ISSN 2330-717X

India: Cementing Gains In Maharashtra – Analysis

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By Deepak Kumar Nayak*

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On February 24, 2022, Police recovered a pressure cooker bomb, a detonator, four gelatin sticks, 45 grams of gunpowder and other articles, during an anti-Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) operation  in Jamtola Forest in Gadchiroli District.

On February 19, 2022, Gadchiroli Police arrested four Maoist sympathisers from Bhangarampetha village under Damrancha Police Station limits in Gadchiroli District. Police seized grenades and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) from the arrested persons.

On February 11, 2022, Maharashtra Urban Development Minister Eknath Shinde received a letter allegedly sent by the CPI-Maoist, threatening to avenge the killing of their cadres in Gadchiroli District. The letter was sent to Shinde’s residence. Shinde is also the ‘guardian minister’ of Thane and Gadchiroli. A similar threat letter was received by the Minister on October 29, 2021. The letter warned that the minister, a resident of Thane city, and his family would have to pay a “heavy price” for the State Government’s actions against Maoists.

On January 21, 2022, CPI-Maoist cadres set ablaze 18 vehicles engaged in construction of the road between Dhondraj and Kawande village in the Bhamragad Taluka (revenue administrative division) in Gadchiroli District.

On January 15, 2022, a CPI-Maoist cadre, identified as Karan aka Dulsa Narote, carrying a bounty of INR 200,000, was arrested by the Police from Gatta village in Etapalli Taluka, Gadchiroli District. Karan was reportedly involved in 16 incidents of multiple crimes, including six murders, four encounters, two robberies, three incidents of arson and one abduction. 

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At least three Maoist-related incidents have been recorded in Maharashtra since the beginning of 2022 (till February 27). During the corresponding period in 2021, five such incidents had been recorded. A total of 29 terrorism-related incidents were recorded in 2021, as against 26 such incidents in 2020.

According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Maharashtra recorded 53 fatalities in Maoist-related violence in 2021 as against 16 fatalities in 2020. Though the over four-and-a-half-fold increase in overall fatalities reflects a worrying development, a closer analysis of numbers suggests that the situation on the ground actually improved.

Significantly, Security Forces (SFs), without losing a single trooper, killed 49 Maoists in 2021. In 2020, three SF personnel and nine Maoists were killed. Prior to 2021, the best ever SF:Maoist kill ratio, 1:25.2,  favouring the SFs was registered in 2018. Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started documenting Left Wing Extremism-related violence, the overall SF:Maoist kill ratio in the State has favoured the SFs at 1:1.87.

Some of the major SF operational successes in 2021 include:

November 13: At least 26 CPI-Maoist cadres were killed while four Policemen were injured, in an encounter with SFs in a dense forest in Gadchiroli District. Maoist leader Milind Baburao Teltumbde aka Deepak Teltumbde aka Sahyadri aka Jeeva, a ‘central committee’ member and ‘secretary’ of the CPI-Maoist ‘Maharashtra State Committee’, carrying a reward of INR five million on his head, was among the dead. The other prominent Maoists killed included Lokesh aka Mangu Madkam, ‘Divisional Committee Member’, carrying reward of INR two million on his head; and Mahesh Gota, ‘Divisional Committee Member’, carrying a reward of INR 1.6 million. Among the women Maoists killed in the encounter was Vimla aka Manso Boga, who was the bodyguard of Milind Teltumbde, carrying a reward of INR 400,000 on her head.

May 21: At least 13 CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an exchange of fire with the Maharashtra Police’s C-60 commandos in a forest between Paydi-Kotmi in Gadchiroli District. Those killed included ‘Divisional Committee Member’ Daewoo Mohanda, who carried a reward of INR 1.6 million.

March 29: Five CPI-Maoist cadres, including two women, were killed, while two Policemen were injured, in an operation conducted by C-60 commandos in the Khobramenda Forest area in Gadchiroli District. The slain Maoists included Rushi Raoji aka Bhaskar Hichami (46) of the ‘North Gadchiroli Division,’ carrying a reward of INR 2.5 million on his head, who had a total of 155 offences registered against him. Raju aka Sukhdev Naitam (32), the ‘Tippagarh Local Organising Squad’ (LOS) ‘deputy, who’ carried a reward of INR 1 million on his head, was also among those killed.

Meanwhile, at least nine Maoists were arrested in Maharashtra in 2021, in addition to 10 in 2020. Mounting SF pressure also led to the surrender of eight Maoists in 2021, adding to three such surrenders reported in 2020. Significantly, on March 23, 2021, Dinesh aka Dayaram Naitam (28), carrying an INR 800,000 bounty, surrendered before the Police along with three other cadres, in Gadchiroli District. Meanwhile, on September 7, 2021, the Maharashtra Government had extended the Naxal Surrender Policy in the State for another two years, till August 2023. The policy was introduced in 2005 with the aim to curb the Naxal movement in the State.

Despite SFs making big gains in 2021, the number of civilian fatalities (four) remained the same as in 2020. An analysis of civilian fatalities over the years indicates a cyclical trend. While a high of 36 was recorded in 2011, a low of one fatality each was recorded in 2001, 2002 and 2004.

Nevertheless, SF dominance on the ground has helped instill confidence in masses. Significantly, according to a December 17, 2021, report, CPI-Maoist threats failed to deter 17,136 persons from enrolling their names in the voters’ list in Gadchiroli District during a review of the list in the mid-December. In the past, the Maoists had threatened villagers that they would cut off their fingers if they were found to be inked during polls for 14,234 Gram Panchayats (village level local self-Government institutions) on January 15, 2021.

Geographically, all fatalities, in 2021 remained confined to Gadchiroli, the epicenter of Maoist violence in Maharashtra. In 2020 also, all fatalities were reported from Gadchiroli alone. Since March 6, 2000, out of 692 fatalities (191 civilians, 170 SF personnel, 319 Left Wing Extremists (LWEs) and 12 Unspecified) recorded in Maharashtra, 676 (182 civilians, 166 SF personnel, 316 LWEs, and 12 Unspecified) have been recorded in Gadchiroli alone, followed by seven (five civilians and two SF personnel) in Gondia, three (one civilian and two SF personnel) in Bhandara, two (one civilian and one LWE) in Nagpur, and one civilian in Aurangabad. The location of three fatalities (one civilian and two Maoists) remains unspecified. Maharashtra has a total of 35 districts. The last fatality outside Gadchiroli was recorded on October 18, 2019, when CPI-Maoist cadres shot dead a civilian, identified as Bhagchand Dhurve (50), after branding him a ‘police informer’ in the Murkutdoh-I area of Salakesa Taluka in Gondia District.

Unsurprisingly, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on June 19, 2021, identifies Gadchiroli as one among the ‘25 Most Affected Districts across eight States in the country. Moreover, two Districts – Gadchiroli and Gondia – are amongst the 70 districts in 10 States that are covered under the Centre’s ‘Security Related Expenditure (SRE)’ scheme to fund focused operations against the ultras.

Though Maoist-linked violence has subsided and is limited to Gadchiroli alone, the Maoists continue to make efforts for a revival.

LWEs have been trying to set up bases in Gadchiroli, Gondia and Nagpur, for their ‘Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh (MMC) zone’, similar to the ‘Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC)’ in the Bastar Division of Chhattisgarh. An unnamed senior Chhattisgarh Police official observed, on November 13, 2021,

Gadchiroli, after being developed into a strong zone, became the pivotal point in the Maoist dominated areas particularly in Bastar, enabling supply of logistics, medicines and medical treatment to the cadres. The area also offered a safe passage for Maoist cadres and senior leaders of the outfit’s ‘central committee’ to travel to MMC zone.

On July 29, 2021, DIG Sandip Patil had claimed that Maoistsin the Gadchiroli District were using drones to keep an eye on the movements of the Police. However, on August 11, 2021, the CPI-Maoist claimed they had no drones in their armoury.

Earlier, on February 13, 2021, speaking to reporters in the Gondia District, where an armed Police outpost was set up to help curb Maoist activities, DIG Patil asserted that the CPI-Maoist was trying to reactivate its demoralized cadres in the MMC region.

Meanwhile, according to an August 11, 2021, report, Maharashtra has the highest number, 84, of Maoist front organizations, with secret hideouts in at least five Districts – Gondia, Nagpur, Nashik, Pune and Mumbai. The State is now contemplating enacting the ‘Maharashtra Public Security Act’ to enable enforcement agencies to firmly tackle the front organizations, their networks and activities. Some of the front organizations include the Kabir Kala Manch, Bharat Jan Andolan, the Revolutionary Democratic Front, Indian Association of Peoples Lawyers, and Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee.

Critical security gaps in capacities and deployment persist in the State. According to Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data as on January 1, 2020, though Maharashtra’s Police-population ratio, at 174.87 per 100,000, is significantly higher than the national average of 155.78, it remains substantially below the minimum of 222:100,000 regarded as desirable for ‘peacetime policing’. Further, the Police/Area Ratio (number of Policemen per 100 square kilometres) for Maharashtra is 69.80, as against the sanctioned strength of 79.08. The all-India ratio is 63.63, as against a sanction of 79.80 per 100 square kilometres. The sanctioned strength for the States’ Police is 243,326, but 214,776 personnel were in position, yielding a vacancy of 28,550. In addition, the sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State is 317, but just 259 officers were in position, leaving 58 posts vacant, considerably weakening the executive supervision of the Force.

The Maoists are currently leaderless and lying low in the State. This is an opportunity for SFs to consolidate their gains and eliminate the Maoists presence from the region.

*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

SATP

SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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