By Indrajit Sharma*
On November 22, 2020, three persons, including a ‘zonal commander’ of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), identified as Santosh Yadav aka Alok (30), and two civilians – Birendra and Jairam – were killed at Mahuari village under Barachatti Police Station limits in Gaya District. The Maoists opened fire at a team of Security Forces (SFs) comprising Central Reserve Police Force (CPRF), Police personnel of Jharkhand and Bihar, who were out on a joint anti-Naxal [Left Wing Extremism, LWE] operation in the village. In the ensued gun-battle, Santosh Yadav, carrying a reward of INR one million on his head was killed by the SFs while the Maoists shot dead the two civilians and injured three others when they opened fire at a civilian crowd. Also, four troopers of the CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) Battalion of the CRPF were injured in the incident. SFs recovered an INSAS and an AK 47 rifle from the encounter spot.
On September 1, 2020, Maoist killed a local priest, identified as Neeraj Jha of Shringirishi Dham under Kajra Police Station limits in Lakhisarai District. The Maoists had abducted Neeraj on August 23 and demanded INR 10 million ransom from his family. The Maoists later killed him and dumped his body in a forested area in the District.
On August 28, 2020, Maoists shot dead two civilians, identified as Mahindra Yadav and Ram Dayal Rajak, after branding them as ‘Police informers’, at Harni Khajura village under Magra Police Station limits in Gaya District. One villager was also injured in the attack.
According to data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least seven civilians have been killed in LWE-linked violence in the ‘Axis’ region of Bihar covering Aurangabad, Gaya, Nawada, Jamui, Lakhisarai and Munger Districts, in the current year (data till November 29, 2020). The region thus accounted for 70 per cent of total civilian fatalities recorded in Bihar in 2020, thus far (total 10 civilians killed in Bihar). The percentage of civilian fatalities in the ‘Axis’ region to civilian fatalities in Bihar stood at 92.30 in 2019 (12 out of 13). Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data, this region accounted for 53.16 per cent of total civilian fatalities recorded in the State (260 out of 489 fatalities).
Fatalities in ‘Axis’ Region and Bihar: 2000*-2020
|Year||‘Axis’ Region||‘Axis’ Region BIHAR||% Share|
While no SF fatality has been reported in the State in the current year (data till November 29, 2020), the region recorded one fatality in this category in 2019. Despite this, the overall SF:Maoist kill ratio in the ‘Axis’ region, since March 6, 2000, remains in favour of the Maoists at 1.44:1. However, during the same period, when the whole of Bihar is taken into consideration, the ratio favours the SFs at 1:1.18.
The six Districts comprising the ‘Axis’ region accounted for 53.33 per cent of overall fatalities in Bihar in 2020 (8 out of 15). Significantly, the region accounted for 100 per cent of total fatalities in the State in 2016, 91.66 per cent in 2017, 92.85 per cent in 2018, and 90.47 per cent in 2019. Since March 6, 2000, the region recorded 49.14 per cent of the overall fatalities in the State. The region has been the epicentre of Maoist violence in Bihar.
Not surprisingly, all of these six Districts (Aurangabad, Gaya, Nawada, Jamui, Lakhisarai and Munger) are among the 90 Districts in 11 States that are LWE-affected, according to a February 5, 2019, Government release. Further, four of these six Districts (Aurangabad, Gaya, Jamui and Lakhisarai) are among the ‘30 worst Maoist-affected’ Districts, across seven States in the country, according to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA).
Significantly, four of these six Districts (Aurangabad, Gaya, Nawada and Jamui) are among the most underdeveloped areas of the State and are listed among the ‘Aspirational Districts’ included in the ‘Aspirational Districts Programme’. The programme focuses on five main themes – Health & Nutrition, Education, Agriculture & Water Resources, Financial Inclusion & Skill Development, and Basic Infrastructure – which have direct bearing on the quality of life and the economic productivity of citizens.
Along with existing backwardness, five of these six Districts (barring Lakhisarai) share borders with Maoist-affected Jharkhand, thus adding to their vulnerability.
Of late, however, the Maoist strength in the region has dwindled as compared to the past, as in all other areas of erstwhile Maoist activity. According to Rajiv Mishra, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Gaya District, the Maoist base has weakened in the region on account of increased Police mobility and the execution of development projects. On August 30, 2020, Mishra noted,
Behaving more like a criminal gang devoid of ideological moorings, the Maoists have lost ground. Increased police mobility, social outreach programmes of the police forces, expansion of the communication network, increased awareness level and ever shrinking base has unnerved the Maoists. Their supply chains too have got disrupted and funding too has dried up. The Maoists do not have the fund required to maintain the Red squad, the group trained in guerrilla warfare and as such desertions are taking place.
Reiterating a similar view on September 12, 2020, Mishra stated,
Maoist’s supply chain stands broken and it now finds it difficult to provide even the bare necessities to its squad members.
Earlier, on July 29, 2020, S.M. Khopade, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Operations, has similarly claimed that the supply chain of the Maoists, including that for ration and other basic provisions, had effectively been broken following continuous vigil and surveillance.
The enhanced security presence during the lockdown measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the State further facilitated SFs in cornering the Maoists’ grip. The coronavirus lockdown disrupted Maoist supply chains and weakened their operational capacities across the State.
On October 4, 2020,an unnamed senior Police official asserted that, though Maoist activities had been on the wane in recent years in the 16 Maoist affected Districts of the State [Arwal, Aurangabad, Banka, East Champaran, Gaya, Jamui, Jehanabad, Kaimur, Lakhisarai, Munger, Muzaffarpur, Nalanda, Nawada, Rohtas, Vaishali, West Champaran], land mines remained a challenge, more prominently in the ‘Axis’ region. Indeed, as reported on October 4, 2020, the Superintendents of Police (SPs) of several Districts, including the ‘Axis’ region, had asked Police Headquarters for satellite phones, additional central paramilitary forces and deep search metal detectors to look for landmines during anti-Maoist operations.
On October 3, 2020, Manu Maharaaj, the Munger range Deputy Inspector General of Police warned that the Maoists could execute a major incident in Jamui, Munger and Lakhisarai Districts as a result of frustration caused by sustained and prolonged anti-Maoist operations by SFs.
Worryingly, on November 18, 2020, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) issued orders for the permanent withdrawal of two regular CRPF battalions from Bihar, to be redeployed in Chhattisgarh. Previously, on May 5, 2019, when the UMHA had proposed the withdrawal of two battalions of CRPF deployed in LWE affected areas in Bihar, the State Government had observed,
The area covering the Districts – Gaya, Jehanabad, Aurangabad, Bhojpur and Arwal – on both sides of the border is highly inaccessible, hilly and covered with forests. As a result, CPI-Maoist remains a formidable threat along the Gaya-Aurangabad axis in southern Bihar and along the Jamui-Munger-Banka-Lakhisarai axis. Operations for area domination, cordon and search against extremists always require more boots on the ground. There is requirement of matching forces on this side of the border to counter influx of Naxalites from the areas of Jharkhand and to effectively combat them. This is possible only by filling the gaps in the existing deployment of security forces.
The ‘Axis’ region in Bihar showcases a zone where the Maoists retain a significant measure of resilience and capacities to operate and inflict violence. Sustained SF operations, in combination with administrative outreach in the region, are necessary to ensure that that the gains of recent years are consolidated further, and the menace of this enduring insurgency is finally countered.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management