By Ajit Kumar Singh*
Four cadres of the ‘Madhya Zone’ (Central Zone) of the Bihar-Jharkhand Special Area Committee (BJSAC) of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), including ‘sub zonal commander’ Rakesh Bhuiyan, were killed in an encounter with the Security Forces (SFs) at Malanga Pahad (hill) under Chhatarpur Police Station in Palamu District, on February 26, 2018. The SFs, who had launched an operation on a tip off that Rakesh Bhuiyan was hiding in the area along with 20 others, were attacked by the Maoists. The encounter started at 8.50am and lasted for just 20 minutes, leaving four Maoists dead. The slain Maoists were identified as Bhuiyan, Lalloo Yadav, Ruby Kumari and Rinki Kumari. SFs also recovered two SLRs (Self Loading Rifles), five magazines, 219 bullets, eight cell phones, back packs, uniforms, Naxal [Left Wing Extremism (LWE)]- literature and eatables.
On February 8, 2018, SFs killed an ‘area commander’ of the ‘Madhya Zone’ of Bihar-Jharkhand Special Area Committee of CPI-Maoist, identified as Mahesh Bhokta alias Guardian, in an encounter in the area under the Naudiha Police Station limits in Palamu District. SFs later recovered the body of the Maoist along with eight weapons. One injured female Maoist cadre was arrested from the encounter site, while another cadre, identified as Rajinder Bhuiyan, who had managed to escape from the encounter site reached the Police in Daltonganj city, the Headquarters of Palamu District, and surrendered.
On February 1, 2018, a CPI-Maoist cadre, identified as Birbal Oraon, was killed in an encounter with SFs at Bhitar Pandra village in Latehar District.
On January 17, 2018, an ‘area commander’ of the Jharkhand Jan-Mukti Parishad (JJMP), a splinter group of CPI-Maoist, was killed in an encounter at Jerpahari under Sadar Police Station limits in Latehar District. An AK-47 rifle, four American-made rifles, one INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) assault rifle, and other materials were recovered from the encounter site.
In the intervening night of January 11-12, 2018, two ‘commanders’ of the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), a CPI-Maoist splinter group, were killed in an encounter with SFs at Konai Khurd village under Padma Police Station in Hazaribagh District. One AK 47 rifle, an unspecified number of INSAS assault rifles, and around 200 rounds of live ammunition were recovered from the encounter site.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least nine Naxalites [Left Wing Extremists (LWEs)] have died in 2018 (data till March 4, 2018), all killed in encounters with SFs. These include six CPI-Maoist cadres, two JJMP cadres, and one TPC cadre. At least four Naxalites had died during the corresponding period of 2017: SFs eliminated a cadre each of CPI-Maoist and TPC, while another two died (New-Sastra Peoples’ Morcha, New-SPM, breakaway faction of the little-known SPM) in internecine clashes. Through 2017, SFs had eliminated 14 Naxalites: nine cadres of the Peoples’ Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a CPI-Maoist splinter group; four CPI-Maoist cadres; and one TPC cadre. Another 11 Naxalites were killed in internecine clashes: 10 TPC cadres and one CPI-Maoist cadre. In 2016, a total of 40 Naxalites were killed, 23 in encounters with SFs: 15 CP-Maoist cadres, seven PLFI cadres, and one Jharkhand Sangharsh Jan Mukti Morcha (JSJMM) cadre. Another 15 Naxalites were killed in internecine clashes: nine PLFI cadres, three TPC cadres, and three Jharkhand Jan-Mukti Parishad cadres. Two PLFI cadres were lynched by the public.
On the other hand, losses among SFs declined considerably: from 10 fatalities in 2016 to two in 2017, yielding a high positive kill ratio of 1:11.5 in 2017, as against the modest 1:1.4 achieved during 2016. There has been no fatality in the SF category so far in 2018.
Moreover, SFs arrested several Maoists, including top cadres, through 2017. State Director General of Police (DGP) D.K. Pandey disclosed, on January 10, 2018, “In the intensive operations security forces eliminated 12 top Naxals in 34 police encounters and arrested 558 Naxals including 50 top ‘commanders’ during the year 2017 and recovered 36 weapons looted from the police in the past.”
The success of SFs on the ground has resulted in improvements in the overall security situation the State. According to the SATP database, total Naxal-linked fatalities came down from 81 (31 civilians, 10 SF personnel, and 40 Naxalites) in 2016 to 56 (29 civilians, two SF personnel, and 25 Naxalites) in 2017. This was the lowest number of overall fatalities recorded in the State since 2005. The previous low of 58 fatalities was recorded in 2015. At the peak of Naxal violence in 2009, the State had recorded 217 fatalities. The trend of overall fatalities has, however, been cyclical in nature , and the potential for escalation remains. In 2018, Jharkhand has already recorded 10 fatalities (nine Naxals and one civilian, data till March 4, 2018).
In 2017, Jharkhand recorded the lowest fatalities in the SF category since 2005 (a previous low of five was recorded in 2015), and the number of civilian fatalities also declined, from 31 in 2016 to 29 in 2017. Civilian fatalities after remaining static for three consecutive years – 48 fatalities each in years 2012, 2013, and 2014 – had dropped to 16 in 2015, but rose again to 31 in 2016. The highest number of 79 civilian deaths was recorded in 2011.
Other parameters of violence were also indicative of significant security consolidation. In 2017 fatalities were reported from 12 Districts as against 13 in 2016 (out of a total of 24 Districts in the State). Civilian fatalities were reported from nine Districts in 2017 as against 12 in 2016. Incidents of bomb blasts decreased from 12 (resulting in nine injuries) to nine (17 injuries) between 2016 and 2017. The number of major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) declined from eight (seven initiated by Naxalites, one by SF personnel) to four (all by Maoists) in 2017. Overall Naxal-related incidents, according to Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) data, came down from 323 in 2016 to 251 in 2017. In 2018, as of January 31, 22 incidents have been recorded, as against 30 during the corresponding period of the previous year.
Buoyed by the success, DGP Pandey noted, on February 28, 2018,
The morale of our security forces is high. The Maoists are too down and running away. Days are not far off when they will have no space to hide their heads. They are beaten up amidst rocks and jungles. It will be too good for them to come and surrender and the State government will take care of them (sic).
Explaining the success mantra (philosophy) of the SFs, DGP Pandey stated on January 10, 2018, that, three years earlier, 13 ‘focus areas’ were identified across the State and 18 security camps were established in these. The 13 ‘focus areas’ included: Chatra, Parasnath, Saranda, Saryu, Banalat, Giridih-Koderma border, Dumka-Godda border, Khunti-Chaibasa border, Khunti-Simdega border, Garhwa-Latehar border, Jhumra, Jamshedpur (Gudabandha, Dumaria and Musabani) and Palamau-Chatra border area. He noted,
Just a few years back, there was a time when Maoists used to run parallel administration in these areas but with the help of the civil administration we established security camps. We used these camps not only for security men but also to facilitate other men engaged in the developmental and welfare activities. It has changed the entire scenario and the Naxals have run away from these areas helping the developmental activities to grow.
Talking about future plans, the DGP stated that 30 additional security camps are planned in these 13 ‘focus areas’. Each of these 13 ‘focus areas’ were also covered under area specific ‘action plans’ activities to grow.
Though most of the security issues have been resolved, continuing turf wars among surviving Naxalite groups operating within the State remain a major worry. Internecine clashes among these groups resulted in the death of 11 Naxalites in 2017, in addition to 15 in 2016. The largest among these groups, PLFI, has emerged, as the biggest challenge. According to the SATP database, PLFI had a share of 33.92 per cent of LWE-linked fatalities in 2017, as against 32.09 per cent in 2016. As SAIR noted earlier, “the State Government has also been instrumental in sustaining PLFI during its initial days, using it to counter the CPI-Maoist. However, the strategy backfired and PLFI became one of the major LWE groups in the State.”
There are some 19 LWE groups operating in the State, prominently including CPI-Maoist, PLFI, TPC, Jharkhand Jan Mukti Parishad (JJMP), Jharkhand Sangharsh Jan Mukti Morcha (JSJMM), Jharkhand Prastuti Committee (JPC), and Tritiya Prastuti Committee-1 (TPC-1), a TPC breakaway.
21 Districts of Jharkhand found a place in a list of 106 Maoist-affected Districts from 10 States across India, released by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on July 18, 2017. Of these 106 Districts, 35 from seven States were categorized as ‘worst LWE affected Districts’: 16 of these ‘worst’ Districts were in Jharkhand alone.
Clearly, there is need for continuing vigilance. Measures taken in the past need further strengthening and elaboration, and some further initiatives have already been announced. On February 22, 2018, DGP Pandey disclosed that a Special Intelligence Bureau (SIB) was being constituted in Jharkhand, and would be equipped with state-of-the-art resources. Its mandate is to enter into the surviving Naxalite strongholds and provide specific intelligence to State Police formations for targeted operations on the ground.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow; Institute for Conflict Management