A top Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) leader, identified as Ram Chandra Mahto aka Pramod aka Chirag Da, was killed in an exchange of fire during a joint operation conducted by Bihar Police, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) at Charkapaththar area in the Jamui District on January 29, 2016. Mahto’s body was recovered along with one looted Police rifle, one .303 regular weapon, one 8mm pistol and one country made pistol. Mahto was a ‘member’ of the Purvi Bihar Purvottar Jharkhand Special Area Committee (PBPJSAC, Eastern Bihar North Eastern Jharkhand Special Area Committee) and wanted in 20 cases in Bihar and over three dozen cases in Jharkhand. He carried a head money of INR 2.5 million in Jharkhand and INR 500,000 in Bihar. Confirming the incident Inspector General of Police (IG), Operations, S.M. Khopde said the killing of Chirag was a big feat.
On January 8, 2016, four Maoists were killed while one CoBRA trooper received bullet injuries in an exchange of fire between Security Force (SF) personnel and Maoists at Bandh Gorya village under the Dhibra Police Station area in Aurangabad District. One of the Maoists killed was identified as Rajiv, whereas the identity of the remaining three was not known. SF personnel also recovered four weapons, including one AK-47, one carbine and two pistols from the encounter spot. The encounter took place during a joint operation conducted by SFs in the Bhaluahi, Gopaldera, Morma, Chuchiya and Dulare areas under the Dhibra and Dumaria Police Station limits in the District.
Till February 5, 2016, 15 Maoists had been arrested in the current year in Bihar, including a CPI-Maoist ‘area commander’.
These operational successes at the beginning of the year augur well for SFs in their fight against Maoists in the State.
Significantly, the successful operations launched by SFs are notable in that only seven Maoists were killed in the State during the three years between 2013 and 2015. On the other hand, SFs lost 35 of their personnel over the same period. In fact since the formation of the CPI-Maoist in 2004, SFs have lost more personnel, 181, than the Maoists, at 176. SFs have already lost two of their personnel in the current year. On January 25, 2016, CPI-Maoist cadres killed a Policeman, identified as Girija Paswan, in Aurangabad District. The Maoists claimed that he was killed as he was suspected to have told his superiors about the whereabouts of Rajiv alias Bihari, killed in the January 8, 2016, encounter. Again on January 30, 2016, a Police official was killed at Lathiakoresi village in Munger District. Police said that, on a tip-off, a Police team led by Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP), Operations, Navin Kumar, went to Lathiakoresi village to arrest a suspected Maoist Lallan Koda. According to reports, Maoist ‘sympathizers’ opened fire at the Police, resulting in an exchange of fire in which Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Bhavesh Singh died. One Maoist ‘sympathiser’ was also injured in the firing.
Meanwhile, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, through 2015, nine persons, including four civilians, three SF personnel and two Maoists, were killed in 2015; as compared to 17 fatalities, including seven civilians, seven SF personnel and three Maoists in 2014. This was the lowest number of fatalities recorded across categories in Bihar since the formation of the CPI-Maoist in 2004. At least seven persons have already been killed in Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-related violence in the State in 2016, including five Maoists and two Police personnel. Also, on January 22, 2016, Maoists killed one villager at Gulab Bigha village under the Madanpur Police Station in Aurangabad District, suspecting him of being a ‘Police informer’.
Giving further credence to claims of an improving security situation in the State, there were no major incident (resulting in three or more fatalities) reported in 2015, as against one such incident in 2014, where at least three CRPF personnel were killed and eight were injured near Baranda Mor under Dhibra Police Station area in Aurangabad District. There was also no attack involving ‘people’s militia’ in 2015, as against three such incidents in 2014. People’s militia constitute the armed local support the Maoists mobilize in support of their movement.
The Maoists were also involved in seven exchange of fire incidents in 2015, as against six such incidents in 2014; nine arson incidents in 2015 against 11 in 2014; and one abduction incident on record, as against three in 2014.
The Bihar Police arrested 153 Maoists through 2015 in addition to 163 in 2014. This included the catch of three ‘sub zonal commanders’, one ‘commander’, four ‘area commanders’ including one belonging to the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC) and one ‘platoon commander’. On May 16, 2015, acting on intelligence inputs, a CoBRA team and Bihar Police personnel arrested 10 CPI-Maoist cadres, including four ‘key functionaries’ of the outfit in Gaya District. The arrested Maoists, included the ‘secretary’ of the ‘Magadh Zone’ and member of ‘Bihar Regional Committee’ Sanjeevan Baitha alias Shravanji; ‘Treasurer’ of the ‘Magadh Zone’ Gorelal Ramani, who carried a reward of INR 300,000 on his head; and ‘sub-zonal’ members Umesh Yadav and Basant Yadav. In 2014, 16 ‘commander’ rank cadres were arrested across Bihar.
SF personnel also recovered a huge amount of arms, ammunition and explosives in Bihar. In one of the incidents of recovery, the State Police seized 7,000 detonators, 3,000 explosive devices and 2,000 kilograms of ammonium nitrate during raids conducted at CPI-Maoist hideouts in Rohtas District on March 14, 2015. Further, on September 8, 2015, Central Para-military Forces (CPMFs) and the District Police engaged in anti-CPI-Maoist operation recovered over 400 kilograms of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) planted by the Maoists from the dense forest areas of Lakhisarai District.
Bihar had not done well with regard to the surrender of Maoists since 2012. However, there was marginal improvement in the number of surrendered cadres in Bihar in 2015. Seven Maoists surrendered in 2015 in comparison to none in 2014. The cadres who surrendered in 2015 included Nageshwar, an ‘area committee member’, Sanjay, a ‘sub-zonal committee member’ and Anandi, a ‘sub zonal commander’. It is clear that the Bihar Government’s surrender policy fails to attract the Maoists to join the mainstream. Notably, at least 608 Maoist cadres had surrendered through 2015 (excluding the seven in Bihar) across the country.
The Director General of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Prakash Mishra, observed on February 2, 2015, that the ‘red zone’ was steadily shrinking in Bihar and Jharkhand. He further asserted that this had been made possible because CRPF personnel were not only carrying out operations against Maoists but also helping the common man in many other ways, such as distributing essentials such as woolen clothes, utensils etc., and enabling them to get their Aadhaar (Universal Identity) cards.
Remarkably, the Maoists were a no show during the five phase Bihar Assembly Elections conducted between October 12 and November 5, 2015. Defying the Maoists’ poll boycott call, 56.80 per cent of registered voters cast their vote. 52.73 per cent voting had been recorded during State Assembly Elections in 2010. Just before the election, the Maoists issued a four-page letter, exhorting the people to “Take up arms to establish your authority over jungle, jal (water) and zamin (land) and be a part of the armed class struggle to defeat these feudal and imperial forces robbing the country for centuries.”
The battle against the Maoists is, however, far from over, as reflected in recent incidents. More worryingly, the Maoists continue to enjoy some ‘mass support’, as displayed in the January 30, 2016, killing of a Policeman by Maoist ‘sympathizers’. Earlier, on October 26, 2015, a Special Auxiliary Police trooper, Surendra Kumar Jaiswal, was beaten to death and six other Policemen, including a Station House Officer, were injured when villagers attacked a Police team which had gone to arrest a CPI-Maoist cadre at Kushmahat village under the Nima Chandpura Police Station limits in Begusarai District. Superintendent of Police Manoj Kumar disclosed that the villagers started hurling stones at the Police team and freed the Maoist and that the Police opened fire in its defence.
The Maoists also issued five bandh (shut down strike) calls on different issues in 2015, in comparison to three such calls in 2014. The May 24-25, 2015, bandh was the most violent. 32 trucks were set ablaze by CPI-Maoist cadres on the busy Grand Trunk Road in Gaya District. Media reports indicated that life in major parts of the Sherghati Sub-Division of Gaya District, particularly Dumaria, Imamganj, Banke Bazar and Raushanganj Police Station areas, came to a standstill as CPI-Maoist cadres got markets, road transport, banking services and Government offices closed. The Maoists were protesting the killing of Urmila Ganjoo alias Sarita, a member of the ‘Bihar-Jharkhand Chhattisgarh Special Area Committee’, by the SFs on May 17, 2015.
Further, there are signs that Maoists splinter groups such as People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), and Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), mainly based in Jharkhand, are trying to extend their influence into Bihar. On March 30, 2015, PLFI orchestrated a blast at a flat in the Bahadurpur residential colony in State capital Patna. It was a low intensity blast in which no casualty was reported. Two live timer-attached bombs were recovered from the spot. Further, nine PLFI cadres were arrested from Bihar – five from Patna on June 3 and four from Nalanda on October 2, 2015. A Maoist cadre was also killed by TPC cadres under the Kothi Police Station area of Talaiya Bazar in Gaya District on March 12, 2015. A TPC ‘area commander’ was also arrested from Rohtas District in Bihar on September 23.
Despite SF successes, the presence of low-grade violence suggests that the Maoists still wield significant residual strength in the State. Consolidating the gains of 2014, SFs have succeeded in containing Maoist violence even further in 2015, and early trends in 2016 augur well. The Maoists are down and this provides an opportunity to the SF personnel to strengthen their position against the rebels.