CRPF Rajnath Singh
Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh at the wreath laying ceremony of the 25 CRPF jawans who were killed in the Maoist attack in the state's Sukma district.PIB

Maharashtra police dealt a heavy blow to the Maoist insurgency when they teamed up with the CRPF to kill close to 40 fighters in the jungles of Gadchiroli. Police said that among the dead Maoists were two commanders who had masterminded the Sukma attack last year that killed 26 CRPF personnel.

Maoists' stated objective is to obtain power through people's war. That classifies them as enemy of the state. Hence it's not surprising that all reportage of the killing of scores of Maoists was unidimensional and from a statist perspective. Fair enough. Those who engage in armed warfare against the state shall meet the blunt force of the state.

Available data shows that the number of Maoists in India has been dwindling. Their strongholds have been shrinking too. Though they had strong presence in over 200 districts in 20 states a decade ago, their presence is now limited to around 100 districts in the Red Corridor running through the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Yet, why are legions rising with an intent to change the unchangeable? Why are they so subsumed by a difficult, unwinnable ideology? Why are they so wantonly willing to die and eager to kill? These questions are not usually discussed in the mainstream.

Of course the Maoist issue is far too complex to be understood in binary colors. On the one hand the rebels are not mere protesters but professed saboteurs. "The immediate aim of the party is to accomplish the New Democratic Revolution in India by overthrowing imperialism, feudalism and comprador bureaucratic capitalism only through the Protracted People's War." That ideology puts them in direct war path with the government.

On the other hand is the stark reality that more than 80 percent of the Maoist cadres are drawn from tribal villages. They do have advanced weapons and suspected aid from foreign sources including China but at the end of the day the foot soldiers are tribals, women, the poor and the landless laborers. The regrouping of the ultra-Left insurgents in the mid years of the last decade was prompted by a resource alienation that happened with the mining policies of that time.

When Gadchiroli police say the latest mass killing of the insurgents met the goal of saving the villagers from their atrocities, that claim is right and wrong at the same time. Maoists engage in coercion and extortion and they unleash violence on suspected informers. It's a bloody irony that the poor tribals, fringe farmers and landless workers are their clients and victims at the same time.

On one side there are excesses committed by the security forces -- torture of suspected sympathizers, alleged rapes, summary executions and the like. On the other hand vigilante groups like Salwa Judum have been accused of excesses including rape of Adivasi women. The tribal villagers are caught in the cross fire. They are either persecuted by the counter insurgency forces or harassed by the cadres.

The killing of 37 armed militants, women included, is a big news spectacle. And it's a great achievement for the state forces that wanted to avenge the Sukma attack and many other Maoist ambushes on the security personnel. The state can wage this war ad infinitum because it has the resources to do so. By no stretch of imagination will an armed uprising from the jungles end up seizing power in this country.

There is no accurate data on the number of active Maoist cadres operating in the country though the academic consensus hovers around 25,000. But the government says there are only less than 10,000 of them. Yet the anti-Maoist operation in Chhattisgarh alone comprises 100,000 paramilitary soldiers.

Theirs is a losing cause. Yet why are the cadres attracted to the ideology like moth to flame? The dwindling tribe of armed Maoists represent more than eight crore indigenous people who have been locked in a fight for their identity, their place in their forests and for ownership of resources they've enjoyed for generations. Not all of them take up arms nor will they ever. But some turn to armed rebellion at their wit's end. After realizing that exploitation of marginalized people will go on forever. That liberal democracy is not representative enough and that the nation state is not always an equitable guardian of resources.

Why doesn't the system change a wee bit despite vicious bloodletting on both sides? The exploitation only gets worse. The alienation becomes more intense. Corporate greed continues to find an equal match in political and bureaucratic corruption.

The state is right to treat the armed insurgency as a national security threat. But unless meaningful steps are taken to claim the disowned people as one of its own, the military victories will just remain pyrrhic. The state should not forget that of the 37 rotting bodies fished out from a river in Gadchiroli, as many as 19 were women's.

(Views are personal)