After Milind Teltumbde's Death, What Will Be the Future of Maoists in India?

One must remember that Maoists have a history of regrouping – and coming back stronger – after big losses.

6 min read
Hindi Female

Earlier this month, on 11 November, one of the top Maoist commanders Prashant Bose aka Kishan Da and his wife Sheela Marandi were arrested by Jharkhand Police.

Two days later, 26 Maoists, including Milind Baburao Teltumbde alias Deepak Teltumbde, head of Maoists' newly formed Madhya Pradesh-Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh (MMC) zone, and Lokesh and Mahesh Gota, both divisional committee members, were killed in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra.

These 'successes' in anti-Maoist operations came soon after Home Minister Amit Shah warned, "The fight against Maoists is in its final stage and a decisive move must be made to end the insurgencies," in September 2021.

Following Shah's statement and the recent incidents of anti-Naxal operations, the emerging narrative is that Maoists will soon be history – but how true is that, especially in the light of what the past tells us about their ability to regroup with stronger cadres after big setbacks?


Who is a Bigger Loss for Maoists – Prashant Bose or Deepak Teltumbde?

To begin with, Prashant Bose aka Kishan Da was one of the key members in unifying the erstwhile Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) and CPI (ML)-PWG. Bose is nearly 75 now, and many believe that his arrest was more of an orchestrated surrender depicted as an arrest. The theory is supported by the fact that he was severely ill, and his arrest was actually planned to facilitate medical care.

But the death of the 26 armed guerrillas in Gadchiroli is a much bigger loss for the Maoists. Recruitment has almost dried up in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and even Maharashtra and Odisha have seen a steep decline in Maoists' hiring.

A senior police officer, who chose to remain anonymous, told The Quint:

“States like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Odisha have a different scenario when it comes to the Maoists and their influence zones as compared to Chhattisgarh. With the congruence of government's developmental intent, active approach, and strengthening of the forces, the recruitment of fresh blood has almost dried up in most Maoist-infested areas, except for Chhattisgarh.”

The police officer added, "Chhattisgarh is still very fertile for Maoists to induct a new cadre. Interior villages are yet to be touched with the idea of government and governance, and with schools being closed for almost two years, and with students returning to their homes, amid the loop of tribal atrocities – it has all tipped the scale in the favour of Maoists recently."

If the two big incidents are compared, Teltumbde's loss weighs much heavier. Bose, due to his ill-health, was reportedly not actively involved in the organisation. As his presence was a unifying factor, the death of Teltumbde, who was handling the expansion and strengthening of the MMC zone and was an active central committee member, will limit the Maoists' activity in the region for some time.

"Earlier, Pahad Singh surrendered (in 2018), and now Deepak Teltumbde is dead, which leaves the MMC zone bereft of any senior leaders. Some area committee members who have been recently promoted to the divisional committee members are there, but they aren't experienced enough to handle the MMC zone. So, until the Maoists figure out someone and send him from Andhra Pradesh or Telangana or Dandakaranya zone, the MMC zone's expansion will be halted – and they will try to hold on to their bastion. There is surely going to be a lull in leadership," said another senior police officer.

Maoists have a structured organisational presence, which they had strengthened after the 1990s. By the time India stepped into the 21st Century, Maoists had developed their base, got people in the cadre, and were becoming a major threat. On 21 September 2004, the MCCI (founded by Bose) and the CPI (ML)-PWG (founded by the late Kondapalli Seetharamaiah) joined forces into what we know today as the Communist Party of India (Maoists). Within five years, the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh went on to say that Maoists are "the greatest internal security threat the country has ever seen".

However, another officer added, “The encounter of Deepak Teltumbde will hamper the expansion of the MMC zone and the death of the 25 others will hurt them badly in the Gadchiroli and bordering areas of Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh. But there isn’t going to be much damage or change or impact in the core Maoist zones of Chhattisgarh or Madhya Pradesh. If done all things right, it’s still a fight of more than a decade against the Maoists.”


Internal Rifts After Latest Chaos

Though the merger of the MCCI and the CPI (ML)-PWG took place 17 years back, many in the Maoist ranks are divided over various issues.

One of the major causes of this division among the ranks is the internal demography and pre-merger territorial conflict. Though there is no scope for 'casteism' in Maoist ranks, as per diction yet, it has been a cause of disagreement. It was also mentioned by Muppala Lakshmana Rao alias Ganapathi before he was succeeded by explosives expert Basavaraju aka Nambala Keshava Rao in 2017.

Sources say that in a letter, which ran into nearly 7,000 words, Ganapathi talked about the internal rifts and possible methods to curb them. He also talked about the bankruptcy of issues in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, and Maharashtra. He mentioned that Maoists needed to diversify their issues in order to reach the hearts and minds of people and to keep the movement alive and relevant.

There is also territorial fight among MCCI, the PWG and the fractions of CPI (Maoists). This is, however, most evident in the regions of Jharkhand and Bihar, where nearly two dozen smaller outfits have been formed – all propagating the same agenda with a personal touch.


The party, despite keeping it all together, hasn't been able to dissipate internal differences. Since a majority of Central Committee and politburo members are from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, tribals who fill up the lower cadres feel poorly represented.

The Maoists tried to balance it out, and included Sheela Marandi in the Central Committee, but merely one inclusion doesn't seem to have the intended result. Coupled with police propaganda and other rumours, the rift that has always been there may now widen.

Moreover, the increased surveillance and technological advancements of the anti-Naxal forces have been denting the overground support for the Maoists over the last few years. With the arrest of alleged Maoist sympathisers Varavara Rao, the late Stan Swamy, and other prominent members, the overground support, too, has been on the downtrend.


What's Next for the Maoist Movement?

A press note issued by the Maoists a week ago said, "Between December 2020 and October 2021, we have lost 116 comrades. The maximum is 78 in the Dandakaranya zone.”

Sources say that despite there being a major pushback from almost all sides, including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, and Odisha, the areas of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have been providing Maoists with the resources they need.

In Chhattisgarh, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress governments have not been able to reach out to the villagers, and to the tribals. Armed response lacking developmental agenda has been a major concern for Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh in tackling the Naxal movement.

A local journalist, on the condition of anonymity, told The Quint:

“The Chhattisgarh government has failed miserably. The Maoists pushed the villagers to protest against the camp in Silger. It was very obvious but the Congress-led government tackled it maladroitly. They failed to entertain a peaceful protest, shot on them and killed innocent villagers and gave into the Maoists' strategy. Incidents like these are used by Maoists to strengthen their cadres.”
Sources say that while all other states have seen little to no recruitment in the last two years, hundreds of young students have joined the banned outfit from Chhattisgarh.

Along with Chhattisgarh continuing to be the most fertile land for Maoists to rope in fresh blood, the areas of Kanha-Bhoramdeo forests bordering Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have seen a strong presence of Maoists. Locals say that officers rush out of the forests before sunset.

“In the Kanha-Bhoramdeo areas, we have come to know that Maoists have constituted an area committee and they are planning to intensify their efforts in the region. The Madhya Pradesh police though seem to not take this seriously. This might be the biggest mistake that they are making. Maoists are weak now, less in numbers, have less local support, couple that with the loss of Deepak Teltumbde, this is the right time to act, attack and dissipate their presence from Kanha-Bhoramdeo. If not, the longer Maoists remain unchecked, the stronger their cadres will come.”
A senior officer

So, the recent success of police and security forces is a big blow to the CPI (Maoists), but unless states like Chhattisgarh do their part, tackle the Maoist movement in a planned coordinated way, the problem isn't going anywhere. The Chhattisgarh government needs to learn from the strategies of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, where people have witnessed real development and now want more of it.

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Topics:  Chhattisgarh   Maoist   Insurgency 

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