 04:19:12 Published on Apr 03, 2014
At a juncture like this, rather than losing its energy and focus, the Centre and Maosts affected States need to keep up the pressure on the rebels and if possible make smart negotiations with rebel leaders with attractive surrender and rehabilitation packages.
Time for smart negotiations with Maoists
"In another daring attack recently, some 200 heavily armed Maoists ambushed convoys of paramilitary forces in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, killing 15 para-military personnel in most gruesome manner. Happening on the heels of last year’s most audacious Darbha Ghati attack that claimed lives of many high profile politicians of the same State, the Sukma attack has sent shock waves across the security establishment as well as the political class with general elections round the corner.

How would one interpret the Sukma incident? Are Maoists on a revival path, as many analysts make one to believe? But the fact is that notwithstanding some daring attacks in the recent times, the Maoists seem to be on retreat now. The biggest evidence of their rapid decline comes from the voters’ turnout in Chhattisgarh assembly elections despite a boycott call from the Maoists. In the Maoist stronghold of Bastar, more than 70% people cast their votes, braving the consequences of the boycott call.

A close scrutiny of inputs emerging from the ongoing counter-insurgency operations suggests that after vacillating for a considerable period of time, the Centre and the affected States have put up a better show. Despite resource constraints (especially infrastructure and capacity deficit), five worst affected States -- Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Odisha, have shown admirable political courage to take on Maoists in their strong holds. After denials and many half starts, these states have brought visible improvement in coordination and combat operations. The Centre (especially under Mr. Chidambaram’s tenure as Union Home Minister) played a major role in the counter-insurgency surge, particularly in terms of providing critical security and intelligence infrastructure to States.

The joint counter-insurgency operation, which took some serious traction in the aftermath of the most brutal 2010 Latehar attacks in Chhattisgarh, which killed 76 para-military personnel, has yielded significant results in checkmating Maoists forward movement. The most decisive outcome is that the rebels have lost some of their key leaders, including Kishenji, Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad and very recently Maddu Serisha, a key woman leader in charge of Jharkhand and Odisha. Approximately 20 prominent members of the 39-member Central Committee have been neutralized by the security forces in past two years. While six key members were killed, 14 senior leaders like Narayan Sanyal, Kobad Gandhi, Pramod Mishra, Amitabh Bagchi have been arrested. The biggest gain is the sensational surrender of Gudsa Usendi, the spokesperson of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee. Importantly, security forces have gained critical upper hand over Maoists by capturing more than 6000 active cadres in the last three years. The loss of top leadership coupled with the arrest of many active cadres has made them defensive and desperate.

The sharp decline in Maoist strengths can be vindicated from the drastic reduction in the number of violent incidents in the last two years. From a peak 1180 in 2010, the Maoist related fatalities have dropped to just 394 in 2013. The year in progress shows even further deceleration in Maoist related casualties. Fatalities among security forces have fallen sharply -- from 285 in 2010 to less than 100 in 2013. In fact, in some states like West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh, there have been zero casualties among security forces in the current year. Besides, there has been a drastic fall in the number of major incidents (involving three or more fatalities). The security forces claim to have regained control over more than 12,000 square kilometres now from the Maoist strongholds, reducing their geographical reach from 223 districts in 2008 to 173 by the end of 2013. The security forces have now made an entry into their once impregnable Ambujmarh and have also made bold forays into hitherto forbidden territories such as Saranda forest and Koel-Sankh in Jharkhand. Significantly, some of the districts which were once under the complete domination of Maoists (reduced from 83 in 2008 to 54 in 2013), have been freed from their clutches.

The most critical piece of evidence suggesting weakening of Maoists comes from the news about the growing fissures among various Maoist factions. Some four dozens Left-wing factions, which had opportunistically merged in 2004 to form a formidable coalition, are in open war against each other now. From the Induvar killing incident in Bihar to the kidnapping of foreign tourists in Odisha, there are plenty of signs that they may return to MCC versus PWG kind of open feud. The Maoist faction led by Sabyasachi Panda (which controls Kandhamal and West Bengal operations) is openly challenging the leadership controlled by Andhra factions. In several States, top and middle ranking adivasi fighters, especially in the Dandakaranya Zone, are openly opposing the once invincible Andhra-based leadership. Gudsa Usendi had recently confessed that Maoist cadres are a demoralised lot and key leaders are openly taking on each others. According to him, the Maoist leadership is considerably weaker and the organization is in dire need of some breathing space. A spurt in attacks in recent times is an indication of their desperate attempt to provide confidence to cadres and supporters.

What is further deepening the crisis in the Maoist groups is their greying leadership. Many top leaders such as Ravula Srinivas (who coordinated recent attacks and the Latehar ambush in 2010) and Muppala Laksaman Rao, the head of the outfit, have grown quite older and may not be in a position to carry on protracted war forever. Being in such a desperate situation, for Maoist leadership there cannot be a better time than the election season to re-energise the cadres and boost their confidence through violent attacks.

At a juncture like this, rather than losing its energy and focus, the Centre and the affected States need to keep up the pressure on the rebels and if possible make smart negotiations with rebel leaders (as Odisha government is reportedly doing with Sabyasachi Panda) to get them surrender before the State. To target cadres who are increasingly getting disillusioned with the movement, the authorities, along with the continued counter insurgency drive, can come out with an attractive surrender and rehabilitation policy, giving clear incentives to jump the party. In the previous decade, Andhra Pradesh had dealt a deadly blow to ultras through an intelligent combination of Greyhound operations and attractive surrender and rehabilitation package. Few seems to remember this. The tragedy with India’s counter-insurgency strategy is that it has poor institutional memory.

(Dr Niranjan Sahoo is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)
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Niranjan Sahoo

Niranjan Sahoo

Niranjan Sahoo, PhD, is a Senior Fellow with ORF’s Governance and Politics Initiative. With years of expertise in governance and public policy, he now anchors ...

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