By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On September 21, 2017, Security Forces (SFs) killed an ‘area commander’ of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), identified as Podiyam Bheema, during an encounter in the forests between Pidmel and Palamdgu villages under Polampalli Police Station limits in Sukma District. SFs later recovered the dead body of the slain Maoist along with three country-made firearms, explosives and other materials. The slain Maoist was handling operations in at least 10 villages in the area.
On September 18, 2017, two CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an encounter in the Rasantong forest area of Sukma District. The encounter ensued when SFs on a search operation were fired upon by the Maoists. SFs later recovered two guns, 13 detonators, a radio set, a wireless set, codex wire, batteries, solar plates and some other material from the encounter site.
On August 13, 2017, SFs killed two Maoists, including a ‘deputy platoon commander’ identified as Podiyam Sunna, during an exchange of fire between Maoists and the SFs under the Kistaram Police Station in Sukma District. SFs also recovered a gun and a country-made pistol from the spot.
On June 24, 2017, a CPI-Maoist ‘commander’, identified as Korsa Mahesh, was killed in an encounter in the Tondamarka Forest area of Sukma District. The slain Maoist carried a reward of INR 800,000 on his head.
On April 24, 2017, a Maoist cadre was killed in the Burkapal area of Kalapattar in Sukma District.
On January 27, 2017, a Maoist cadre was killed in an exchange of fire with SFs in a dense patch of forest under Fulbagdi Police Station limits in Sukma District. SFs recovered one .303 rifle from the encounter site.
These eight fatalities among Maoists have been recorded in Sukma District in the current year, thus far (data till September 24, 2017). On the other hand, SFs have lost at least 41 of their own personnel in four incidents. With this, the Maoists have managed to restore their dominance, registering a staggering 1:5.12 kill ratio in their favour in the current year, after conceding their superiority marginally in 2015 and to a large extent through 2016. During the corresponding period of the previous year, SFs had eliminated at least 21 Maoists while suffering 10 losses, yielding a positive kill ratio of 1:21. Through 2016, the ratio was 1:3.54 in favour of the SFs. The ratio stood at 1:1.07, marginally in favour of SFs in 2015.
Sukma’s share in % of Total killing
Source: SATP, *Data till September 24, 2016.
* Sukma carved out of Dantewada on January 16, 2012.
Since its formation on January 16, 2012, the Sukma District has recorded more SF losses – 126 – as compared to the Maoists, at 78, establishing a kill ratio of 1:1.61 in favour of the Maoists. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, Sukma is one of seven Districts (among 28 from where fatalities among both SFs and Maoists have been reported since January 16, 2012) in which SFs have suffered greater losses as compared to the Maoists. Moreover, Sukma has recorded the maximum number of SF fatalities, at 126, for any District across India, since January 16, 2012; with Bijapur, also in Chhattisgarh, standing a distant second, with 52; followed by Gadchiroli in Maharashtra with 39 fatalities.
Significantly, the worst ever attack by the Maoists targeting SFs, across all Maoist affected regions in India, had taken place at Tarmetla village near Chintalnad under the Konta Block, one of the seven Blocks of the undivided Dantewada District, which is now among one of the three tehsils (revenue units) of Sukma District. The incident in which 75 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and one State Policeman were killed occurred on April 6, 2010.
Incidentally, the two worst attacks targeting SFs in the current year across all Maoist affected regions in India, were carried out in Sukma. On April 24, 2017, when Maoists killed at least 25 CRPF personnel and injured another six in an ambush at Kalapattar in the Burkapal area of Sukma District; and the March 11, 2017, incident when the Maoists killed 12 CRPF personnel and injured another four when they ambushed a Road Opening Party (ROP) in the forests near Kottacheru village under the Bhejji Police Station in Sukma District.
Meanwhile, there is a significant dip in fatalities among civilians in the current year, after these had risen in 2015 and 2016. Nevertheless, civilians in Sukma continue to live in fear of the Maoists. In attempts to terrorise civilians, the Maoists have abducted many and, in some cases, killed them. On March 10, 2017, for instance, a former Sarpanch (head of Panchayat, a local-self Government institution), identified as Madvi Dula (55), was killed by CPI-Maoist cadres after being abducted on March 9, on suspicion of being a ‘Police informer’, in the Tokanpalli Forest area under the Chintagufa Police Station in Sukma. More recently, on September 16, 2017, a group of armed Maoists abducted 10 villagers, including woman Sarpanch Podiyam Muye and Deputy Sarpanch Podiyam Komal, of Chintagufa village in Sukma District. Later, in the night of September 20, 2017, the Maoists released all of them, after subjecting them to a ‘jan adalat (People’s Court)’, in which they were warned not to ‘help’ the administration in carrying out development activities in remote areas. They were also threatened not to attend meetings held by the District administration to address grievances of villagers.
Unsurprisingly, Sukma is listed among the 35 worst Naxal [Left Wing Extremism (LWE)]-affected Districts identified by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), across the country.
Sukma was carved out of Dantewada as a separate District on January 16, 2012, and is spread over a geographical area of 5635.79 square kilometres, of which around 3,500 square kilometres (more than 75 per cent of its total area) is under thick forest cover. The forest cover, terrain and geography of the District provide the Maoists distinct tactical advantages, allowing them to establish disruptive dominance over much of the area. In addition, the District abuts the Maoist-afflicted Bastar, Bijapur and Dantewada Districts of the State to the north and west; the Malkangiri District of Odisha to the east; and the Khammam District of Telangana to the South, making it more formidable challenge for SFs in their hunt for the Maoists.
In a worrying development, media reports published on September 9, 2017, suggested that the ‘commander’ of the Maoists’ ‘Battalion No.1’, Madvi Hidma (36), who was allegedly involved in most of the major incidents in the District, including the April 24, 2017, Burkapal ambush, the May 25, 2013, Jeeram Valley ambush, and the April 6, 2010, Chintalnad ambush, among others, has been promoted to the Central Committee (CC) of the CPI-Maoist, the second most powerful body of the outfit, after its ‘Politburo’. Intelligence agencies are, however, reluctant to confirm Hidma’s elevation in the absence of any documentary evidence in Maoist publications or seized correspondence. Hidma belongs to the Muria tribal community of the Bastar region and was born at Purvati village in Sukma. His ascent reportedly came as a reward for his successes in the fight against SFs in the area, providing the lone ‘bright spot’ in an otherwise murky battle field across the country where the Maoists are facing several reverses, including in their epicentre of dominance in Chhattisgarh.
Recent, albeit occasional, Maoist successes against SFs have provoked strengthening State responses after the Burkapal debacle. The Government has decided to deploy a fresh squad of 2,000 Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) personnel in and around Sukma. Though the Central Government has not disclosed actual strength of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) deployment in Maoist affected areas, varying media reports indicate that around 44 CoBRA teams (of the total 154) are deployed in Chhattisgarh for operations, and all of them are in the Bastar region comprising seven Districts – Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur and Sukma. In addition, 20,000 State Policemen are deployed in the Bastar region. The SF leadership has also reviewed the lapses that facilitated recent debacles, and sources indicate that tactical and administrative procedures are being modified to ensure that such failures are not repeated in future.
Sukma remains one of the last surviving Maoist bastions in the country, with much of their operational strength intact. The District is among the most poorly connected and under-developed, even by the Bastar Division’s low standards, and SFs confront extraordinary difficulties operating in its tough terrain, and in a population where the Maoist – and in particular, Hidma’s personal – influence is substantial, and where the Maoist intelligence networks is likely stronger than that of the State.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant; Institute for Conflict Management