For the state’s counter-Maoist strategy, the intervening night of March 27-28 brought a landmark success. In Jharkhand’s Lakarbandha forests in Chatra district, 10 CPI-Maoist cadres, including a number of key leaders, were killed by the outfit’s bete noire, the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC). Twelve more cadres were arrested and subsequently released by the TPC after they promised not to be Maoist cadres any longer.
Like all narratives that emerge from the extremism-affected dark lands of the country, the episode has already set off a chain of controversies. The Jharkhand Police remain glued to their theory of internecine clash between the TPC and CPI-Maoist being responsible for the killing of the Maoists. On the other hand, the CPI-Maoist press release blames the TPC for advancing the cause of the state and indulging in the “gruesome mass killing”. Whether it was a success by default or by design for the state, would perhaps remain a matter of debate for long.
In any event, the setbacks are perfectly in order with the declining trend of CPI-Maoist violence in Jharkhand and across the country. The outfit lost 2,396 cadres to killings, arrests and surrenders in 2012, of which 390 were in Jharkhand. Similarly, in 2011, of the 2,523 Maoists neutralised, 413 were from Jharkhand. Of the 29 security forces killed in 2012 in Jharkhand, at least 22 were killed in landmine explosions, demonstrating the fact that the Maoists have retreated from direct confrontation with the security force personnel. Much of this success is as much due to the security force operations as the factionalism among the extremists.
That the TPC operates in tandem with the police is a familiar narrative in Jharkhand. In a state where state capacities vis-a-vis the Maoists once were non-existent, the police did exploit the division among the extremists. Yet, this is not typical to Jharkhand. The strategy of playing one outfit against the other is age-old, applied with varying degree of success and failures in Indian conflict theatres.
Not surprisingly, in a state where Maoists versus security forces encounters hog media headlines regularly, very few encounters have taken place between the police and TPC. Barring the lone incident in which TPC cadres opened fire on the escort vehicle of Latehar district police chief on February 5 this year, no armed encounter between the security forces and the TPC was reported either in 2012 or 2011. In spite of the fact that the outfit, a splinter group of the CPI-Maoist, has undergone a split itself, it appears to have benefited from a security force strategy that focused more on outfits like the People’s Liberation Front of India. TPC has grown substantially in size and weapons holding in the recent past.
In hindsight, the Maoist blind expansion strategy accounts for its tactical and strategic failure. Post-2004 merger that brought the Maoist Communist Centre and the People’s War Group together in the form of the CPI-Maoist, the bid to overwhelm the Indian state, the outfit’s attempt to build up a large army of fighters, produced an instant casualty, i.e. the commitment of the new cadres to the ideology of the party. Similarly, the great degree of functional autonomy the outfit’s central command provided to its state units to carry out anti-state activities, degenerated into mindless violence without necessarily advancing its core objectives. Once the less committed deserted the party, in search of more funds and other benefits, the state was quick to turn them against their former comrades. Delayed response from the CPI-Maoist to stop internecine clashes, in the form of a cessation of violence declaration in June 2012, apparently did not help.
An existential crisis now faces the CPI-Maoist in a state that contributes enormously to its war chest. The probable loss of Jharkhand combined with the setbacks in West Bengal and Odisha it has received, could push the outfit into becoming mostly a one-state wonder, with its operations confined to Chhattisgarh alone. In such a scenario, a range of efforts combining a serious attempt to preserve its cadres and reclaim the lost territories can be in the offing.
Jharkhand, on the other hand, faces the dual challenge of dealing with the CPI-Maoist’s remnants and also, keeping the violence by non-CPI-Maoist outfits under check, which accounts for nearly 60 per cent of the recorded violence in the state. Unlike Andhra Pradesh, where none filled up the vacuum created by the weakening of the CPI-Maoist, many candidates could be aspiring to fill the outfit’s shoes.