By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On May 27, 2018, a 45-year-old villager identified as Vanjami Sukda, was hacked to death by cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoists (CPI-Maoist) in Punpalli village under Dornapal Police Station limits in Sukma District. In a pamphlet recovered from the spot, the Maoists accused the deceased of being a ‘Police informer’.
On May 24, 2018, Sub-Inspector Rajesh Kumar was killed and Constable Manik Tinpare, sustained injuries; when a pressure bomb planted by the cadres of the CPI-Maoist went off in a forest near Puswada village in Sukma District. Both were from a CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) unit, a specialized group within the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
On May 20, 2018, at least seven personnel of the Chhattisgarh Police [four personnel of the Chhattisgarh Armed Force (CAF) and three of the District Forces (DFs)] were killed and one was critically injured when CPI-Maoist cadres blew up their vehicle, triggering an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast at Cholnar village in Dantewada District. Special Director General of Police (SDGP), anti-Naxal [Left Wing Extremism, LWE] operations, D.M. Awasthi disclosed, “For the last one year, construction of the Kirandul and Arangpur road was stopped but we have restarted it just a few days ago. The jawans were escorting a truck which was laden with building material when the Maoists targeted them at a culvert between Cholnar and Kirandul village.” Officials disclosed that the Maoists also looted two INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) assault rifles, two SLRs (Self Loading Rifles), and two AK-47 rifles from the possession of the deceased SF personnel.
On the same day, CPI-Maoist cadres opened fire targeting Security Forces (SFs) at an unspecified location in Sukma District. In retaliatory fire, SFs killed a women Maoist cadre, while some 15 Maoists managed to escape from the encounter site. Some of those who managed to flee had sustained injuries.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Dantewada and Sukma Districts, which fall under the Maoists’ ‘operational zone’ of ‘South Bastar division’ have accounted for at least 42 Maoist-linked fatalities (12 civilians, 20 SFs, and 10 Maoists) in the current year, thus far (data till May 25, 2018). During the corresponding period in 2017, the ‘division’ had recorded 58 fatalities (six civilians, 40 SFs, and 12 Maoists). Through 2017, Maoist-linked fatalities in the ‘division’ stood at 78 [10 civilians, 44 SF personnel, and 24 Maoists].
Since March 23, 2005, the ‘South Bastar division’ has accounted for at least 1,446 fatalities, including 407 civilians, 593 SF personnel, and 446 Maoists (data till May 27, 2018). The first fatality in the ‘division’ was registered on March 23, 2005, when a group of suspected Maoists killed one Policeman and injured another during an attack on the helipad at Danteguda village in Dantewada District. Since March 23, 2005, and till May 27, 2018, Chhattisgarh State accounted for a total of 2,797 fatalities (800 civilians, 997 SF personnel, and 1,000 Maoists). Thus, the ‘South Bastar division’ alone accounted for 51.69 per cent of total-Maoist linked fatalities recorded in Chhattisgarh. The ‘South Bastar division’ tallies 18.74 per cent of total Maoist-linked fatalities recorded across India during this period, with all-India fatalities at 7,713 (3,061 civilians, 1,924 SF personnel, and 2,728 Maoists).
Fatalities in ‘South Bastar division’ and Chhattisgarh: 2005*-2018
|Year||‘South Bastar division’||Chhattisgarh|
Source: SATP, * Data since March 23, 2005; **Data till May 27, 2018
The SF:Maoist kill ratio in South Bastar has been overwhelming in favour of the Maoists for nine years [2005 (2.05:1); 2007 (2.95:1); 2010 (2.17:1); 2012 (10:1); 2013 (1.53:1); 2014 (13.33:1); 2015 (1.31:1); 2017 (1.83:1) and 2018 (2:1)]. The ratio stood in favour of the SFs in five years [2006 (1:1.53); 2008 (1:1.8); 2009 (1:1.78); 2011 (1:1.13) and 2016 (1:2.9)]. Disturbingly, the SF: Maoist kill ratio in the ‘division’ over the years favoured the Maoists with 1:1.32. The SF:Maoist kill ratio in Chhattisgarh has been marginally in favor of the SFs with 1:1.003 over the period 2015-2018 (data till May 27, 2018).
‘South Bastar division’ has also accounted for large number of civilian killings. During between March 23, 2005, and May 27, 2018, the ‘division’ accounted for 407 civilian fatalities, around, 50.87 per cent of total civilian fatalities recorded in the State.
Since March 23, 2005, the ‘South Bastar division’ has also accounted for at least 112 major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities), resulting in 964 fatalities (240 civilians, 434 SF personnel, and 290 Maoists). In the current year, two such incidents have already been recorded resulting in 16 fatalities (all SF personnel). Apart from the May 20 incident at Cholnar, the ‘division’ witnessed an incident in which at least nine CRPF personnel were killed and two were critically injured, when CPI-Maoist cadres blew up a Mine-Protected Vehicle (MPV) in Kistaram jungle area of Sukma District on March 13, 2018. Significantly, the worst ever Maoist attack, across all regions, targeting SFs took place at the Tarmetla village near Chintalnad in the Dantewada District on April 6, 2010, when 75 CRPF troopers and one Chhattisgarh Police trooper were slaughtered by the Maoists.
The ‘South Bastar division’ is reportedly headed by Maoist ‘commander’ Raghu aka Pungar Mandavi, while the ‘secretary’ of the ‘division’ is Vikas. The two Districts (Dantewada and Sukma) of the ‘division’ also come under the ‘purview’ of the ‘Darbha division’ of the CPI-Maoist, which ‘looks after’ these two Districts, along with Bastar. The ‘Darbha division’ is led by a senior Maoist Surinder aka Kabir. He is also reportedly ‘heading’ the new ‘MMC (Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh) region’.
The Maoists have, however, suffered significant losses at leadership level in the ‘division’. The former ‘South Bastar division’ ‘secretary’, Kurasam Mothi Bai aka Madhavi (40), was arrested in Vijayawada city in Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh on June 3, 2013. Madhavi was said to have danced around the slain body of Mahendra Karma, founder of Salwa Judum (an anti-Maoist vigilante group) after the Maoists killed 28 persons including Karma, and injured another 30, some of them critically, in a swarming attack in the Darbha Ghati region of the Sukma District on May 25, 2013. At least 25 Maoist ‘leaders’ operating in the ‘division’ have been killed so far [between March 23, 2005 and May 27, 2018]. These include at least 13 ‘commander’ level leaders. Another 41 ‘commander’ level leaders have been arrested. Also, the mounting pressure of the SFs has forced at least 30 ‘commander’ level leaders to surrender.
The two Districts (Dantewada and Sukma) falling under the ‘South Bastar division’ – are spread over a geographical area over 11,132.91 square kilometers, and offer immense tactical advantages to the Maoists. The forest cover of the ‘division’ is 8,516.21 square kilometres, i.e., about 76.49 per cent of the total area. The Division is situated to the south of the State, and is surrounded mostly by currently Maoist-affected or erstwhile Maoist-affected Districts of the State and neighbouring States of Odisha and Telangana. To the south, the ‘South Bastar division’ shares borders with Khammam in Telangana; to the north, with Bastar in Chhattisgarh; to the east, with Malkangiri in Odisha; and to the west, Bijapur in Chhattisgarh. All these adjacent Districts are among the 30, across seven States, identified by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) as “worst-affected” by Maoist violence. The two Districts of the ‘division’ – Dantewada and Sukma – are themselves among these 30.
On April 17, 2018, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh stated in an interview that the South Bastar region, by virtue of being surrounded by four inter-State borders with Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, is subject to Left-wing extremism perpetrated by those who come from outside Chhattisgarh. He thus noted,
…The leaders are not even locals, they come from Andhra. Some fighters live in Odisha, strike here and leave. That is why it is harder to control Naxalism in the South Bastar region, because it is surrounded by inter-state borders.
Moreover, the two Districts of the ‘division’ are afflicted by relatively low standards on all human development indicators. A report released by the Government of India listed Dantewada and Sukma among 115 ‘backward districts’ of India. The Districts were identified on the basis of select indicators of backwardness and prevalence of Left Wing Extremism. The indicators of backwardness included Poverty, Health, and Education.
Despite suffering losses, SFs have succeeded in increasing their pressure on the Maoists in the region. According to a report dated April 24, 2018, a letter recovered by SFs in February 2017 from Bastar points to increasing SF operations in the region forcing the Maoists to shift to the ‘MMC region’, of which Gondia and a tip of Gadchiroli (both in Maharashtra) are part. The letter, written to a Maoist rebel identified as comrade Surendra, from comrade Somru read: “Oppression is rising. The enemy is opening camps. Villagers are fleeing from the area and we are working in difficult conditions.”
Significantly, on May 21, 2018, the 241st battalion of the CRPF was commissioned at the Force’s anti-Naxal training school in Chhattisgarh. The battalion, named “Bastariya Warriors”, comprises personnel drawn largely from the Bastar region, and is tasked with carrying out anti-Naxal operations in that area. With 534 personnel, including 189 women, the battalion has been raised with the specific purpose of strengthening SF operations in areas where they have suffered their greatest reverses owing to a lack of concrete intelligence, and familiarity with locals and topography.
On April 30, 2018, the Chhattisgarh Government extended the ban on the CPI-Maoist and six of its front organisations [Dandakaranya Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Sangh, Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangh, Krantikari Adivasi Balak Sangh, Krantikari Kisan Committee, Mahila Mukti Manch and Janatana Sarkar (‘people’s government’ unit)] for one more year. The CPI-Maoist was first banned, along with its affiliates, in the State under provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act-2005 in April 2006.
The Maoists’ ‘South Bastar division’ remains a major challenge for the State. The ‘final battle’ against the Maoists is set to be decided/won in this ‘division’, where the Maoists continue to wield significant influence, and retain disturbing levels of operational capabilities.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management