It is difficult to think of a more insincere apology. The Maoist rebellion in India has claimed countless lives of both civilians and security personnel. Many of the rebels’ victims have been innocent, even poor people. So the Maoists’ apology for the death of nine civilians in one of their offensives in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh last weekend can only ring hollow. These victims, like several jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force who were killed in another attack by the Maoists in the same area, had gone there to discharge their duties relating to the Lok Sabha polls. As in previous elections, the rebels had given a call to the people to boycott the polls. Obviously, they thought that the call itself was not enough to stop the people from going to the polling stations. They usually use guns and bombs in order to force what their political ideology and public appeals cannot achieve. That their vote boycott call failed again was proved by the high turnout of voters in the Bastar district this time. Nearly 52 per cent of the voters defied the Maoist intimidation and fears of violence to exercise their franchise. For all the flaws of democratic elections, this was evidence enough of the people’s preference for ballots over the rebels’ bullets.
In fact, the massive exercise over the Lok Sabha elections across the country and the people’s participation in it make the Maoists’ threats and killings only a footnote to India’s political story. It is difficult to believe that the Maoists themselves do not understand this. But they seem to be unable to accept the reality and give up their armed struggle. For nearly half a century, their political ideology and actions have taken them nowhere. If anything, their mass appeal has shrunk so much as to make the group and its ideology utterly irrelevant. True, they still have the capacity to strike terror in isolated areas and kill. But any terrorist group can do that in any country. There are clear signs that India’s Maoists have degenerated into a terrorist group after having failed to influence the country’s politics or popular opinion. Forests of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and parts of Maharashtra remain their last bases. If governments at the Centre and these states act judiciously, these bases too would be breached before long. But, the Maoists are already a defeated, if also a desperate, band of fighters whose appeal rarely goes beyond their bases.