By Deepak Kumar Nayak
On July 22, 2023, a civilian, Sukka Singh Kachalam, was killed by cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) on suspicion of being a ‘police informer’, at Rotad village under Chhotedongar Police Station limits in Narayanpur District.
On March 28, 2023, a civilian, Ramji Dodi, was abducted along with two of his nephews and taken to a jungle where he was allegedly strangled to death by the Maoists, in Jhara village of Narayanpur Tehsil (revenue unit) in Narayanpur District. The Police said the nephews of Ramji were released with his body and a letter mentioning that he was murdered for being a ‘mukhbir’ (police informer). Ramji was the deputy Sarpanch (deputy head of the Panchayat, village level local self-Government institution) of Zara village five years earlier.
On February 10, 2023, a local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Sagar Sahu, vice president of the BJP’s Narayanpur District unit, was shot dead by cadres of the CPI-Maoist at his home in Chhotedongar village in Narayanpur District. The Maoists came on a motorcycle, barged into the leader’s house, and shot him in front of his family members with an AK-47.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least four civilians have been killed in Narayanpur District thus far in 2023 (all data till August 6). There was no civilian fatality during the corresponding period in 2022. In the remaining period of 2022, one civilian fatality was recorded. There were six fatalities in this category in 2021, the highest in a year since 2017. The previous high of five was recorded twice, in 2007 and 2010.
On May 11, 2007, Narayanpur was carved out from the erstwhile Bastar District and, since then, a total of 37 civilian fatalities have been recorded in Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-linked violence in the district.
The rise in civilian killings in the current year is not surprising as the recent trend shows an escalation in Maoist activities. So far in 2023, one Security Force (SF) trooper has been killed, while there has been no Maoist fatality. In 2022, there were two SF fatalities, as against one fatality in the Maoist category. On October 16, 2022, Ungi Mandavi, a female CPI-Maoist cadre who was injured in an encounter in the border area of Kanker District near Devgaon and Huchadi in Narayanpur District, died during treatment. The news of her death was given by the Maoists through a pamphlet, in which the Maoists said that the State Government was opening the Rawghat mine by displacing lakhs of people to benefit multinational companies. The pamphlet also alleged that common people were being killed through fake encounters to suppress the ongoing tribal campaign against the Rawghat mine. Significantly, in 2021, the kill ratio was 3.66:1 (11 SF personnel, three Maoists). An equal number of fatalities, two each, were recorded in both categories in 2020. The SFs had a positive kill ratio in 2019, at 1:6 (one trooper, six Maoists), the last instance in which SF dominance was demonstrated.
Since 2007, a total of 81 SF personnel and 115 Maoists have been killed in the district, establishing a ratio marginally in favor of the SFs, at 1:1.41.
Search operations and combing raids have resulted in the arrest of 415 Maoists in the District since May 11, 2007, including 11 arrests recorded in the current year, according to SATP data. Besides, mounting SF pressure has also led to the surrender of 726 Maoists since 2007, including one in 2023. The SFs recovered arms on at least seven occasions in 2023, compared to one such incident in the corresponding period of 2022. A total of two such incidents were recorded through 2022.
Other parameters of violence in the district suggest that the Maoists are striving to reclaim their erstwhile area of dominance, with Maoist-related incidents recording an increasing trend. While total incidents increased from 11 in 2022 to 22 in 2023 (over the same time frame), the number of incidents of arson carried out by Maoists increased from two in 2022 to three in 2023 (comparative time frame). The number of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks engineered by the Maoists increased from two in 2022 to three in 2023 (comparative time frame).
Meanwhile, according to a June 14, 2023, report, the CPI-Maoist in Narayanpur District put up banners and distributed pamphlets threatening the local village heads of Besmeta village with dire consequences if they opted to continue supporting development work in the region. The banner was put up near Gaytapara village under Orchha Police Station limits, in which the Gaytapara area committee of the CPI-Maoist, had warned the local representatives that they would chop off their hands and feet if they continued to support construction work on a proposed mine in the area. The Maoists alleged that the Sarpanch and deputy Sarpanch of Besmeta village were supporting the proposed mine. The Maoist also claimed that the opening of the mine in the area will have a devastating effect on the environment, for which both the village heads would be held accountable. The banner read, further,
Construction work for a dam is also in progress, which should be stopped immediately. We warn the village heads to stop all these works immediately; otherwise, their hands and feet will be chopped off in the Jan Adalat [Maoist Kangaroo Court].
Earlier, on April 27, 2023, Sarma had stated that a peace accord with ULFA-I was likely ‘soon’ and a draft accord had already been sent to ULFA-I leaders. Sarma disclosed,
Now only two factions [ULFA-I led by Paresh Barua and Pro-Talks faction led by Anup Chetia] have remained. A draft proposal is circulated and if they agree we will have an Accord next month. If they propose change, we will have to delay it otherwise in May we will sign the peace deal.
Earlier, on February 21, 2023, the ‘East Bastar Division’ of the CPI-Maoist gave death threats to three persons – Vaidyaraj, Komal Manjhi, and Hari Ram Manjhi – who worked as agents and brokers for Niko Mining Company in Narayanpur District. Issuing a threatening press note, the ‘East Bastar Division’ of CPI-Maoist ‘spokesperson’ Neeti also stated that BJP leader Sagar Sahu had been warned not to do brokerage for mining companies and was put to death (above) for not obeying this directive. Along with this, Vaidyaraj, Komal, and Hari Ram were warned to admit their mistake in front of the public, and if they failed to do so, they would be awarded the ‘death sentence’, like Sagar Sahu. All people were warned not to mediate or broker for the company.
Narayanpur is among the among the ‘25 Most Affected Districts’ from eight States across India. Additionally, along with six other Districts of Chhattisgarh (Bastar, Bijapur, Sukma, Kanker, Dantewada, and Rajnandgaon), Narayanpur is also included among the 70 LWE-affected Districts in 10 States across India covered under the Centre’s Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme, which funds focused operations against the insurgents. Narayanpur, moreover, falls within the troubled ‘Bastar Division’ of Chhattisgarh, which remains the prime challenge for the state.
Narayanpur is one of Chhattisgarh’s 32 districts. It is surrounded by dense forests, hills, streams, waterfalls, natural caves, and has a forest cover of 2,116.915 square kilometres, 32.87 percent of the district’s total area of 6,640 square kilometres. The difficult terrain and natural protection offer Narayanpur immense ‘geo-strategic importance’ for the Maoists and have long served as a major transit route for the rebels to cross into the LWE-affected areas of the neighbouring states, giving them safe passage to orchestrate violence on both sides of the state borders. Narayanpur borders Bijapur and Dantewada Districts in the south; Bastar in the East; Kanker in the North; and the Gadchiroli District of Maharashtra in the west. Of its two administrative blocks, Orchha and Narayanpur, Orchha falls under the Abujhmaad region, the ‘un-surveyed’ zone of central India and home to the Primitive Tribal Groups, the Madia Gond and Muriya Gond.
On April 6, 2023, to contain the Maoist influence, a Joint team of the District Reserve Guards (DRG) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) destroyed a Maoist ‘memorial’ in the Dhanora area under Malsakatta Police Station limits in Narayanpur District. The wooden ‘monument’ was built by the Maoists in Malsakatta village on April 6 morning.
Further, on June 29, 2023, during a combing operation, following specific inputs about Maoist presence in the Asanar and Bhatbeda regions of Narayanpur District, a joint team of DRG, Narayanpur Police and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), demolished a Maoist camp that showed recent signs of occupancy. The SFs destroyed the tents and seized 100 splinters, the size of pellets, which are used along with gun powder, to make IEDs, along with other materials utilized by the rebels.
The Maoists continue with their efforts to reclaim their influence in their erstwhile regions of dominance, including Narayanpur, though with little success. Sustained SF operations have substantially contained LWE terror in Narayanpur, though an enduring peace remains out of present reach.
- Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management