On the morning of 18 October 2014, Shiv Kumar, a personnel belonging to the Chhattisgarh Armed Police was pulled out of a passenger bus in Sukma district by a group of Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres and killed. Kumar was ill and was on his way to the hospital when the bus he had boarded was waylaid by extremists. On the previous day, Raghunath Kisku, Founder Member, Nagarik Suraksha Samity (NSS), an anti-Maoist organisation, was killed by Maoists in Ghatshila sub-division of Jharkhand's East Singhbhum district.
Kumar was the 69th security force personnel and Kisku, the 164th civilian, to be killed by Maoists in 2014. Other activities perpetrated by the Maoists till 15 September include 125 attacks on the police; 40 occasions of snatching of weapons from the security forces; and holding of 25 arms training camps and 46 jan adalats in areas under their influence. While the occurrence of larger attacks have substantially decreased, the number of extremism-related incidents roughly remain the same compared to the corresponding period in 2013 – indicating the continuation of the challenge.
And yet it is a hard time for the Maoists. Till 15 September, 1129 CPI-Maoist cadres were neutralised, including 49 who were killed in encounters, and 1080 cadres, arrested. While the outfit can take pride from the sacrifices made by these men and women, what continues to trouble it is the perpetual desolation creeping into its ranks and files, leading to a large number of surrender of its leaders and cadres.
Among the 395 who have surrendered till 30 September are leaders like Gumudavelli Venkatakrishna Prasad alias Gudsa Usendi, Secretary, Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC), arguably the outfit's most potent military division based in Bastar and his wife Raji; GP Reddy, Member, the DKSZC, and his wife Vatti Adime; and Bhagat Jade and his wife Vanoja. According to the Chhattisgarh police, over 140 cadres have surrendered between June and September 2014 in Bastar alone, partly due to the disillusion with the outfit's ideology and partly convinced by the police's method of highlighting the discrimination suffered by the local Chhattisgarh cadres at the hands of those drawn from Andhra Pradesh.
Press statements of the CPI-Maoist, while condemning these surrenders as demonstration of opportunism and desertion of the movement by corrupt and politically degenerated persons, admit that the revolution is currently undergoing its most difficult phase. The CPI-Maoist has accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in New Delhi of launching the third phase of Operation Green Hunt, a ruthless war aimed at annihilating the Maoists who are the "biggest threat" to its "pro-reform" policies. Asserting that it has merely only engaged in a "war of self defence," the outfit has called for a "widespread struggle to fight back the threat by uniting all the revolutionary and democratic forces."
Its progressively declining capacity to annihilate enemies since 2010 – in spite of the ability to pull off some of the most spectacular attacks on security forces and politicians in recent years – has remained a matter of worry for the CPI-Maoist. Its failure to disrupt the parliamentary and state assembly elections coupled with a regular desertion of its cadres has descended as an existential threat on the outfit that once controlled one-third of the country's geographical area. Even with the persisting bureaucratic inertia and unimaginative security force operations, most of the affected states have gained in their fight against the extremists.
However, the outfit's domination over large swathes of area in Chhattiagrh, Odisha and Jharkhand with significant presence in states like Bihar provides it with the ability to continue with its small ambushes. Its recruitment and fund raising ability appears to have shrunk. And yet, the outfit harps about a people's militia "now in thousands" united by apathy of the state and carefully calibrated image of the government being a representative of the exploitative industrial houses. Hence, a scenario in which surrenders and killings of the Maoists would push the outfit into oblivion is remote.
The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), after months of deliberation, is now armed with a new policy to counter the Maoists. The policy, subject to cabinet approval, would remain open to use "any element of national power" against the extremists. Although it does not rule out peace talks with the extremists, it makes the peace process conditional to the CPI-Maoist renouncing violence. It plans to make the state police the lead counter-insurgent force against the extremists while assigning the central forces, especially the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the responsibility of holding the counter-insurgency grid together "like a glue." While impressive in its nuances, the approach is guided by the belief that it is possible to wipe out the Maoists by force alone.
The impact of the new official counter-Maoist policy remains to be seen. However, in the clash between a militarily 'down-and-not-yet-out' CPI-Maoist and the official security apparatus that has its own set of serious problems, little more than persistence of the logjam can be expected.