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India: Crumbling Bastion In Sukma, Chhattisgarh – Analysis

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By Deepak Kumar Nayak*

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On July 29, 2022, a ‘commander’ of the ‘Katekalyan Area Committee’ of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), identified as Rakesh Madkam, charged with eight cases of violence and carrying a reward of INR 500,000 on his head was killed in an encounter with the Security Forces (SFs) near Bindrapani village forest in Sukma District. SFs recovered the body of the slain Maoist along with a country-made gun, ammunition and other Maoist-related material, from the encounter site. 

On July 22, 2022, a CPI-Maoist cadre was killed in an encounter with SFs in a forested patch near Muler village under Phulbagdi Police Station limits in Sukma District. A group of Maoists from the ‘Kerlapal Area Committee’ opened fire on the patrolling team and tried to ambush it in the Gogunda Hill area, following which the SFs retaliated. After the encounter ended, the body of a male cadre was recovered from the spot. The slain Maoist’s identity is yet to be established.

On July 1, 2022, during a gun battle with District Reserve Guard (DRG) personnel, a member of the CPI-Maoist ‘Malanger Area Committee’, identified as Kamlesh and carrying a bounty of INR 500,000 on his head, was killed in the Borapara Forest under Gadiras Police Station limits in Sukma District. After the encounter, his body was recovered from the spot. 

According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least five Maoists have been killed in Sukma District since the beginning of 2022 (data till July 31). During the corresponding period in 2021, six Maoists had been killed in the District. A total of 15 Maoist fatalities were recorded in the whole of 2021. Meanwhile, since its creation on January 16, 2012, Sukma District has recorded a total of 215 Maoist fatalities (data till July 31, 2022).

Significantly, fighting the Maoists, the SFs neutralised at least 23 Maoists in a major assault in the dense forests of Elmaguda, close to Kasalpad and Minpa villages in the Chintagufa area in Sukma District on March 21, 2020. 18 SF personnel were also killed in during the operation.

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Meanwhile, one trooper has lost his life fighting the Maoists in the current year, so far (data till July 31, 2022), as against 25 in the corresponding period in 2021. Another one SF fatality was recorded in the remaining period of 2021. Thus, the SF:Maoist kill ratio favoured the SFs at 1:5 in 2022 (data till July 31), as well as on the average between 2012-2021, at 1:1.12. The ratio, however, was in favour of the Maoists in 2021, at 1.73:1, 2017 at 3.5:1, 2015 at 1.18:1, and 2012 at 3:1. 

Search operations and combing raids have resulted in the arrest of five Maoists in the District in the current year (data till July 31, 2022), in addition to 42 in 2021 (24 in the corresponding period of 2021). Mounting SF pressure has led to the surrender of 116 Maoists (data till July 31, 2022), in addition to 92 in 2021 (eight in the corresponding period of 2021). 

Meanwhile, civilian fatalities in Sukma have followed a cyclical trend over the years, since the creation of theS District in 2012. Three such fatalities have been recorded in the current year (data till July 31, 2022). During the corresponding period of 2021, four civilians were killed. Another one civilian was killed during the remaining period of 2021. At peak, a total of 33 fatalities in this category was recorded in 2013, while a low of three fatalities was recorded in the District in 2014.  

Other parameters of violence suggest that the Maoists’ strength is waning. A total of 620 Maoist-linked incidents have been recorded in the District since its formation. The year wise total number of Maoist-related incidents increased between 2013 and 2016 – 2013 (23), 2014 (36), 2015 (72), and 2016 (100). Thereafter, the numbers declined, barring 2018 and 2021; dropping to 72 in 2017, rising to 92 in 2018, again falling to 66 in 2019 and 47 in 2020, to rise again to 50 in 2021.   

Meanwhile, since its formation in 2012, Sukma has recorded 30 major incidents (each resulting in three or more fatalities), with none of these recorded in the current year (data till July 31, 2022). The Maoists have triggered at least 61 blasts, killing 75 persons and injuring 113 others in the District over this period. A high of 13 such incidents was recorded in 2016, followed by 12 in 2015, and 11 in 2017. The current year has already recorded two explosions so far. 

Maoists have executed 24 incidents of arson since the formation of the District, of which a maximum of nine incidents was recorded in 2017, and a low of one such incident in 2021. No such incident has taken place in the current year, as yet. 

Commenting on the situation during his visit to Sukma District as a part of the public interaction drive (Bhent-Mulaqat Abhiyan), Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel observed, on May 19, 2022, 

Sukma is the area where Naxalism started [in the State]. Now, they have been pushed to the back foot here and their influence has declined. If they (Naxals) want talks, then our doors are always open but only on one condition that they should express faith in the Constitution… If you don’t believe the Indian Constitution then I cannot talk to you. 

Meanwhile, some other positive developments have taken place. 

On June 13, 2022, the Chhattisgarh Government decided to reopen as many as 260 Government-run schools, of 400 schools in the four Districts of Sukma, Narayanpur, Dantewada, and Bijapur – of the Naxal [Left Wing Extremism, LWE]-affected Bastar region – which had been shut down 15 years ago for a variety of reasons, including CPI-Maoist violence. The initiative was a response to community demands. Subsequently, on June 16, 2022, the State Government observed ‘Shala Pravesh Utsav’ (school entrance fair), and reopened these institutions.

On July 15, 2022, Special Judge for National Investigation Agency (NIA) cases, Deepak Kumar Deshlhre, acquitted 121 tribals arrested in connection with the April 24, 2017, Burkapal Naxal attack in Sukma District, in which 25 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were ambushed by the Maoists. These 121 tribals, including one woman, were arrested between 2017 and 2019 and were booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Arms Act, Explosive Substances Act, Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). 

On the security front, according to a January 4, 2022, report, 75 fortified Police Stations and 32 Night Landing Helipads were constructed to reduce Naxalite activities in the interior areas of ‘Bastar division’. Significantly, after the Police Stations were established, it has helped in providing electricity to the ‘inaccessible areas’ of Sukma’s Golapalli, Palodi, Elaramadgu, Kondasavali and Tarrem. Moreover, the establishment of these Police Stations has resulted in the reduction of Naxalite activities in Minpa, Badhesetti, Murkam, Kamargudha, Nala, Mankapal, Silger Mokur, Koilagudha, Karigudham, Potakpalli, Elmagudha, all in Sukma and others areas of the Bastar Division. The construction of another 63 new Police Stations has also started.  

Further, according to a March 31, 2022, report, to fight against Naxalism in Sukma, a force named ‘Durga Fighters,’ comprising of 32 female personnel, has been constituted by the Chhattisgarh Police. The leader of the ‘Durga Fighters,’ Asha Sen, stated, “All the force members had pledged to make Sukma a ‘Naxal Free Region’.”

Currently, 38 CRPF battalions (each yielding roughly 400 personnel in the field) are deployed in the ‘Bastar Division’ which comprises seven Districts (Bastar, Kanker, Kondagaon, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Dantewada and Sukma).

Sukma is on the list of ‘25 Most Affected Districts’, from eight States across India released by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on June 19, 2021. Additionally, Sukma along with six other Districts of the State (Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Narayanpur, and Rajnandgaon), is also included among the 70 Naxal-affected Districts in 10 States across India, covered under the Centre’s Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme, which funds focused operations against the rebels. 

Significant consolidation has been achieved by the SFs in Sukma, one of the last enduring Maoist heartlands. Challenges, however, persist, with much of the Maoist operational capacity in the District intact, despite substantial security and developmental consolidation. The State’s dominance is, nevertheless, inching forward, with some developmental and welfare outreach providing succour to the people. With little possibilities of a significant Maoist revival in the District and, indeed, in the wider Bastar region, it is perhaps time to explore the possibilities of a political initiative to end this enduring conflict.

*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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