By Kota Mallikarjuna Gupta*
On May 21, 2021, at least 13 Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres were killed in an exchange of fire that lasted nearly 90 minutes, with Maharashtra Police’s C-60 commandos near Kotmi forest in Etapalli Tehsil (revenue unit) of Gadchiroli District.
Gadchiroli Additional Superintendent of Police Manish Kalwania disclosed, “The encounter ensued when the elite C-60 commando parties were combing and searching the forest, 15 kilometres north of Kotmi. It started around 6.30am [IST] when the Naxals [Left Wing Extremists], who were probably on the move in a group of about 60 to 70, started firing from the hilltop. Four C-60 commando parties, comprising over 100 men, retaliated, killing 13 Naxals.”
The slain Maoists included Satish aka Adve Mohanda, North Gadchiroli Divisional Committee Member (DCM), carrying reward of INR 1.6 million on his head; Yatil Nandini aka Prembatti Madavi, Area Committee Member (ACM) of Kasnusar Dalam (armed squad); Umesh Parsa, ACM, Rupesh aka Linga Mastari Gawde, ‘deputy commander’, and Somri aka Sunita aka Savita Papaya Naitam, member, all of the Kasansur Dalam, carrying a reward INR 600,000 on each of their heads; Kishore aka Shiva aka Shivaji Barsu Gawde, Platoon Member and Guni aka Bukli Dhanu Hichami, ACM, each carrying a reward of INR 400,000; Sevanti Hedo, Platoon Member, Rajni, Platoon Member, Rohit aka Manesh aka Manas aka Sonaru Satru Qarami, Platoon Member, all of the Kasansur Dalam, Saguna aka Vasanti aka Vatsala Lalu Narot, Platoon Member of the Chatgaon Dalam, and Kishore Holi, jan militia member, each carrying a reward of INR 200,000.
On May 13, C-60 commandos killed two Maoists during an exchange of fire at a forest in Morchul village under Sawargaon Police outpost limits in the Dhanora Tehsil of Gadchiroli. The slain Maoists were identified as Raja aka Ramsai Roharu Madavi, with a reward of INR 1.2 million on his head, and Ranita aka Punita Chipaluram Gawde (28), with a reward of INR 200,000. Madavi was ‘commander’ of the Tippagarh Dalam, while Gawde was a member of Kasansoor Dalam.
On April 28, two Maoists, identified as Vivek Narote and Vinay Narote, were killed in an exchange of fire with the Security Forces (SFs) in the Gatta-Jambia Forest in Etapalli Tehsil, Gadchiroli District. Vivek Narote carried a reward of INR 600,000 and Vinay Narote of INR 200,000, on his head.
On March 29, 2021, five Maoists were killed in an encounter with C-60 commandos in the Khobramenda forest of Gadchiroli District. The slain Maoists included Rushi Raoji aka Bhaskar Hichami (46) of North Gadchiroli division, carrying a reward of INR 2.5 million on his head. Other slain Maoists were identified as Raju aka Sukhdev Naitam (32), deputy of Tippagarh Dalam, carrying a reward of INR 1 million; Sujata aka Punita Atram (38), carrying a reward of INR 400,000; Asmita aka Sukhlu Padha (28) and Atram, a member of the Tippagarh Dalam, carrying a reward of INR 200,000 each.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 25 Maoists have been killed in Gadchiroli since the beginning of the current year (data till May 30, 2021). During the corresponding period of 2021, two Maoists were killed. A total of nine Maoists were killed through 2020. Since March 2000, when SATP, started compiling data on Left Wing Extremism in India, at least 289 Maoists have been killed in the District.
Meanwhile, the May 21, 2021, encounter is significant as the most successful operation conducted by the Security Forces (SFs) in the District, in terms of fatalities inflicted among rebels, since April 22, 2018, when 34 CPI-Maoist cadres were killed by the C-60 commandos of the Gadchiroli Police and personnel from Battalion 9 of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Boriya Forest in Bhamragad Tehsil, Gadchiroli.
Further, during this May 21, 2021, operation, SFs succeeded in eliminating Satish, who was the one who had pushed the button to trigger the blast at Jambhulkheda, which killed 15 policemen in May 2019. “We were told by Maoist jan militia from the nearby Lavhari village, during our interrogation then, that Satish was the one who had pushed the button to trigger the blast,” revealed Deputy Inspector General of Police (Gadchiroli Range) Sandip Patil. On May 1, 2019, at least 15 C-60 commandos and one civilian driver were killed when Maoist triggered an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion on Dadapur Road near Lendali Nullah in Jambhulkheda village under Kurkheda Police Station limits in Gadchiroli District.
The Police now claims that the Maoist leadership are on the edge of extinction in Gadchiroli District. Sandip Patil thus observed,
Over the years, Gadchiroli Police’s concerted efforts and successes have led to virtual decimation of almost the entire senior Naxal leadership in Gadchiroli due to either deaths in encounter, arrests or surrenders. After Satish’s exit, only two senior leaders now remain functional, Prabhakar in north and Giridhar in south Gadchiroli.
Prabhakar aka Lokeri Chandar Rao is the ‘commander’ of the CPI-Maoist ‘Company-4’ and Giridhar aka Nangshu Tumreti is member of the State Military Commission.
The difficult topography of the District – covering a total area of 14,412 square kilometres, of which 11,694 square kilometres fall under forest cover (78.40 per cent) – has, for long, served as ideal terrain for the Maoists to operate, as the task of locating and sanitizing Maoist hideouts was difficult. Though SF successes over the years have proved that Maoists operating out of such terrain can be located and neutralised, the Maoists retain residual capacities that are still a challenge.
The Maoists have already killed three civilians in 2021 in addition to four in 2020 and 18 in 2019, the highest in a year since 2012, when 18 civilians were killed. Though no SF trooper has been killed in 2021, three were killed in 2020 and 15 in 2018 – the highest in a year since 2010 when there were 15 SF fatalities.
The Maoists have succeeded in carrying out major offensives after suffering big losses in the battlefield. Security Forces, consequently, would need to exercise greater vigilance ensure that they are able to confront and neutralize any such counter attack. Aggressive operations must continue to further consolidate the gains.
*Kota Mallikarjuna Gupta
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management