By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On December 27, 2021, six cadres of the Cherla ‘Area Committee’ of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), including four women, were killed in an exchange of fire between Security Forces (SFs) and the Maoists in the in the Pesalapadu Forest area of the Telangana-Chhattisgarh border region under Kishtaram Police Station limits in Sukma District. The operation followed an intelligence tip-off that a group of Maoists were assembling Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and planning to carry out attacks against SFs.Along with the bodies of the slain Maoists, whose identities are yet to be ascertained, the SFs recovered two .303 rifles, three Double Barrel Breach Loading (DBBL) guns and four rocket launchers, from the location of the encounter.
On December 22, 2021, the body of Korasa Ramesh, a former Sarpanch (head of the Panchayat, village-level local self-Government institution) of Suraveedu Panchayat in Venkatapuram Mandal (administrative sub-division) in Khammam District of Telangana, was found in Kottapalli village in Usur Taluka (revenue sub-division) in Bijapur District, along the Telangana border. The Sarpanch was called for a meeting on December 20 by the Maoists, but was subsequently abducted and killed. Police denied that he was an ‘informer’, accusing Maoists of targeting locals to create terror.
On December 18, 2021, the SFs killed two women CPI-Maoist cadres in a gun battle in Dantewada. The slain Maoists were identified as Hidme Kohrame, ‘area committee member (ACM)’ of Mallanger Area Committee of CPI-Maoist, and Pojje, head of Chetna Natya Mandli, the outfit’s cultural troupe, in the Nilawaya area under the Mallanger Area Committee. Kohrame and Pojje carried rewards of INR 500,000 and INR 100,000, respectively, on their heads. SFs recovered three locally-made rifles, ammunition, explosives and items of daily use from the encounter site.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Chhattisgarh recorded at least 70 incidents of killing resulting in 118 fatalities (29 civilians, 44 SF personnel and 45 Maoists) in Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-linked violence in 2021. In 2020, 70 incidents of killing resulted in 135 fatalities (28 civilians, 37 SF personnel and 70 Maoists). Thus, the State registered a decline of 12.59 per cent in overall fatalities. A peak of 368 fatalities (78 civilians, 198 SF personnel, 74 Maoists and 18 Not Specified ) was registered in 2007.
The decline in overall fatalities was due to fall in Maoist fatalities, which came down from 70 in 2020 to 45 in 2021, a drop of 35.71 per cent. This is the lowest number of Maoist fatalities recorded in a year since 2015, when there were 41 fatalities in this category. There were 132 Maoist fatalities in 2018, which went down to 73 in 2019. A high of 154 Maoist fatalities was recorded way in 2009.
Disturbingly, however, fatalities in the SF category, witnessed a spike from 37 in 2020 to 44 in 2021 (18.91 per cent). After a sharp decline from 57 in 2018 to 19 in 2019, fatalities in this category have recorded a surge in two consecutive years. A maximum of 198 SF fatalities was recorded way back in 2007.
Nevertheless, the SF:Maoist kill ratio remained marginally in favor of the SFs in 2021, at 1:1.02, though it deteriorated in comparison to 2020, at 1:1.89. The best ratio recorded in a year since 2000, was in 2004 when it was 1:20. The overall kill ratio since March 6, 2000, remains in favor of SFs, at 1:1.14. (SATP started compiling data on LWE-linked insurgency on March 6, 2000).
Further, at least 132 Maoists were arrested in the State in 2021 in addition to 99 in 2020. At least 134 Maoists were arrested in 2019, 357 in 2018, and 377 in 2017. In addition, 328 Maoists surrendered in 2021, in addition to 238 such surrenders in 2020. There were 231 surrenders in 2019, 358 in 2018, and 327 in 2017.
There were 38 exchange of fire incidents between SFs and Maoist in 2021 in Chhattisgarh, as against 50 such incidents in 2020.
In the meantime, fatalities in the civilian category, one of the primary indicators of security in conflict zones, increased marginally, from 28 in 2020 to 29 in 2021, suggesting that the civilian population of the State remains at risk. Civilian fatalities have registered a cyclical trend, on year-on-year basis, since 2000.
Meanwhile, the State recorded six major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) in 2021 in addition to seven in 2020. The Maoists also orchestrated 16 incidents of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blasts in 2021 in addition to 22 such incidents in 2020.
In total, 243 Maoist-linked incidents were reported in 2021 as compared to 227 such incidents in 2020. 12 were incidents of abduction as against nine such incident in 2020. Similarly, 11 arson incidents were reported in 2021, as against six in 2020.
Moreover, out of a total of 32 Districts in the State, fatalities were reported from 10 districts in 2021: Sukma (45), Dantewada (23), Narayanpur (20), Bijapur (15); Kanker (four), Rajnandgaon (four), Kondagaon (three), Bastar (two), Dhamtari (one) and Gariyaband (one). Seven of these 10 Districts (excluding Dhamtari, Gariyaband and Rajnandgaon) fall in the troubled ‘Bastar Division’. Chhattisgarh had 28 Districts till 2020 and four new Districts – Mohla-Manpur, Sakti, Sarangarh-Bilaigarh and Manendragarh were added in 2021.
Fatalities were reported from eight out of 28 Districts in 2020: Sukma (62); Bijapur (40); Dantewada (11); Kanker (six); Rajnandgaon (six); Narayanpur (five); Bastar (three); and Dhamtari (two). Six of these eight Districts (barring Rajnandgaon and Dhamtari) fall in the Bastar Division.
Violence in the ‘Bastar Division’, which comprises seven Districts – Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, and Sukma – in the southernmost region in the State, remains a significant challenge for the State. According to SATP, in 2021, the Bastar Division accounted for 94.91 per cent of total killings reported in Chhattisgarh, as against 94.07 per cent in 2020. Since 2000, the ‘Bastar Division’ has accounted for 90.85 per cent of all fatalities in the State – 3,148 out of a total of 3,465. The Division accounted for 28.74 per cent of the total of 10,953 fatalities recorded across the country since 2000.
On December 17, 2021, Chief Minister (CM) Bhupesh Baghel claimed that CPI-Maoist activities and violence were on the wane in the tribal Bastar region, where his Government was now focusing on introducing welfare and other development schemes:
Maoists are now just confined to certain pockets in the remote forest areas. There has been a significant decline in incidents of Naxalite [Left Wing Extremism, LWE] violence. The perception that Chhattisgarh is a ‘Naxal-Garh’ is also changing fast.
On October 15, 2021, Sundarraj Pattilingam, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Bastar Range, asserted,
The loss of senior Central Committee members like Ramanana, Haribhushan, in the recent months is a big jolt for the CPI-Maoist organisation. It would certainty deplete the strength of the Naxal movement.
IGP Sundarraj’s statement came after senior CPI-Maoist leader Akkiraju Haragopal aka Ramakrishna aka RK (58), who led the Maoists in peace talks with the then Andhra Pradesh Government in 2004, passed away in Bijapur District on October 14, 2021, after a prolonged illness. Ravula Srinivas aka Kunta aka Ramanana (55), who died of a heart attack in the forests in Bijapur District of Bastar Division on December 10, 2019, was the ‘secretary’ of the ‘Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC)’ and a member of the CPI-Maoist ‘central committee.’
Meanwhile, on June 27, 2021, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) identified 14 Districts of Chhattisgarh – Balrampur, Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Dhamtari, Gariyaband, Kanker, Kondagaon, Mahasamand, Narayanpur, Rajnandgaon, Sukma, Kabirdham and Mungeli – to be covered under ‘Security Related Expenditure (SRE)’ scheme for conducting focused operations against the ultras, among 70 LWE-affected Districts in 10 States across the country. Seven of these Chhattisgarh Districts – Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Narayanpur, Rajnandgaon and Sukma – were also included in the list of ‘25 Most Affected Districts’ from eight States across India, and another three districts – Kabirdham, Kondagaon and Mungeli – have been labeled ‘Districts of Concern’.
In the meantime, the Maoists are raising general issues to regain influence among the masses. According to a December 29, 2021, media report, Maoists have issued a decree for the youth in Bastar, asking them to demand recruitment of teachers and personnel for the health, agriculture and animal husbandry departments of the State Government. The Maoists also warned the youth not to join the Bastar Fighters, a special Police force created to control the Naxal movement in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
Earlier, on September 26, 2021, through posters, Maoists appealed the villagers of Sukma District to make the ‘Bharat bandh’ [all India shut down strike] called on September 27 to protest against the Centre’s three farm laws, a success. It might be noted that the Maoists also extended support to the day-long bandh called by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), which was spearheading the agitation against the farm laws. The laws were later repealed by Parliament on November 29, 2021.
Even as the battle against the Maoists in Chhattisgarh continue, the State Police Force, the first line of defence against any kind of internal danger within a State’s borders, continued to face deficits and deficiencies. According to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) report, as on January 1, 2020, the State had 63,839 Policemen, as against a sanctioned strength of 75,664, leaving at least 15.62 posts vacant. In this highly Maoist-afflicted State, the Police/Area Ratio (number of Policemen per 100 square kilometers) is 47.22, as against the sanctioned strength of 55.97. The all-India Police/area ratio stands at 63.63, as against a sanction of 79.80. Moreover, of a sanctioned strength of 142 apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State, 28 posts, i.e., 19.71 per cent, remained vacant, considerably weakening executive direction of the Force. Astonishingly, 27 of 453 Police Stations in the State are without a telephone connection. To assist the State Police, 60 battalions of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) have been deployed in Chhattisgarh.
Despite the existing odds and deficits, the SFs have gradually and substantially contained the Maoists in Chhattisgarh. However, the rebels retain the wherewithal to engage in significant violence and to revive their movement if there is any neglect on the part of the state’s Forces and administration.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management