By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
Two Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres were killed in an encounter with Security Forces (SFs) in Gandai Forest near Suktara village in the Rajnandgaon District of Chhattisgarh on June 28, 2017. During subsequent search operations, SFs recovered their bodies, as well as a .315 bore gun and a pistol. Superintendent of Police (SP), Prashant Agrawal stated, “Identity of the killed rebels is being ascertained. Although prima facie it is clear that they belonged to expansion team of ultras who are making attempts to expand their base along the border of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.” A joint squad of the Special Task Force (STF) and District Police Force had launched an operation in the area, acting on inputs about the movement of a vistaar (expansion) party of Maoists in the forests over the preceding few days.
On June 25, 2017, one CPI-Maoist cadre was killed in an exchange of fire with the Police in a forest area near Pediya village under the Basaguda Police Station limits in Bijapur District. The identity of the slain Maoist is yet to be ascertained.
On June 24, 2017, three SF personnel and one CPI-Maoist cadre were killed, while four others were injured, in two successive encounters with the Maoists in Sukma District. A composite squad of the STF, the District Reserve Group (DRG), the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and its elite unit-CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action), engaged as part of Operation Prahar (Operation Attack) based on inputs about the location of a Maoist hideouts in the interiors of Chintagufa. Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) (Dantewada range), Sundarraj P. disclosed, “Two DRG jawans were initially killed and as many others injured in the incident. Later, one of the injured succumbed while being retrieved from the forest.” The body of a Maoist was also recovered from the spot along with a Self Loading Rifle (SLR). According to reports, the Maoist killed was a top ‘commander’ named Korsa Mahesh, who carried a reward of INR 800,000 on his head.
On June 22, 2017, assistant constable Sukku Gota (30) was killed by CPI-Maoist cadres in Bijapur District. Gota was posted at Farsegarh Police Station and had gone to a relative’s place in Ketulnar village, when a group of Maoists stormed the location and attacked him with sharp-edged weapons, killing him on the spot.
On June 21, 2017, two women cadres of the CPI-Maoist were killed in an encounter with SFs near Hasnar under Orcha Police Station in Narayanpur District. Their bodies, along with some ammunition, rifles, items of daily use, a sewing machine and literature were recovered from the site. A temporary Maoist camp in the area was destroyed.
On June 19, 2017, a wanted Maoist, with a reward of INR 500,000 on his head, was killed by SFs in an encounter in Kanker District. The Joint Force recovered the body of Jai Singh Kunjam, a Maoist ‘deputy commander’, along with a SLR, some ammunition and three rifles (.315 bore) from the encounter site.
On the same day, Chhannuram Mandavi (55), the ex-sarpanch (local self-government institution head) of Cholnar village, was killed allegedly by CPI-Maoist cadres in Dantewada District, under suspicion of being a ‘police informer’. Armed Maoists had stormed into Mandavi’s house in Cholnar under Kirandul Police Station limits, and slit his throat while he was asleep, killing him on the spot. Maoist pamphlets recovered from the spot branded Mandavi as a ‘police informer’.
Evidently, despite the challenges the Maoists are facing across their contracting areas of conflict, their capacities remain significant in Chhattisgarh, and the outcome of the ongoing battle in this theatre is yet to clearly favour either side. They remain relentless in their efforts to retain their hold in their last bastion, as was most dramatically in evidence in the April 24 Burkapal attack in Sukma District, in which 25 CRPF personnel were killed.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, 120 persons, including 16 civilians, 53 SF personnel and 51 Maoists, have been killed in Chhattisgarh in 2017 (till July 2), in comparison to 109 persons, including 26 civilians, 21 SF personnel and 62 Maoists, killed in the corresponding period of 2016.
*Data updated till July 2, 2017
A review of half-yearly fatalities over the last five years shows some respite from Maoist violence in 2014 and 2015. The number of civilian fatalities, an important indicator of security, registered a continuous decline between 2013 and 2015, from 43 in 2013; to 17 in 2014; and 16 in 2015. Civilian fatalities then surged to 26 in 2016, to drop, again, to 16 in 2017.
Worryingly, SF fatalities accounted for 39.25 per cent of the total fatalities during this period (623 out of 1,587), while Maoist fatalities accounted for 32.57 per cent (517 out of 1,587). SF fatalities have surged by 152.38 per cent in the current year, as against the first half of 2016, while Maoist fatalities have dropped by 17.74 per cent. While the ratio of fatalities between the Police and the Maoists in the first half of 2017 was near parity, at 1:0.96, it has been significantly worse for this period over the past five years, at 1:0.85
Moreover, Chhattisgarh has recorded eight major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) in 2017 (till July 2) in which three civilians, 43 SF personnel and 18 Maoists have been killed; this compares to nine major incidents in 2016, in which 10 SF personnel and 27 Maoists were killed.
SF personnel have managed to arrest 180 Maoists in 2017, till July 2, as against 399 arrests through 2016. Besides, 278 Maoists have surrendered thus far in 2017, as against 961 through 2016, suggesting that the Maoists are struggling to revive influence and operations.
In Chhattisgarh, the Maoists are attempting to create an entire new ‘zone’ along the western border, covering forested pockets in Districts such as Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh, Gondia in Maharashtra, and northern Rajnandgaon and parts of Kabirdham and Mungeli in Chhattisgarh. According to a 25-page Maoist document recovered by SFs following an encounter in April 2017, suggest that the new area – MMC (the Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) Confluence zone – is intended to be similar to the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC) in the Bastar region. The Maoist hierarchy sent 58 senior and middle level cadres, headed by Maoist ‘commander’ Surender, to expand and operationalise the MMC in November 2015. Surender was previously Darbha ‘divisional commander’, and was promoted to a rank equivalent to the head of DKSZC, and has been in charge of the attempted expansion process.
To consolidate their presence in the new zone, the Maoists are focusing on issues specific to the area in an effort to win over villagers. These include the land issue and differential pricing of bamboo and tendu patta (leaves of the tendu tree). The village population is predominantly tribal in the ‘new area’ and feels ‘left behind by development’. A villager in Malaida of Rajnandgaon District stated, “We live on what we can make from bamboo and tendu patta, but we never get a fair price. Contractors take their cut, and people from other states take away the produce.”
The 25-page Maoist document also details their (Maoists) military strategy, with a focus on amassing ammunition, including “collecting” at least 50 kilograms of gunpowder, 3,000 pieces of metal or shrapnel, and 25 pipes ready for Claymore bombs every six months. The Maoist document advocates swift attacks on SFs, the use of ambushes and not chases, and explosive devices as opposed to gunfire, as far as possible.
On the political strategy for the new zone, the Maoist document, believed to have been drafted by the “MMC leading team” in March 2017, stated that the way forward is in the identification of “people’s problems”. The document acknowledges a lack of success on land issues and highlights local issues to claim that the problems were not what the Maoists had imagined. Warning cadre in the new zone to “proceed with caution”, the document observes, “Secrecy is not being kept, there is hurriedness, those we taking into the organisation are not being talked to in depth about our politics and work. We are talking in the air and accepting them… When meeting party leaders, caution must be exercised and they should not be met in front of new members.”
The CPI-Maoist leadership in the State has also issued instructions to their cadres on the use of mobile phones. The 25-page document stated that cadre up to the level of ‘Divisional Commanders’ have now been allowed to use mobile phones and tablets for easy access to reading material. Under the section titled “The spread of propaganda”, the document read:
Propaganda is being carried out via pamphlets, banners, posters, statements and these days through mobile phones and WhatsApp. After taking decisions, we must concentrate quickly on propaganda material and this must also be planned… We cannot depend only on computers.
On June 12, 2017, Police had recovered banners suspected to be put up by CPI-Maoist cadres in support of agitating farmers in Madhya Pradesh. The cadres are believed to have come from the Pakhanjoor Police Station area in Kanker District, and issued the banners in the name of the ‘Pratappur Area Committee’ of the Maoists, and displayed messages supporting the farmers who were protesting in the neighbouring State since June 1. The banners protested against alleged injustices being done to cultivators in Madhya Pradesh.
Acknowledging developments in the new MMC zone, D.M. Awasthi, Special Director General of Police (DGP) (Anti-Naxal Operations), Chhattisgarh, stated, on June 13, 2017,
Yes, it is true that they are attempting to create a new zone called MMC. We are well aware of it and have been working against it. The first intimation we got about this development was in April 2016. Since then, they have been trying to build, and influence villagers for the past one year. We have taken various steps, such as organising troops and building an intelligence network. So far, they have had little success. There have been some close calls with their leadership in the area, and exchanges of fire as well, but no casualties. A new zone is indeed a matter of concern, and requires us to be especially vigilant.
Making the security situation in the area more worrisome, Intelligence sources alerted the security agencies in May 2017, about the entry of over 100 armed CPI-Maoist guerrillas from Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, into south Bastar. The group was spotted in the jungles of the Bijapur-Sukma region. Apprehension were that the Maoists were planning a repeat of the April 24 Sukma attack, by launching a major operation against SFs. After the Intelligence alert, the Superintendents of Police (SPs) of all seven Districts in the Bastar Division (Kanker, Narayanpur, Kondagaon, Bijapur, Dantewada, Bastar and Sukma) were told to remain prepared for any eventuality and for a possible counter attack.
To augment the State’s capacities to counter the Maoists, the Centre had approved the setting up of the ‘Bastariya Battalion’ of the CRPF. According to a Ministry of Home Affairs statement of June 8, 2017, 743 scheduled tribe candidates have been recruited for this battalion thus far, including 242 women, in the rank of constables, from the tribal-dominated Sukma, Dantewada, Narayanpur and Bijapur Districts, of the Bastar Division, for the ‘Bastariya’ battalion.
Further, in the aftermath of the Burkapal attack on April 24, 2017, the CRPF decided to deploy a fresh contingent of about 2,000 CoBRA commandos in and around the Sukma District to fight the Maoists and their arsenal. A top official privy to the development also stated that the paramilitary force had prepared a blueprint to mobilise at least 20 to 25 companies of the CoBRA from their present locations in West Bengal, Bihar, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh to the Bastar region. At present, 44 CoBRA Companies and 1,748 DRG personnel spread across seven Districts in Bastar Division and one in Rajnandgaon, are deployed in Chhattisgarh for anti-Naxal operations. While the number of troops deployed in the State varies continuously, and is not regularly disclosed, on July 22, 2015, State Home Minister Ramsevak Paikara had informed the Chhattisgarh Assembly that there were 58,772 paramilitary troopers deployed in the LWE-affected regions of Chhattisgarh as on March 15, 2015.
On February 21, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban (rural-urban) Mission from Chhattisgarh’s Dongargarh block in Rajnandgaon District. The Mission aims to draw an investment of over INR 50 billion in three years to “transform rural areas to economically, socially and physically sustainable spaces.” The Chhattisgarh Government is also reportedly making ‘all out efforts’ to provide access to electricity in all LWE-affected villages of the State by March 2018.
Challenges clearly persist in Chhattisgarh. The Maoists are struggling to revive influence and operations to reclaim lost ground. SF personnel have also achieved considerable success, particularly since October 2015. Great urgency must attend all counter-insurgency responses in the State to ensure that the Maoist efforts to engineer a resurgence are effectively countered.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
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