The expulsion of a senior Maoist leader from the party’s Odisha unit for opposing its strategy of ‘protracted people’s war’ has exposed the chinks in the movement’s ideological armour

The Maoist movement in India has suffered serious military setbacks at the hands of security forces, but it is now also believed to be facing ideological turmoil.

A question by a senior Maoist leader in Odisha in July — whether the path of Protracted People’s War (PPW) was still suitable to Indian conditions and raising several other ideological issues — seems to have touched a raw nerve.

The Maoist leader, Sabyasachi Panda, asked the question in a letter dated June 1 sent to CPI (Maoist) general secretary Ganapathy, a copy of which is available with The Hindu.

The Maoist central leadership reacted swiftly to Panda’s poser. In a reply posted on the website, which hosts the party’s statements, it reaffirmed its commitment to the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology-driven path of PPW to achieve the New Democratic Revolution (NDR). Then it expelled Panda, a leader of some 15 years standing in the party, dubbing him a “renegade” and accusing him of joining hands with the ruling classes.

Panda has now formed his own group named Odisha Maobadi Party (OMP). Though the impact of this split in the Odisha unit of the CPI (Maoist) is yet to be felt, it is fairly certain that it would be difficult for the party to retain its foothold in districts that were supervised by Panda while he was the secretary of the Odisha State Organising Committee (OSOC).

The middle-aged Panda and the guerrillas under his command operated mostly in Kandhamal, Ganjam, Gajapathi and other districts, which were under the control of the OSOC. Another party unit named Andhra-Orissa Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) supervises the movement in Rayagada, Koraput and Malkangiri districts of Odisha in addition to Vizianagaram, Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam and a part of East Godavari districts in Andhra Pradesh.

In a nutshell, Panda’s argument was that people are not yet ready for PPW, and that this path was not suitable for Indian conditions. More time was needed, he argued, to prepare the masses for the revolution. Going for “intensification” of war in one or two Maoist strongholds would be a mistake, he said. Panda was clearly referring to the strategic offensive stage of the Maoist movement in Bastar in Chhattisgarh, some areas in West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand.

The expelled leader also pointed out that the party had not learnt lessons from the setbacks it had suffered in North Telangana and the Nallamala forest regions of Andhra Pradesh. His other charges against the party leadership include: supporting and condoning unbridled use of violence; the policy of killing naxalite cadres who leave to join the mainstream; “domination” of tribals by a section of leaders and the importance being given to leaders of the erstwhile CPI-ML People’s War (PW) while denigrating the services of leaders who owed allegiance to Party Unity (PU). Panda himself was a leader in PU before it merged with PW. The PW subsequently merged with the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) to form the current CPI (Maoist).

In essence, Panda’s letter indicates that the reunification of Maoist forces, hailed as a milestone for the movement, has not gone down well at the field level.

The Maoist Central Committee responded on July 16 reaffirming its commitment to the path of PPW to build the movement to “finally seize political power all over the country by spreading from smaller areas to vaster [sic] areas, isolated areas to all over the country, and by developing from a small force to a mighty force.” The four-page statement signed by Anand, a member of the Polit Bureau and also secretary of Central Regional Bureau, saw Panda’s rebellion as part of multi-pronged offensive launched by Indian security forces.

Mirrors event in 2006

The developments in Odisha mirror the split among Karnataka’s Maoists in 2006, when a group of leaders disagreed with the party’s line in respect of Indian society being semi-colonial and semi-feudal in nature despite it being freed from foreign rule. This group also questioned the Maoist principle of area-wise capture of power — that the revolution would start from forest areas, spread to semi-forest areas and then to villages, towns and to cities gradually. Their argument was that since social conditions were changing, revolutionary activity should start from cities and towns and spread to the forests.

This ideological churning led to a vertical split in PW in Karnataka. In Odisha, as with Panda and the CPI (Maoist), the PW leadership had issued a detailed rebuttal of the criticism levelled by their comrades before expelling them. The expelled members went on to form a new Maoist outfit called Karnataka Maoist Swatantra Kendra (KMSK).

The split left the PW Karnataka unit without an ideologically-strong leadership, which, over a period of time, led to drastic fall in recruitment and a waning of the naxalite movement. Panda’s exit may not be of this scale, but the Maoists would find it difficult to engage, indoctrinate and recruit the locals. It would indeed be difficult to lead and spread the movement for people’s revolution in Odisha without the active involvement of locals.

There have been other instances of the Maoist party facing such ideological challenges. Exactly a decade ago, a member of the State Committee of West Bengal, Manik was expelled after he circulated a detailed document for discussion among party leaders for a discussion. Manik too argued that people were not ready for the intensified People’s War and criticised the strategies and tactics employed in North Telangana of Andhra Pradesh.

The senior leader found fault with the party’s belief that only intensified counter-violence (in Maoist jargon, TCOC or Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign) would provide space for revolutionary activity to thrive in the face of severe repression. He differed with senior ideologues in arguing that the forms of struggle being employed by the party must be commensurate with the political consciousness of masses. The PW had then circulated a lengthy document explaining issues raised by Manik, point by point. Then, he too was expelled from the party.

The exit of K.G. Satyamurthy, the legendary poet and ideologue from PW in 1987, was preceded by an intense ideological discussion. Subsequently, another ideologue, Kondapalli Seetaramaiah, too broke ranks with the CPI-ML (PW). Incidentally, both were the founders of CPI-ML People’s War, which is leading the revolutionary movement in India in its new avatar as CPI (Maoist).

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