This edition of the IPCS Column, 'Red Affairs', is the precis of a larger document titled 'Left-wing Extremism in 2015', published under the IPCS Forecast 2015 series.
Click here to read the full report .
At the onset of 2015, left-wing extremism (LWE) in India under the aegis of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) is confronted with a choice of either coming to terms with the realities of its weakness and revisit the strategy of sustaining a protracted war with the state; or continuing with carrying out periodic attacks on the security forces and other state protagonists with the long-term aim of resurrecting itself yet again in the coming years.
Although the past few years have reinforced the notion that CPI-Maoist has ceased to be the force it used to be, there is little hope that in 2015, the outfit would halt pursuing its strategy of carrying out intermittent raids as well as expanding into newer areas. How the state responds to this challenge via its reformulated strategy would be something to watch out for.
Shrinking Extremist Domination
In 2014, the trend of declining fatalities in LWE-related violence continued. According to provisional data, only 314 fatalities were registered, which is the lowest since the formation of the CPI-Maoist in 2004. While Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand account 67 per cent of these fatalities, Odisha, Maharashtra and Bihar are the other states that reported the remaining fatalities. The CPI-Maoist, which once wielded influence over almost one-third of the country's geographical expanse, now operates with a constrained presence in these five states. A sudden expansion in the CPI-Maoist's area of operation is unlikely in 2015. The outfit would mostly be involved in guarding its remaining influence in these states.
Affected by surrenders, killings and arrests of a large numbers of its cadres, the CPI-Maoist is clearly on a back foot, necessitating a phase of tactical retreat when the outfit rebuilds its strength. Among the many denominators that point at the state's tightening grip over LWE is the former's ability to carry out largely peaceful elections in various states. Jharkhand went for an assembly elections in November and December 2014. Additionally, the CPI-Maoist largely failed to carry out its threats of disrupting the poll; the over 66 per cent voter turnout – a record percentage in the state – demonstrated a growing popular confidence in the State's ability to provide security. A stable government, now a reality in state, has an opportunity of heralding an era of decisive action against the extremists.
The operational weakness of the CPI-Maoist, however, has not curtailed its ability to carry out periodic attacks resulting in high casualty among the security forces. In fact, such attacks would remain part of the CPI-Maoist's continuing attempt of seeking relevance, rebuilding its organisational strength, and inflicting setbacks on the security forces. The fact that the security forces in each of the LWE-affected theatres continue to face issues of coordination, leadership and direction, would aid the extremist efforts. Successful attacks such as the one that resulted in the killing of 14 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district on 1 December 2014, has already led to a defensive mindset among the forces, with the CRPF headquarters insisting that all major operations against the extremists must be cleared by the top brass of the organisation.
Enclaves of Strength
New Delhi has assured the affected states of support in dealing with LWE. However, for the states, emerging from an era of overwhelming dependence on the central forces has proved to be difficult. Progress in enabling its own police forces to take a lead role in countering extremism has remained a non-starter. This is apparent in the significant level of popular compliance to the CPI-Maoist's periodic calls for shutdown in various states. Even as the state makes advance establishing its writ over hitherto extremism-affected areas, several enclaves of extremist domination, especially in states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha would continue to mock the official claims of success.
Resurrecting governance over the erstwhile Maoist-dominated areas has proved to be New Delhi's Achilles Heel. As of the beginning of 2015, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs is pushing the state governments to appoint "officers with zeal" as district magistrates and superintendents of police in the extremism-affected districts. Even as the security forces register some successes in ending extremist domination over select areas, bureaucratic inertia in kick-starting governance has remained one of the primary hindrances in cementing success. Government functionaries are either reluctant to function in such hazardous zones or are indulging in rampant corruption exploiting the lack of accountability a conflict situation provides. The attempt to inculcate "zeal" among functionaries, both in the higher and lower levels of bureaucracy is likely to be a tough one for the state governments.
One of the less highlighted aspects of the CPI-Maoist's activities in 2014 was its foray into Kerala. With a handful of incidents involving attacks on a forest department office and an outpost, and KFC and McDonald’s outlets, the Maoists have announced their presence in the southern state. While expansion into new areas remains an avowed objective of the CPI-Maoist exploiting fertile grounds, the divided official response has helped the outfit gain strength and sympathisers. Amid the Kerala police's steps to deal with the emerging threat, a senior government functionary has called for a stop to the hunt and has praised the Maoists for "energising the government machinery in tribal areas." The CPI-Maoist would continue its attempts to spread its activities into new areas in 2015. Sans a national consensus on dealing with the threat, some of these areas would lapse into new hunting grounds for the extremists.