Though security agencies have been facing major losses on the ground in the fight against the Maoists, the defining development in recent months is the crippling losses the Maoists' central leadership have suffered.
The losses that the rebels have inflicted on the security forces are at ground level and done by low-level cadre of the party, senior intelligence officers told Rediff.com
"What is really crucial is that their brains trust has been severely depleted. The situation at the senior level is really bad," said a senior intelligence official, who did not want to be named in this report.
In 2004, the Communist Party of India-Maoists Central Committee had 38 members, its Politburo had 13, and the Central Military Commission had 10. For three years since then, there wasn't much change in the party's structure and it was mostly status quo. The figures in 2007 were 34, 14, 9.
But in the last three years, the security forces have landed crippling blows to the Maoists, with 15 Central Committee members having either been arrested or killed. Two died natural deaths.
Towards the end of 2010, the party's senior leadership looks alarmingly depleted: 25 Central Committee members, 9 Politburo, and 8 in the CMC. On December 4, a West Bengal police team arrested another Central Committee member, Kanchan.
This ties up with the home ministry agenda to target the top Maoist leadership. Experts say the government has succeeded so far.
Without confirming there was any policy in place to target top Maoist leaders, a highly-placed official in the Andhra Pradesh police said the Maoists will struggle to beef up their leadership.
"More than 40 per cent of their central leadership has been wiped out. It is very difficult to get the kind of people they have lost. They have to be extremely good at so many things to reach the Central Committee," the Andhra Pradesh police officer said.
Other officers sound a warning note, saying the intelligence agencies should not get carried away by the recent success.
"There is no doubt that the intelligence agencies have done a great job. But all these names that we keep hearing about -- some of whom have been killed or arrested -- have been around for more than 35 years in the organisation. Are we to think that these are all the leaders they have? That they haven't strengthened their organisation in all these years?" asked a senior Chhattisgarh intelligence officer with vast ground-level experience.
"What we are seeing is that the intelligence agencies, mostly from Andhra Pradesh, have targeted the known names very well. But what about the new crop, which surely exists and about whom we do not know much?" he asked.
But intelligence officials in both states are unanimous that the Maoists would need a lot of time to take stock and restructure their central bodies.
"It is not like the military or the police, where there are multiple entry points to the force. They have to recruit at the lower level and groom them to be absorbed in the Central Committee. You cant just say, ok, let's hire this person from outside for the Central Committee," an officer said.
In a backhanded compliment, the official also added that even if the Maoists find replacements, they may not be of the same caliber and quality of those that they lost recently.
"Some of these people were such tall intellectuals -- however perverse from our point of view -- that it will be really difficult to find such people any more," he said.
He also said there are deeper, but urgent challenges to the Maoists.
"If you look at the beginning of the movement, it has always been upper class people coming in and lending a voice for the oppressed classes," he said. "But now there are two factors that will prevent this from happening. One, we have ensured -- at least in Andhra Pradesh -- that inequalities and injustices are properly addressed. Whatever critics may call us, they do not deny that development has gone to the bottom of the pyramid in Andhra Pradesh. There is no more the kind of dissatisfaction among the people, the kind that existed in say the 1980s, when the Maoist movement got a new lease of life."
The second factor, the official said, had to do with post-1991 India.
"Look around you. Look at the middle class. They are well off and that is all that matters for them. They are so self-absorbed. What this says about us as a society is a different story, but in this context, we don't foresee a big chunk of the upper class intelligentsia joining the Maoist movement," he said.
It is in this light that the Maoists interest for talks should be seen, the officer added, and the political leadership should not succumb to such stalling tactics.