Counter-insurgency literature limits the effective functionality of an insurgent group about a decade. Overall, the optimal possibility for an insurgency to achieve the desired result was in the first decade of its origin. While he may continue to exist and carry out occasional attacks beyond this timeline, the chances of him ever achieving his proclaimed end goals are low. As the end of 2021 approaches, the 17-year-old Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) looks like a crumbling group that is far beyond its peak and effectiveness. However, it still has the potential to continue in emaciated form, exploiting favorable conditions available in states like Chhattisgarh.
On November 13, the CPI-Maoist group suffered severe shock with the loss of 27 of its executives during a meeting in the district of Gadchiroli in Maharasthra. Among those killed were Milind Teltumbde, a member of the Central Committee, two other members of the divisional committee and Sukhlal Parchaki, a local commander. The group, in a press release, called the incident “more painful” and called for a shutdown to pay tribute to the executives killed. Elsewhere, Prashant Bose aka Kishan da, the group’s elusive senior ideologue, has been arrested in the district of Saraikela Kharsawan in Jharkhand. Bose, who in the mid-1980s was more of an inspiring figure within the organization than a man of operations. The murder of a large number of armed cadres in Gadchiroli was a direct setback for the operations and the expansion plan of the group.
An offensive-defensive approach
Two trends can be drawn from the country’s policy on left-wing extremism (LWE) in recent years. First, notwithstanding the evils that affect the operations of the security forces against the CPI-Maoists, the emphasis is on a proactive “offensive-defensive” approach. Operations such as the one in Gadchiroli, in which the Maharashtra police and the state’s anti-LWE C-60 commandos were involved, are part of this strategy of responding to the threat at the “point of origin” rather than ‘at the “point of impact”. Such a strategy offers two inherent advantages. First, it robs the group of the sense of security they enjoyed during periods of inactivity or absence of violence. Second, it impacts the quality and readiness for violent actions.
Second, the Union Home Office (MHA) succeeded in putting in place a uniform force-focused strategy to deal with LWE. For a long time now, and particularly during the years of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, disunity among states and the freedom offered to them to pursue soft or harsh counter-LWE approaches had enabled ICCs- Maoists both a space of operation and an opportunity for survival. It is now a thing of the past. An informal understanding appears to have been made between the central government and each of the LWE affected states regarding the primacy of an offensive-defensive approach. A state like Chhattisgarh, for example, had promised a a different approach under Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, but he complied with MHA’s preference.
Nothing succeeds like success. The encounter with Gadchiroli occurs about seven months after the ambush that killed 22 members of the security forces in the Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh. At one level, this can be interpreted as the ability of the security forces to turn the tide against the CPI-Maoist, albeit in a different theater of conflict. Maharashtra’s security forces have behaved relatively well vis-à-vis the Maoists in the only district of the state affected by the LWE. Although the neighboring district of Gondia is also officially described as being affected by the LWE, it does not see much extremist activity.
In comparison, the nine districts of Chhattisgarh (Dantewada, Bastar, Kanker, Surguja, Rajnandgaon, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Sukma and Kondagaon) are affected by LWE. The performance of the state security establishment vis-à-vis extremists, compared to its counterparts in Maharashtra, is relatively weak.
Unsurprisingly, Chhattisgarh is both an important part of LWE’s activity and is a state where the CPI-Maoists manage to carry out major strikes against the security forces, albeit intermittently. Thus, while the Gadchiroli meeting constitutes a major setback for the CPI-Maoist, Chhattisgarh holds the key to its decimation. In other words, losses suffered in Maharashtra or any other state can be recouped by the Chhattisgarh group. As long as the CPI-Maoist group manages to operate in Chhattisgarh, LWE will not end.
From a purely security perspective, if a district-centric approach has worked to the advantage of Maharashtra’s security forces, it certainly needs to be replicated in Chhattisgarh. The latter is much more complex and is part of the decades-long history of CPI-Maoist consolidation in the state, which was previously part of Madhya Pradesh, and only adds to the group’s means. The lingering challenges of intelligence gathering, central-state coordination, and gaining popular support could potentially be best addressed through a district-centered approach. This will help remove existing complexities and improve security capabilities.
Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray is Director, Mantraya, and Visiting Fellow, IPCS, where this article was first published.