Security agencies are looking at developments reported to be taking place in the Communist Party of India (Maoist) with great interest. In the last week since news emerged that Muppala Lakshman Rao alias Ganapathi may be eased out of his position as general secretary of the banned outfit after a meeting of the party central committee in February, experts are wondering if there is more to it than what meets the eye. The suspicion is that this kick up to the Margdarshak mandal for Ganapathi is actually a coup couched in polite language.
That is also because of the profile of Ganapathi’s possible successor. Nambala Keshav Rao alias Basavraj, who is considered a military man and an expert in handling explosives, is tipped to take over the guerrilla group. Basavraj heads the Central Military Commission (CMC) that was formed in 2004 after the merger of the People’s War, People’s Guerrilla Army and the MCC.
In the past 13 years, the CMC has led all the big strikes in the Red Corridor, be it inside Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand or the Andhra-Odisha border zone.
The move to ease out Ganapathi, who has led the CPI (Maoist) since 2004, is also driven by the ideological shift in the outlawed group. With several setbacks in the past few years, their area of domination has shrunk considerably. Security experts feel that with the focus more on military gamesmanship – both defensive and offensive – Ganapathi’s leadership, possibly seen as old world, has been rendered redundant. Basavraj’s ascension would also mean many other leaders in their 60s would be eased out gradually as well because at a practical level, it is often tough to ensure their safety in the forest during encounters with security forces. It is also likely to translate into emphasis on using their set of informers better that will further mean tactical strikes given their diminished boots on the ground.
Old timers in the Indian security establishment who have been Naxal watchers for decades point out that Ganapathi may have been forced out much earlier if not for the Koyyur encounter in December 1999. In that encounter, labelled by the Maoists as fake, three top Naxals – Nalla Adi Reddy, Santosh Reddy and Seelam Naresh – were killed in Karimnagar district of Telangana. It was seen as a body blow and as the beginning of the fall of the movement in north Telangana, where the erstwhile People’s War had struck deep roots. But for Koyyur, the course of the Naxal movement in India could well have been far more dangerous than it is today.
Experts say if Adi Reddy, the only leader then who could match Ganapathi in stature, had survived the encounter, he may have taken over the leadership sooner than later. A school of thought in the Andhra police even believes Reddy was planning to stage a coup in the People’s War Group.
That encounter subsequently became a controversy within Andhra Pradesh police with charge memos issued to the three senior IPS officers who were awarded gallantry awards for the killings. The allegation was that the officers were not present at the scene of the encounter when it took place.
Ganapathi incidentally carries a bounty of Rs 36 lakh, reportedly the highest on any criminal wanted by security agencies in India. Which is making those involved in anti-Maoist operations and the Home departments in different states wonder where the 68-year-old who is not in the best of health, will be kept safe by the CPI(Maoist). It is highly unlikely that a surrender will be encouraged by the government as Ganapathi as one of the masterminds of many an operation, is an accused in several cases. No one expects him to give up arms either.
The possibility then is that he will melt into some crowded metropolis in an area unaffected by Maoist activity by changing his identity and demeanour, with very few in the Red outfit aware of his whereabouts. He will, however, be expected to guide the movement by staying in touch through secret couriers.
If Basavraj indeed takes over from Ganapathi, it will also mean the reins of leadership stays with a Telugu. The domination by Naxals from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana has been a sore point especially with foot soldiers in Gadchiroli in Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh as the local tribals feel deprived of a chance to climb up the leadership ladder within the CPI (Maoist). This despite Maoist activity being virtually reduced to zero in both Telugu states barring the border zone with Odisha.