By Fakir Mohan Pradhan
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) rhetoric during the early months of the United Progressive Alliance II (UPA II) Government, about facing down the Communist party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) squarely excited great enthusiasm in the media, and a ‘massive crackdown’ on the Maoists was much awaited. A ‘clear, hold and develop strategy’ was projected by the MHA, and an impression created that major operations were imminent. Some Central Forces were shuffled about, and an ‘intensification of operations’ did occur, but, insufficiently thought out, the strategy quickly backfired, producing massive Security Forces (SF) fatalities.
At about the same time, the Chhattisgarh Police, along with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA, also known as the Special Action Force, SAF) launched an operation against the Maoists in the Dantewada District in September 2009, christening it Operation Green Hunt (OGH). The name stuck with the media, and every anti-Maoist operation anywhere in the country was quickly dubbed OGH, and attributed to the Centre’s ‘massive and coordinated operations’.
Thus, when 18 companies of the Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs) were deployed in Maoist infested areas close to the tri-junction of Maharashtra-Andhra Pradesh-Chhattisgarh in the first week of November 2009, this was reported as the beginning of the first phase of OGH. However, Police later clarified that this operation merely signalled the observance of ‘Police Week’. Again, on December 3, 2009, against the backdrop of anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh it was widely reported that the Centre had launched its ‘major offensive’ against the Maoists in Chhattisgarh. The MHA again denied this, insisting that what was being witnessed was nothing but an “intensification” of earlier operations.
By December 18, 2009, when Jharkhand Assembly polls were coming to an end, the Union Government was set to send an additional 17,000 CPMFs to Maoist affected States to step up their anti-Naxalite [Left Wing Extremism] operations under its planned “major offensive”. The idea was to have simultaneous operations at the junctions and tri-junctions of the affected States of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa (now known as Odisha), Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Maharashtra. A senior MHA official said the States already had 58,000 CPMFs — drawn from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force, Indo Tibetan Border Police, Sashastra Seema Bal and SAF — at their command. The additional deployment would increase the strength of CPMFs to nearly 75,000 [these calculations are based on full battalion strengths. Actual field deployments are roughly 40 per cent of these numbers]. An unnamed CRPF officer, stating that there were in for the “long haul”, disclosed, “Operations are supposed to be launched secretly so that the forces can catch the ultras off guard. We are on the job and we will expand the area of operation gradually.”
Roughly one year after the purported launch of the “major offensive”, it was claimed on October 7, 2010, that Security Forces (SFs) had regained control over more than 10,000 square kilometres areas dominated by the Naxals in the six worst-affected States. Official sources described the success of the SFs as “very significant” as nearly 40,000 square kilometres had been ‘controlled’ by the Maoists in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh ‘for the last several years’. The source claimed, “We have got maximum gain in Chhattisgarh. We hope that the success will continue in the coming days.” An earlier MHA report had claimed that, till June 2010, the SFs had managed to destroy as many as 120 Maoist training camps.
A circular issued by Maoist Central Committee spokesperson Abhay on the occasion of “party formation day” on September 21, conceded some reverses:
Starting from May 2009 to July 2010, eight topmost comrades, including politburo member and beloved leader Azad and ten state level comrades had either been caught and killed by the enemy, or had been put behind bars. Many leadership comrades from district level to lower ranks were either arrested or killed. These losses had all affected our party and movement seriously. Particularly, losing comrade Azad who had been fulfilling key responsibilities in the highest committee and had been rendering multi-faceted services most efficiently in many fields is a great loss.
Nevertheless, Abhay declared, the party was optimistic that “revolutionary movement had been giving birth to new leadership constantly and it will do so again. As long as masses need a revolution, they give birth to its leaders too”.
These gains, however, have largely been the consequence of quiet, intelligence-based operations, rather than the ‘area domination’ or ‘clear and hold’ approach, that had been projected as the Centre’s operational strategy. The claim of having ‘recovered’ 10,000 square kilometres area from Maoists, moreover, loses credibility as it there is no clear identification of the areas supposedly reclaimed, or prior identification of areas allegedly controlled by the Maoists. The combined forces battling the Maoists in the seven worst-affected States have also had little success in keeping fatalities – and particularly civilian and SF casualties – down.
*Data till November 21
Significantly, total fatalities in 2010 have already crossed the 2009 mark, with over a month still to go. Civilian fatalites have risen dramatically, from 210 in 2008, to 391 in 2009, and 554 in 2010. Clearly, the Maoists have not been strikingly hindered in hitting civilian targets. SF and Maoist fatalities show some declines, suggesting diminishing direct engagement between the two Forces between 2009 and 2010. Evidently, far from ‘intensifying’ their offensive, the SFs have been forced to go slow in the wake of a series of setbacks they have suffered, even as the Maoists have become more careful to preserve their strength in the unequal fight they are waging. [MHA data puts the total fatalities in 2010 (till October 31) in Left Wing Extremist Violence at 974 against the previous year’s total of 908 (or 1,125). The MHA released two different figures on different occasions for 2009].
Despite their reverses, the Maoists have been able to mount dramatic attacks on the SFs since the ‘offensive’ or ‘intensification of operations’ was initiated by the Centre. The attacks on CRPF personnel at Chintalnad in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh on April 6, 2010, in which 75 CRPF personnel and one State Policeman were killed; the attack at Chingavaram in Dantewada on May 17, 2010, in which 44 persons – 16 Security Forces (SF) personnel and 28 civilians – were killed; the ambush near the CRPF’s Dhudhai base camp in Narayanpur District, Chhattisgarh, on June 29, 2010, in which 27 CRPF personnel were killed; the encounter in Lakhisarai District, Bihar, on August 29, 2010, in which eight SF personnel were killed; and the attack on the Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) camp at Shilda in West Midnapore District, West Bengal, on February 15, 2010 in which 24 EFR personnel were killed; are the most dramatic in a wider series of Maoist attacks on SF targets. A circular issued by Abhay lists the major Maoist successes against the SFs during this period and concludes,
… particularly the historical Mukram (Tadimetla) [Chintalnad] attack had broken down the initiative of the enemy and increased that of the guerrilla forces. These attacks had armed the PLGA with more weapons and new experiences in guerrilla war. Tadimetla experience is of the highest level of all these.
There is some evidence, moreover, of a growing Maoist consolidation on the ground. On October 1, 2010, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram disclosed that 21 persons had been executed in full public view by the CPI-Maoist in kangaroo courts during the year, till August 31, 2010. This is far higher than the 11 persons executed in such actions during the corresponding period of 2009. The number of kangaroo courts reported to have been held by the CPI-Maoist grew to 48, till August 2010, from 38 in the corresponding period of 2009. Maoist violence has also been extended into at least two new Districts – Nabarangpur of Odisha and Mahasamund District of Chhattisgarh – during this period.
The claim that the SFs have made their ‘maximum gain’ in Chhattisgarh also holds little water. SATP data on major Maoist Incidents (involving three or more fatalities) indicates that, out of a total of 32 such incidents in Chhattisgarh in 2009, the Maoists took the offensive in 18. In 2010, thus far, only 17 major incidents have been recorded, in which the SFs took the initiative in just seven; five of these came before the April 6 Chintalnad massacre. After Chintalnad, the SFs have relinquished the initiative, and the Maoists have led the offensive in another nine incidents. The retreat of the SFs into a posture of passive defence is the principal reason for the significant reduction in major incidents in 2010 in Chhattisgarh.
Worse, the SFs have also conceded a huge psychological and strategic gain to the Maoists when the Centre decided to shift the CRPF Zonal Headquarters from Raipur (capital of Chhattisgarh) to Kolkata “for reasons of safety” in the wake of killing of 27 CRPF personnel in the Narayanpur District, Chhattisgarh, on June 29, 2010.
It has been the intelligence-based operations, overwhelmingly led by the Andhra Pradesh Police, which have resulted in the most significant damage to the Maoist structure, particularly through the neutralization of eight top Maoists (and a number of lesser commanders) over the May 2009 – October 2010 period. These top leaders include: Patel Sudhakar Reddy, killed in Andhra Pradesh on May 24, 2009; Shakarmuri Appa Rao, killed in Andhra Pradesh on March 12, 2010; Kobad Gandhy, arrested in Delhi on September 21, 2009; Banshidhar alias Chintan Da, arrested in Uttar Pradesh on February 8, 2010; Ravi Sharma, arrested in Jharkhand on October 10, 2009; Amitabha Bagchi, arrested in Jharkhand on August 24, 2009; Cherukuri Rajkumar aka Azad, killed in Andhra Pradesh on July 2, 2010; and J. Narisimha Reddy, arrested in Jharkhand on August 8, 2010. Despite their geographical dispersal across the country, the Andhra Pradesh Police was involved in most of these cases. Crucially, it was not the numerical strength of Andhra Pradesh Police (the Force has a police population ratio of just 99, as against the severely deficient national average of 128 per 100,000), but years of investment in developing an intelligence network that underpins these successes.
Conspicuously, the Centre’s much-vaunted ‘massive and coordinated operations’ have lost momentum because of their inherently false assumptions and inaccurate assessments. Unless drastic changes are now made in the orientation and execution of anti-Maoist operations, reconciling these to the realities of the ground, the state will fail to recover the initiative. Regrettably, there is no coherent evidence of such a crystallization of strategy and Forces, and a bloody and extended confrontation remains inescapable, belying the MHA’s rhetoric claiming that the state “will control the situation in 2 to 3 years”.
Fakir Mohan Pradhan, Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management