Despite major setbacks, the Maoists' ability to inflict damage on the State and maintain its position as the saviour of the tribals will keep them relevant, says Bibhu Prasad Routray.
On the final day of 2013, security forces in Odisha carried out a raid on a village in Malkangiri district, engaging a group of Communist Party of India-Maoist cadres.
The hour-long encounter claimed the life of Serisha, a woman Maoist leader who was part of the security for Ramakrishna, head of the outfit's Andhra Odisha Border State Zonal Committee. Serisha carried a bounty of Rs 400,000 each in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
Thirteen days later, the CPI-Maoist lost the services of another senior leader. G V K Prasad alias Gudsa Usendi, spokesperson for the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee, surrendered to the Andhra Pradesh police. Usendi carried a bounty of Rs 20 lakh (Rs 2 million).
He was in charge of issuing statements on behalf of the Maoists as well as responsible for some of its military successes in Chhattisgarh, having directed and coordinated attacks in which security personnel were killed.
During his surrender and in statements thereafter, Usendi complained of ill health and disillusionment with the Maoists' excessive reliance on violence.
A Maoist spokesperson used an audio tape to trash the police version of Serisha's death, and the impact of Usendi's surrender was trivialised.
In a recorded statement, DKSZC Secretary Ramanna called Usendi a 'traitor' and a 'morally flawed' individual.
Ramanna criticised Usendi's ways with women cadres and accused him of abandoning his wife, who is still a Maoist and surrendering with another woman cadre.
The statement noted that such surrenders, which are 'not a new phenomenon for the revolutionary movement' would have no impact on the Maoist revolution.
The statement, at one level, was a natural reaction of the Maoists who have suffered from a series of splits and surrenders, and also lost a number of senior leaders to arrests and killings.
While deaths and arrests are unavoidable parts of its military campaign, the Maoists are most perturbed by the possible impact of the public denouncement of its ideology by its erstwhile lieutenants.
By criticising the surrendering cadres and idolising the ones who were killed in encounters with the security forces, the Maoists want to keep the flock together.
Serisha's death was confirmed after a memorial service was held in a Malkangiri district village attended by several Maoist cadres.
Neutralisation of key Maoist leaders has a profound impact on the outfit's overall activity. Kishenji's killing in November 2011 led to the marginalisation of the Maoists in West Bengal.
Sabyasachi Panda's rebellion in Odisha in August 2012 was a serious setback for the Maoists' plan of expansion in that state.
Kobad Ghandy's September 2009 arrest and the July 2010 killing of Cherikuri Rajkumar alias Azad constituted blows to the Maoists' policy-making apparatus as well as to its expansion strategy in southern India.
Usendi's sudden departure would certainly affect the Maoists.
But the satisfaction expressed in official circles, post Usendi's surrender, that the CPI-Maoist would eventually crumble -- because of its excessive reliance on violence and disenchantment of its cadres from its ideology -- may be misplaced.
That Usendi's surrender and fair treatment accorded to him by the State would lead to a stream of surrenders of top cadres is far-fetched.
That Maoist violence will die a natural death without any substantial effort from the State is an unreal expectation.
The ground reality in the Maoist conflict theatres is a tale of incessant Maoist violence.
While the level of violence orchestrated in 2010 -- the worst year of Maoist violence so far, resulting in the deaths of 1,005 civilians and security forces -- would possibly remain unmatched, 2013 recorded unacceptable levels of violence, accounting for 394 lives.
Although this is a marginal decline over the previous year, in which 415 fatalities were recorded, the extremists continue to be influential in their strongholds.
Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand alone account for 66 percent of the deaths and 65 percent of the violent incidents.
Bihar and Odisha remain affected by significant amount of extremist mobilisation as well as violence.
In spite of the killing of 99 Maoists, the surrender of 283 cadres and the arrest of 1,397 Maoist cadres in 2013, its level of violence has not shown signs of abatement.
Although the arms training camps and jan adalats (people's courts) organised by the CPI-Maoist have decreased, the arms snatched by the Maoists from the security forces increased by 40 percent.
The holding of a peaceful assembly election in Chhattisgarh in November has been projected as an achievement for the State. Only three security force personnel were killed in the election that recorded 67 percent in the first phase of polling and 75 percent in the second.
This was achieved mostly due to the deployment of about 150 companies of security forces. There is little to suggest that Chhattisgarh is in the process of replicating the Andhra Pradesh success in largely getting rid of the Maoists.
Of the 218 encounters between the security forces and the extremists, 92 took place in Chhattisgarh.
Bihar's unique approach towards the problem has translated into its diminishing ability to neutralise the Maoists, where the extremists continue to kill, abduct and snatch weapons.
Not a single Maoist was killed in Bihar in 2013, although 42 civilians and 27 security forces lost their lives in extremist attacks.
While Maoist inroads into the North-East remain mostly exaggerated, the CPI-Maoist has made concerted efforts for expansion into the southern states.
In 2013, the security forces scored small victories against the Maoists. Small area operations led to recovery of areas under the Maoist stronghold in Jharkhand and Odisha.
But the year also witnessed setbacks in the form of the Darbha attack in Chhattisgarh's Sukma district in May in which 27 people, including senior Congress leaders like Vidya Charan Shukla and Mahendra Karma, were killed. Usendi's interrogation revealed the planning that went into carrying out the attack.
In Jharkhand, the CPI-Maoist killed the superintendent of police of Pakur district in July. The security forces in Chhattisgarh were involved in at least two encounters in which civilians, rather than the extremists, were killed, highlighting the persistence of intelligence collection problems.
The continuing ability to inflict damage on the State and maintain its position as the saviour of the tribal population will keep the CPI-Maoist relevant in the eyes of its sympathisers.
Unless the State converts gains like Serisha's death and Usendi's surrender to consolidate and implement a strategy against the extremists, the CPI-Maoist's position as a potent adversary will remain undisturbed in 2014.
Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray was deputy director in the National Security Council Secretariat, New Delhi.