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Maoists rudderless as leadership crisis looms large

Ramgarh village where 30 Maoists were killed in a joint operation by Andhra and Odisha police on November 5 last year.

Ramgarh village where 30 Maoists were killed in a joint operation by Andhra and Odisha police on November 5 last year.   | Photo Credit: K.R. Deepak

As they prepare to observe the first anniversary of the Ramgarh encounter, Left extremists flounder without an intellectual base

A year after suffering it’s biggest military setback, the banned CPI(Maoist) is in the grip of a mid-level organisational crisis. On October 24, the Maoists will observe the first anniversary of the Ramaguda or Ramgarh exchange of fire, in which 30 of their cadre were killed. Ramgarh, a small tribal hamlet between the Eastern Ghats and the Balimela Reservoir, is in the cut-off area of the Andhra-Odisha Border (AOB), a stronghold of the Maoists.

The Ramgarh encounter has significance in the history of the Maoist conflict. This was the biggest single strike by the Greyhounds, the anti-Naxal special police of Andhra Pradesh. It wiped out almost the entire top leadership of the Malkangiri-Koraput-Visakhapatnam Border (MKVB) division and part of the Andhra Orissa Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) of the CPI (Maoist).

The leaders killed included Bakuri Venkata Ramana alias Ganesh , Kistayya alias Daya, Gangadhar, Prithviraj alias Munna , Gamelli Kesava Rao alias Birsu, Madhu, Yamalapalli Simhachalam alias Murali alias Hari, Ramesh, Latha alias Bharathi , Daveed, Rajesh, Budri, Mamatha, Manjula, Erralu, Goutham, Chinni alias Some, Jyothi, Kamala and Rame.

Sudden void

This sudden void in the MKVB and AOBSZC has spiralled into a leadership crisis, in the ‘Red Corridor’ (select districts, mostly with a large forest area in Andhra, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand).

Senior leaders such as Chalapathi and Aruna who were given charge of the Dandakaranya area had to be moved into this region and even the chief of the Central Military Commission (CMC), Nambala Keshav Rao alias Basavraj, has been spending considerable time here to regroup and gain ground, said the DIG of Visakhapatnam (Range) Ch. Srikanth.

Documents recovered from the Ramgarh site and subsequent encounters at the AOB, Chhattisgarh and Odisha, reveal that the Ramgarh incident has aggravated the leadership crisis among the Maoists, said a senior officer from the Andhra Pradesh State Intelligence Bureau (SIB).

Intelligence sources say the crisis is telling not only on the topmost levels but at the mid-level, considered to be the main fighting force of the Maoists.

Documents recovered also indicated that 68-year-old Muppala Lakshman Rao alias Ganapathi, the general secretary of the banned organisation is likely to step aside for his second in command, Basavraj.

Basavraj, who is younger, is said to be a military strategist and an expert in explosives and has been leading the CMC since its formation in 2004. He is reportedly the brain behind a number of deadly attacks in Chhattisgarh, including the one in which Congress leader V.C. Shukla and founder of Salwa Judum Mahendra Karma were killed on May 25, 2013.

The decision is viewed as a major change since the formation of CPI (Maoist) in 2004.

The CPI (Maoist) was formed with the merger of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist), People’s War (People’s War Group) and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI).

The change is seen as part of the leadership crisis, as the focus appears to be shifting towards militarism from ideology, said a senior Greyhounds officer.

The Politburo strength of 14 in 2005 has dwindled to 7 and the Central Committee membership has fallen from 40 to 14, in 11 years.

Intellectual deficit

Be it the Maoist or Naxal movement of the late 1960s, the ballast came largely from the support of intellectuals. This has taken a hit in recent years.

First, almost all the members of the CC and the PB have crossed the age of 60 and many are suffering from health problems, and about 14 members of the Central Committee and the Politburo such as Kobad Ghandy, Baccha Prasad Singh, Varanasi Subrahmanyam, Amitabh Bagchi, Pulendu Mukherjee alias Jhantu Mukherjee and Pramod Misra alias Madanji, who formed the core intellectual group, are in jail.

Another senior PB member Narayan Sanyal passed away in April this year, battling cancer.

Adding to the arrest and surrenders, the killing of three other CC members, Mallojula Koteswara Rao alias Kishenji in 2011, Sande Rajmouli in 2007 and Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad in 2010, weakened the top leadership.

While Azad was considered to be the intellectual and ideological connect to the university support base, Kishenji and Rajmouli were strategists.

While it was Kishenji who revived and led the movement in Nandigram in Bengal, Rajmouli almost succeeded in assassinating N. Chandrababu Naidu, who was Chief Minister, in the Alipiri (Tirupati) claymore mine blast in 2003. Mr. Naidu escaped by a hair’s breadth.

The intellectual void at the top level is cascading and the is growing due to the lack of new recruits, said former DGP of Andhra Pradesh H.J. Dora.

To become a low-level leader such as ACM (area committee member) it takes 10 years and to become a mid-level leader such as State Secretary or Zonal Committee member, it takes over 15 years. Filling up the CC or PB vacuum will take years, said an officer from the SIB (Extremist wing) of AP.

Universities and colleges have also lost their promise as recruiting grounds and young minds do not get attracted ideologically. The last notable entry was Naveen alias Balakrishna, a research scholar at a top university and active member of AIRSF (All India Revolutionary Students Federation). He was killed in an encounter in Darakonda in Visakhapatnam agency in 2000.

Tribal contradictions

The low-level and mid-level leadership is passing on to the tribals and this is leading to a conflict with non-tribals.

Though the Maoist top leadership denies this and say they do not believe in differentiating on ethnic and caste grounds, a number ACMs and DCMs who surrendered in recent times attest to it, said Superintendent of Police (Visakhapatnam District) Rahul Dev Sharma.

A number of tribal leaders such as Kundan Pahan in Jharkhand and Jambri (killed in action this year) in AOB had expressed displeasure at ‘high-handedness of non-tribal leaders’.

The dominance of Andhra leaders is adding to the crisis. Of seven politburo members five are from AP and Telangana and of 14 in the central committee, nine are from the same States.

The influence of AP and Telangana in the management and leadership is also not going down well with ex-MCCI cadre. Prashant Bose is the only leader from MCCI in the PB and there is an ideological clash between him and his PB colleagues.

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 6:45:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/maoists-rudderless-as-leadership-crisis-looms-large/article19896314.ece

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