By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On August 24, 2019, five Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres were killed in an encounter with the Security Forces (SFs) in Narayanpur District. Two troopers of the District Reserve Guard (DRG) were also injured in the encounter. The encounter occurred when a DRG team was out on a counter-insurgency operation. The dead Maoists are yet to be identified.
On July 29, 2019, two CPI-Maoist cadres, including a woman, were killed in an encounter with SFs in the forest near Kanhaiguda village under Konta Police Station limits in Sukma District. The encounter took place when a patrolling team was advancing through the forest – located around 500 kilometres from the capital, Raipur – and met a group of Maoists. A gun battle broke out. The identities of the slain Maoists are yet to be established.
On July 28, 2019, seven Maoists, including three women, were gunned down in an encounter with SFs in the Tiriya Forests of near Jagdalpur city in Bastar District. The exchange of fire occurred at around 4pm [IST] when a joint team of State Forces was out on a counter-insurgency operation. Three of the seven Maoists killed were identified as ‘area committee member’ Sitta, a resident of Chinateenarla village in Vishakhapatnam District in Andhra Pradesh, who was a member of the AOBSZC (Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee) supply team; Somulu, another member of the supply team; and Shanthi, who was a member of the AOBSZC military platoon.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling statistics on Left Wing Extremism (LWE) in India, the Bastar ‘division’ has witnessed 1,113 Maoist deaths. At least 39 of these Maoists have been killed in the current year (data till September 1, 2019). The ‘Bastar Division’ comprises of seven Districts – Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, and Sukma. At least 992 SF personnel have also been killed since March 6, 2000, including 17 in the current year.
The SF:Maoist kill ratio in ‘Bastar Division’ over the period 2000-2019 (data till September 1, 2019) has been marginally in favour of the SFs, at 1: 1.12. However, over 20 years, the ratio remained in favour of the Maoists for eight [2001 (1.33:1); 2003 (1.33:1); 2005 (1.90:1); 2007 (2.73:1); 2010 (1:80:1); 2011 (1.01:1); 2013 (1.06:1); and 2014 (1.33:1)]. The ratio was in favour of the SFs in 10 years [2002 (1:1.5); 2004 (1:13); 2006 (1:2.02); 2008 (1:1.15); 2009 (1:1.96); 2012 (1:1.39); 2016 (1:4.06); 2017 (1:1.21); 2018 (1:2.24) and 2019 (1:2.29)]. In 2015, the SF:Maoist kill ratio was at par, while no fatality was recorded in 2000.
More significantly, the ratio has remained in favour of the SFs for three consecutive years, between 2016-2018, for the first time ever. A positive kill ratio in favour of the SFs had not endured for more than two successive years before this.
The increasing dominance of the SFs in the region has resulted in overall improvement of the security environment. The ‘Bastar Division’ recorded 19 civilian fatalities in the first eight months of 2019, as against 31 in the corresponding period of 2018. The ‘Division’, however, has witnessed a cyclical trend, as evident, from the data above, in terms of civilian killings over the period 2000–2019.
Nevertheless, the region continues to remain the ‘heartland’ of Maoist activities. In 2019, ‘Bastar Division’ accounted for 84.26 per cent of total fatalities recorded in the entire Chhattisgarh state, and 33.33 per cent of total Maoist-linked fatalities recorded across India. Since March 6, 2000, the ‘Bastar Division’ has accounted for 90.50 per cent of total LWE-related fatalities recorded in Chhattisgarhand 27.58 per cent of such fatalities across India. Unsurprisingly, it has been called the Maoists’ ‘heartland’.
Moreover, all seven Districts of the ‘Bastar Division’ are among the 60 Districts currently considered affected by LWE in 10 States by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) across the country. These seven Districts are also among the 30 worst LWE-affected Districts.
The ‘Bastar division’ spread over a geographical area over 40,000 square kilometres, is principally home to a tribal population, afflicted by low standards of human development, as well as widespread absence of healthcare, education, drinking water, sanitation and food, creating an alarming humanitarian situation. These conditions clearly suit the Maoists who are there to exploit the population’s vulnerabilities. Admitting the poor situation, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel admitted, on June 19, 2019: “Bastar region has the highest malnutrition level across Chhattisgarh.”
There are several ‘divisions’ of the Maoists operating in the ‘Bastar Division’. The ‘South Bastar division’ reportedly headed by Maoist ‘commander’ Raghu aka Pungar Mandavi, looks after Dantewada and Sukma Districts. The CPI-Maoist’s ‘Darbha division’ oversees these two Districts along with Bastar, and is led by a senior Maoist, Surinder aka Kabir. He is also reportedly ‘heading’ the new ‘MMC (Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh) region’.
The large forest cover provides tactical advantages to the Maoists. As almost all the districts in ‘Bastar Division’ are surrounded by currently Maoist-affected or erstwhile Maoist-affected Districts of the State and neighbouring States of Odisha and Telangana, the Maoists feel ‘at home’ in the region. Indeed, on April 17, 2018, the then 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 Maoist violence perpetrated by those who come from outside Chhattisgarh, noting,
…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.
The Maoists have, however, suffered significant losses at leadership level in the region. 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. At least 47 ‘commander’ level Maoist ‘leaders’ operating in the ‘division’ have been killed between March 6, 2000 and Augusts 31, 2019. Another 37 ‘commander’ level leaders have been arrested. Also, mounting SF pressure has forced at least 22 ‘commander’ level leaders to surrender. The total number of arrest and surrender in ‘Bastar Division’ since March 6, 2000, stands at 2,800 and 2,964, respectively.
Indeed, on August 9, 2019, on the occasion of the Vishwa Adivasi Diwas (World Tribal Day), the Maoists in Chhattisgarh asked the tribals to observe a ‘day of struggle to protect the rights and identity of tribals’. A note issued by Sainath, ‘secretary’, ‘Darbha division committee’ of the CPI-Maoist, appealed to the tribals to stage an aggressive struggle against “exploitation of tribals, violation of their rights and an attempt to annihilate the existence and identity of tribal population by the government”.
Meanwhile, the State Government and the Union Government which have taken several initiatives in the past to meet the challenges in the region are engaged in furthering such measures. On July 24, 2019, Minister of State in the UMHA, G. Kishan Reddy, informed the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of India’s Parliament) that all the seven Districts of the Bastar Division, along with Rajnandgaon, are covered under the Special Central Assistance scheme (SCA) for most LWE-affected Districts, and an amount of INR 3.0667 billion has been released to Chhattisgarh under the SCA scheme. Notably, the SCA scheme has been approved by the Government on September 27, 2017, as a sub-scheme of the Umbrella Scheme, ‘Modernization of Police Forces’ for a period of three years i.e. from 2017-18 to 2019-20, to fill critical gaps in public infrastructure and Services.
On the security front also, several measures have been introduced. According to an August 14, 2019, report, Danteshwari Fighters or Danteshwari Ladake, consisting of 30 women commandos, was formed in the DRG Force to fight the Maoists and the unit was deployed in the Dantewada District of Bastar Division. This is in addition to the “Bastariya Warriors”, comprising personnel drawn largely from the Bastar region, and tasked with carrying out anti-Maoist operations in the area, since May 21, 2018. According to varying media reports, around 65,000 SF personnel, including 45,000 Central Armed Police Forces and 20,000 State Police personnel, are posted in the seven Districts of Bastar Division. However, an estimated 40 per cent of personnel deployed, i.e. around 26,000, would ordinarily be operationally available.
The Maoists continue to suffer reverses in their ‘heartland’, but are still far from losing their relevance. With significant surviving operational capacities, continued SF pressure will be necessary to ensure that no opportunity is given to them to restore their dominance.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management