Three decades ago, a slight young man called Ravula Srinivas left the village of Bekkal near Warangal in Andhra Pradesh, hoping to make a revolution.
Now, from inside the Maoist citadel in Chhattisgarh’s vast and remote Bastar region, he is at the head of an inner circle of greying guerilla commanders, who hope dramatic acts of violence may stave off the death of their dreams.
Srinivas, head of the insurgent unit that carried out Tuesday’s massacre of State and Central police officers in Chhattisgarh, leads the insurgency in the State at a crucial time: corruption, disillusion and war-fatigue are corroding a movement that once seemed perched on the edge of a nationwide success.
Last year, the Communist Party of India (Maoist)’s central committee admitted that the “the intensity and expanse of the resistance of the PLGA [People’s Liberation Guerilla Army] and people decreased; non-proletarian trends increased in party and the PLGA, recruitment decreased; [the] number of people leaving the party and PLGA increased.”
The son of a family of traditional toddy-tappers and agricultural workers, Srinivas, 53, dropped out of the village school in Grade 8. Andhra Pradesh police records show he joined the Maoist organisation, People’s War, in 1982, married party colleague Savitri in 1985, and he rose to command a dalam, or squad, in 1987. He was assigned to the Bastar region in 1995 and rose to national prominence in 2010 after an ambush he organised claimed 40 lives —mainly of civilians.
He showed little remorse: “Our aim was precise and correct,” he said in an interview to CNN-IBN , “[but] the administration is using civilians as a human shield, so they got killed.”
In April 2010, by now secretary of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee, Mr. Srinivas led an ambush that killed 75 Central Reserve Police Force personnel at Chintalnar. He followed this up last summer with a massacre of Congress leaders, including the former Chief Minister, Vidya Charan Shukla, and the controversial vigilante leader, Mahendra Karma.
Mr. Srinivas suffered intimate losses of his own. Parshuraman, his mentor and brother, was killed by the police in 1994; his sister, Kanukamma, was killed fighting by his side. His son, whose name The Hindu is withholding, studied at a boarding school in Sukma, as his parents fought the police in the forests around it.
The lieutenants Srinivas’ key military lieutenant, Ganesh Ueike, was an accidental Maoist. In 1982, the police records show, he was studying for a bachelor of sciences degree in Nalagonda. Faced with the prospect of arrest in a case involving the murder of a rival, Ueike fled. He resurfaced in the mid-2000s, as commander of Maoist operations in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Kattakam Sudarshan, a key Politbureau member rated by intelligence officials as the Maoist’s best insurgent tactician, heads the newly formed Chhattisgarh-Odisha command of the CPI (Maoist). Born in 1959-1960, he grew up in the mining town of Belampalli, where his parents worked in the Singareni coalmines.
Sudarshan studied for a bachelor of sciences degree, but dropped out in 1978 to work full time with the Radical Students Union — a far-Left grouping that was also the nursery for five of the seven CPI(Maoist) Politbureau leaders still active.
In 1981, he participated in a famous strike at Singareni, which the People’s War hoped would spearhead a working class revolution. Following the marginalisation of the radicals in Singareni, Sudarshan went underground — and headed for the Dandakaranya forests.
The greying revolutionaries in the Dantewada forests probably know they’re not going to live to see their dreams realised: nine of the 16-member Politbureau appointed in 2007 have been either killed or imprisoned.