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Gadchiroli encounter suggests Maoists have failed to 'properly' insulate themselves

By Harsh Thakor* 

At least 26 Maoists, all said to be belonging to CPI (Maoist), were recently killed in what was reported as a fierce encounter with security forces in a dense forest in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district. Four policemen were also injured in the encounter and were taken to Nagpur for treatment.
Sources said, the operation was launched as cops had prior knowledge of CPI (Maoist) cadres camping in the forest. “The group mainly comprised Korchi Dalam members led by Sukhlal, member of the Gadchiroli divisional committee of the CPI (Maoist). But there must have been members of some other formation as well as the encounter was a prolonged one, indicating that there was stiff resistance by the Maoists,” they added.
With 26 Maoist casualties, this encounter is the second biggest in the history of Gadchiroli district. The Maoists had gone into action, say sources, to avenge the massacre they suffered in March when four of their cadres were assassinated. They are reported to have been given poison in the meal.
The encounter suggests that Maoists have hardly properly insulated themselves to counter the security forces, and intelligence is deeply penetrating their network.
In the first encounter, which took place on April 23, 2018, the Gadchiroli police gunned down 40 Maoists in two different skirmishes. While 34 were killed in the Boria-Kasnasur area of Etapalli tehsil, six from the same group were gunned down while they were reportedly on the run in Aheri tehsil.
The Maoists operate in the backdrop of sheer misery of the Adivasis and poor peasants, and the manner in which the ruling parties have given scant respect to their genuine grievances. Land reforms have been superficially implemented with the dominant castes and classes still exercising control. This is one reason why have penetrated very deeply into the lives of the tribals to build up organizational structures.
The recent attack in Gadricholi simply took the Maoist cadres by surprise, even though for countless times the Maoists have managed to resurrect from the grave like a phoenix from the ashes, moving like fish in water. In recent times, they appear to have enhanced their striking power and delivered many a knockout punch to the security forces.
There is reason to believe that if any rights the tribals have won in Gadricholi, it is only as a result of the sustained struggle by the Maoist squads. Like a surgeon stitching a wound they have confronted contractors and moneylenders who are patronised by landlords and politicians.
One may disagree with the Maoists’ line of people’s war as a strategy, yet, the fact is, there they have successful in enrolling Adivasis in large numbers in the ranks of the their guerrilla force.
Several left-wing journals, including 'Frontier Weekly', intellectuals like Sumanta Banerjee, and groups like CPI (ML) Red Star have classified the Maoists as terrorists or roving bands. Intellectuals like Bela Bhatia and Alpa Shah are also critical of the “sectarian practices” by the Maoists, particularly with respect to civil rights or abuse of democratic practices.
Milind Teltumbde
Among those killed during the latest encounter was Milind Teltumbde, younger brother of top Dalit Marxist scholar Anand Teletumbde, currently languishing in jail for his alleged involvement in Bhima-Koregaon violence. Milind originally worked as a union leader of mine workers.
The book ‘Maoist Road-Gates of Heaven’ by Amit Bhattacharya, has a detailed account of the socioeconomic conditions prevailing in Gadchiroli. It summarise how semi-feudalism is so deeply penetrated in Gadricholi.
In the chapter ‘Maoist Movement and Socio-economic Zones’, Bhattacharya says, credits significant achievements to Maoists in Gadricholi for healthcare, changes in the marriage system, changes in man-woman relations, improvement in the living condition of the people, rise of the petty bourgeois class at the village level, changes in the relations between landlords, landless farmers and agricultural labourers, development in market and commercial activities, abolishing of bonded labour and forms of non economic exploitation, economic changes and changes in rural loan facilities, money lending and bank loans.
The book points to how the Maoist squads mobilised farmers with the slogan “land to the tiller’ which ignited the Adivasis to challenge the forest department for rights over agricultural lands. Earlier, till 1980, State governments gave pattas for tribal land (land rights). But in 1980, issuing of pattas stopped. As many as 150,000 acres of land in the Etapalli taluka alone in Gadricholi was outside the purview of the patta system.
Before 1980, landlord families inherited a higher social status. They held the posts of police Patel, Bhumyal, Shendyal, etc. They controlled the village having an absolute say in matters. In case of any problems between tribal heads or problems related to more than more village, they used to met in a large gatherings and declare judgments.
It is in this context that Maoists obtained control over these areas. The poor peasants, labours and middle peasants began asserting themselves against exploitation. The Maoists ensured that the exploiting classes stepped down from the leadership of the villages by seizing power.
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*Freelance journalist who has written for a number of blogs and travelled all around India

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