By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On July 10, 2019, two Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres, including a woman, were shot dead by a joint team of the Hawk Force, a special anti-Naxal [Left Wing Extremism, LWE] Force of the Madhya Pradesh (MP) Police, and the Balaghat District Police, in the Pujari Tola Forest under the Lanjhi Police Station limits in Balaghat District. K.P. Venkateshwar Rao, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Balaghat Range, disclosed that three other Maoists who were with the slain rebels escaped from the encounter spot under the cover of darkness.
The slain cadres were identified as Ashok aka Mangesh (21), a native of Rajnandgaon District of Chhattisgarh; and woman cadre Nande (19), a native of Bastar District of Chhattisgarh. The duo carried a reward of INR 1.4 million each. Both of them were members of the CPI-Maoist Tanda Dalam (armed squad) area committee, and were active close to the tri-junction of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and MP. One SLR [Self Loading Rifle] was recovered from Mangesh, while one rifle (.315 bore) and multiple live rounds were recovered from Nande’s possession. Police also recovered three ammunition magazines, 13 bullets, a wireless set, mobile charger, torch, calculator, backpacks and INR 10,721 in cash, among other things, from the encounter spot.
On June 19, 2019, a 40-year-old villager, identified as Brajlal Munda, was assaulted and stabbed before being shot dead by CPI-Maoist cadres in the Lanjhi area in Balaghat District. Police said he was dragged outside his house by members of the CPI-Maoist Malajkhand Dalam. They first assaulted him and then inflicted multiple stab injuries accusing him of being ‘police informer’. After being tortured for an hour, he was shot dead.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least three fatalities (one civilian and two Maoists) have been recorded in two Maoist-linked incidents of killing in MP in the current year, so far (data till August 4, 2019). No such fatality was recorded during the corresponding period of 2018. However, in the remaining period of 2018, one Maoist fatality was recorded. One fatality (civilian) was recorded in 2017; two fatalities (both civilians) in 2016; one each in 2012 (Maoist) and in 2010 [Security Force (SF)]; and five fatalities (two civilians and three SFs), while there were no fatalities in 2015, 2014, 2013, 2011, and between 2009 and 2001. Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on Maoist-linked incidents of killing, the first fatality was reported on April 20, 2000, when Naxalites laid an ambush on a Police party, killing two Policemen and injuring another, in Balaghat District. According to SATP, since March 6, 2000, Madhya Pradesh has thus recorded at least 14 fatalities (six civilians, four SF troopers and four Maoists) in 11 Maoist-linked incidents of killing thus far (data till August 4, 2019).
However, Naxal violence was prevalent in the State even earlier, especially in Balaghat, Mandla and Dindori Districts. Reports indicate that in Balaghat District alone 30 SF personnel were killed by the Naxalites between 1991 and 1998. During the same period 15 civilians were also killed.
On December 15, 1999, the then Madhya Pradesh Transport Minister Likhiram Kawre (43) was hacked to death by the erstwhile People’s War Group (PWG) in his house at Sonepuri village under the Kirnapur tehsil (revenue unit) in Balaghat District, to avenge the killing of three top PWG leaders in a Police encounter at Karimnagar in Andhra Pradesh on December 2, 1999. In another incidenton February 20, 2000, cadres of the erstwhile Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) blew up a Police vehicle killing 23 Police personnel, including an Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP), in Balaghat District.
Clearly, Madhya Pradesh is not a highly LWE-affected region. However, with the Maoists facing challenging times across the country, they find the State, especially, the Balaghat District, fitting into their scheme to create a ‘safe haven’. Balaghat accounts for all the 14 killings that have been reported from the State. Similarly, the District accounted for 53 Maoist-linked incidents out of a total of 67 reported from across the State. The remaining 14 incidents were reported from Dindori (six); two each from Mandla and Shahdol; and one each from Bhopal, Sehore, Seoni, and Singrauli.
The difficult terrain and dense forests of the District provide the rebels with some safety and a base to mount operations. The total area of the District is 9,245 square kilometres, with about 85 per cent under forest cover.
The Balaghat District is also strategically important for the Maoists. It is proximate to the dense forest-dominated route of the new ‘Maoist Vistaar (extension) corridor’ being planned by the CPI-Maoist, from the Kawardha District of Chhattisgarh to Amarkantak in the Anuppur District of MP. Two platoons – Vistaar Platoon-1 and Vistaar Platoon-2 – of the CPI-Maoist’s ‘Kawardha-Balaghat (KB) Division’ are working on the plans to establish the ‘corridor’ via Dindori, Balaghat and Mandla Districts in MP. Importantly, three Dalams – the Tanda, Darrekasa and Malajkhand dalams – had already been active in Balaghat District for around a decade under the ‘Rajnandgaon-Gondia-Balaghat (RGB) Division’ of CPI-Maoist.
A November 17, 2018, report revealed that the Maoists were planning to develop Jan Militia (people’s militia) or underground fronts among local villagers and had chosen 100 villages along the shared borders of Chhattisgarh-Maharashtra-MP under their ‘Gondia-Rajnandgaon-Balaghat division’ for the purpose. The Maoists have largely consolidated their networks at the Chhattisgarh-Maharashtra-MP tri-junction, having organised multiple training camps for future expansion. Senior members of the Maoist area committee are reported to have instructed Small Action Teams to identify and kill Special Police Officers (SPOs), personnel of intelligence agencies and ‘police informers’. Maoist ‘commanders’ opposed to Government-sponsored development activities in the area have urged villagers to help Maoists obstructing road construction activities and to cause damage to vehicles, machines and Government properties in the area.
According to data provided in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of India’s Parliament) by G. Kishan Reddy, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, on June 25, 2019, two Districts of MP – Balaghat and Mandla – are Naxal-affected, along with 58 other Districts from seven States across the country [Andhra Pradesh (two); Bihar (10); Chhattisgarh (12); Jharkhand (18); Maharashtra (two); Odisha (12); and Telangana (two)].
On July 3, 2019, V.K. Singh, Director General of Police (DGP), Madhya Pradesh, disclosed that Naxal movement had been reported in Balaghat, Mandla and Dindori Districts of the State. However, he added that the MP Police was closely monitoring Naxalite movements in the State in order to prevent them from creating a corridor to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Nepal.
On July 2, 2019, in a significant move to curb the Maoists, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), directed Central Forces and State Police personnel deployed in LWE-hit areas to make a decisive push to contain the rebels in the limited geographical area to which they have retreated in the wake of their shrinking influence over the past five years. Moreover, UMHA decided to push for greater connectivity of Naxal-hit areas through construction of roads, which would not only offer the locals timely access to facilities such as hospitals and other public services, but also ensure secure movement of counter-Naxal forces. According to an assessment by security agencies, shared at the UMHA’s review meeting, the LWEs geographical area of dominance has shrunk, with their cadres retreating to a narrow area, mostly trijunctions along Chhattisgarh-Odisha-Maharashtra border and Chhattisgarh-Jharkhand-MP border.
The Maoists across the country are certainly under duress, but are far from defeat. They continue to plot the creation of new ‘safe areas’ as well as ‘corridors’ of movement. Governments of the affected States and the Centre need to sustain and intensify ongoing efforts to consolidate the tremendous successes of the past years, and to establish an enduring peace.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate; Institute for Conflict Management