Current assessments indicate that the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) is a poor caricature of its former self and mostly operating on survival mode. How is the group adjusting to this reality? Is it making efforts to revive itself? Is it waiting for the pressure from security force operations to dissipate or is it actively pursuing a strategy to reinvent itself both militarily and politically? Are its weaknesses—so visible in states like Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha—indeed a pan-India phenomenon? An analysis of extremist activities in the last two months of 2021 and in January 2022 suggest that left-wing extremism (LWE) at least in Jharkhand isn’t really on a downward slope.
On 26 January, CPI-Maoist cadres hoisted black flags in four different locations, including a Panchayat building. They also planted an explosive device in a school in Giridih district. On the same day, they blew up a mobile phone tower in Hazaribagh district. Earlier, on 23 January, a bridge on Barakar River in Giridih, constructed at a cost of INR 130 million, was blown up. A mobile tower had been blown up and another torched in the same district just a day earlier. The widespread violence was part of the outfit’s announcement of a ‘resistance week’—between 21 and 26 January and a general strike on 27 February—in Jharkhand and Bihar, to protest the arrest of its senior leader Prashant Bose or ‘Kishan da’. It however represents something bigger: the persistent LWE ability to intensify activities at their own choosing.
The most audacious attack took place in the first week of the year. On 4 January, Maoist cadres merged with the crowd watching a village football match in Jheelruwa. Gurucharan Nayak, a former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) was also in attendance. While Nayak narrowly escaped, the Maoists slit the throats of two of Nayak’s three bodyguards and snatched their AK-47 and INSAS rifles. They then managed to escape. This attack was followed by the torching of 27 vehicles in Gumla district on 7 January.
These 10 incidents in the first month of the year were preceded by 11 incidents in December 2021, reported from Latehar, Lohardaga, West Singhbhum, Saraikela-Kharsawan, and Gumla. They included the killing of two police informants, two incidents around the planting of explosive devices, and attacks on a security force camp and a police station. 10 more incidents were reported from Gumla, Latehar, Ranchi, Khunti, West Singhbhum, and Hazaribah in November: attacks on two police stations, the killing of an alleged police informant and a former Maoist, and the blowing up of two railway tracks. The three-day general strike announced between 23 and 25 November, to protest ‘Kishan da’s’ arrest, paralysed everyday activity and brought bauxite mining activity, especially in Latehar, Lohardaga, and Gumla, to a halt.
These activities, although marked by low fatalities, by no means conform to the narrative of a weakened CPI-Maoist. At one level, the violence is tactical and opportunistic. Seven of the eight districts from where violence was reported share borders with one of the following states: Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Bihar, or Odisha. These incidents can thus be linked to the ‘orchestrate and retreat’-category of attacks. At another level, continuation of violence in the face of ongoing Maoist arrests and surrenders in the state seem to be a part of the ‘maintain the heat’-strategy.
Arrests, and separate National Investigation Agency (NIA) investigations, reveal the multiple ways the extremists source weapons, explosives, and money. These are not only routed from neighbouring states by the Maoists themselves, but also involve private citizens and retired and serving security personnel. This nexus is a decades-old problem. Periodic arrests have done little to disrupt the lucrative trade.
The CPI-Maoist’s ability to maintain its violent profile in as many as eight districts of the state can also be linked with the state police establishment’s enduring weaknesses. Over one-sixth of the Indian Police Service (IPS) officer positions in Jharkhand remain vacant. The police itself suffers from an overall shortfall of over 20 per cent, which impacts police-population ratio (police personnel per hundred thousand of the population) as well as police density (police personnel per 100 sq km). As per the Bureau of Police Research and Investigation (BPR&D), the ratio is at 172.18 and density at 81.34—both significantly lower than the sanctioned state strength. Not surprisingly, police action against the extremists remains mostly reactive, which allows the CPI-Maoist to decide the pace and intensity of its activities. Attacks such as the one targeting the former MLA also point to a virtual absence of intelligence and credible assessment of the risks posed by the extremists to either persons of interest or select infrastructure.
The multiplicity of extremist groups in Jharkhand, albeit with CPI-Maoist dominance, is often cited as a complex challenge. However, this is an undisturbed trend of the past several decades. While LWE is on the backfoot in several other states, it is thus clearly business-as-usual in Jharkhand. Low fatalities can never be a source of comfort for the security establishment: if the force enablers aren’t disrupted, increasing the lethality of attacks won’t be too difficult a task for the extremists.
This article was also published in IPCS