In the last two days, there has been a lot of speculation about a likely surrender by top Maoist leader Muppalla Lakshman Rao alias Ganapathi. He had served as the general secretary of the outlawed Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) for 25 years from 1992 to 2017 and carried a reward of Rs 1.5 crore on his head. Many reports have speculated that he may surrender due to ill health.
While some sources indicate that a surrender is a possible option, according to other reliable sources, the speculations of a possible surrender by Ganapathi could be an attempt at demotivating party cadre. Such speculation can normally help in causing confusion among the cadre.
However, Noel Swaranjit Sen, former DGP of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh disagrees with this theory. “Such news will not surface without any specific inputs. There is a high possibility that a surrender can happen. Even the best of Maoists have surrendered in the past.”
The CPI (Maoist) party however has strongly rejected the rumour. In a statement, the banned party said, "We are condemning Modi government’s brutal lie of Ganapathy's surrender". It went on to say that PM Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Advisor to Home Ministry Vijaya Kumar were conspiring with the Telangana and Chhattisgarh intelligence agencies to propagate the lie and turn away attention from the economic chaos in the country.
Ganapathi hails from Jagityal district, which was part of erstwhile Karimnagar district of Telangana. He graduated with a degree in Science and later became a teacher when he decided to join the Maoist Party in the ’70s. He had played an important role in the formation of the CPI (Maoist) party with the merger of CPI-ML (People's War Group) and MCCI (Maoist Communist Centre of India) in 2004.
In 2010, the strength of the party's central committee fell from 39 to less than 15 members. While some members surrendered, some were arrested and a few others had died. In November 2018, he relinquished as the party’s general secretary, citing health reasons. Ganapathi, who is more than 70 years old, is said to suffer from asthma, diabetes and also other age-related issues. A man named Nambala Keshava Rao, who is popularly known as Basavaraju, has taken over from Ganapathy.
For the last several months, the Telangana police have had the activities of the Maoist party on their radar, after reports suggested the party planned to recruit young people.
‘Ganapathi is extremely unwell’
TNM spoke to Rahul Pandita, one of the few journalists who interviewed Ganapathi around a decade ago. Rahul felt that harsh forest life and the associated difficulties had caused serious health complications for many Maoist leaders including Ganapathi. He said, “There is no confirmation about a possible surrender as yet. But he has been extremely unwell. I am told that his health has worsened so much that he has to now be carried from one place to another.”
“Today’s situation is very ironic. When Ganapathi became the party general secretary, something very similar had happened to the founder of the People’s War Group (PWG) Kondapalli Seetharamaiah. Seetharamaiah had become very unwell and he was suffering from Alzheimers and he began taking a lot of bad decisions. That is when Ganapathi took over the reins of the party from Kondapalli Seetharamaiah. Back then, Ganapathi once told the cadre to take advice from Seetharamaiah only when you need it the least,” added Rahul.
Speaking to TNM, professor PL Vishweshwar Rao called Ganapathi a person with ideological commitment and good leadership qualities. He said, “He was a top leader in the party. If he surrenders, then it would be a major setback for what is left in the movement. With the kind of technology that exists today, everything and everyone can be monitored. Those who are part of the movement are also finding it difficult to operate. Recruitment had become one of the biggest challenges for the movement.”
According to Noel Swaranjit Sen, health is one of the major reasons why top leaders of the party usually choose to surrender. When they reach a stage that they need hospitalization, the party also becomes considerate. Sen remembers Ganapathi as a leader who was always very active and brutal in his own ways. He said, “It is unfortunate that Ganapathi’s path never crossed my group’s path, otherwise we would have got him just like how we got many others.”
Ganapathi rose to the higher echelons of the party within a decade and established contacts with international Maoist organisations. He is seen as an ideologue of the Maoist movement in the country.
‘Resurgence in Telangana crucial’
In 2018, the National Investigation Agency had released its 'most wanted list' with as many as 258 names, which included several members of the militant outfit CPI(Maoist) party on charges such as waging war on the Indian government, carrying out armed ambushes, and involving in unlawful activities.
While the list pointed to the presence of Maoists in several states, it also shows the emergence of Maoist leaders from Telugu soil. Andhra and Telangana are said to have one of the biggest units of the outlawed organisation in the country. In fact, several Maoists from Andhra and Telangana have a bounty of Rs 10 lakh to 15 lakh on them.
In 2009 and in 2010 Rahul Pandita had interviewed Ganapathi. In one of the interviews, Ganapathi mentioned that the resurgence of the movement in Telangana was crucial, Rahul recalled. Rahul felt that it may be in line with this that the party is surely up to something in Telangana and that it is possible that Basavaraj is trying small experiments in the state. When asked if he believes there can be a resurgence of the movement, Rahul said, “As a movement they are finished. It may seem like there is action, but the Telangana police are very efficient. Today, the cadre is demotivated and there is not much left in them as a fighting force.”
‘Government may facilitate surrender’
When asked whether the government is likely to facilitate a surrender, Sen said, “It is very much possible that the government is facilitating this surrender. This would happen only if the surrender is beneficial for both the parties involved. It may be in exchange for some information that is worthwhile.