By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On January 31, 2021, at least 15 cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) set ablaze vehicles, including a truck and two tractors of a road construction company, at a place connecting Devarbaili to Malkuan village in Balaghat District. The vehicles were engaged in the construction of a road in the Lanji area of the District, under the Road Connectivity Plan in Left Wing Extremism Affected Areas (RCPLWE) – a central Government scheme under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY).
This is the lone Maoist-linked incident reported from the state in 2021, thus far (data till February 7, 2021).
In 2020, there were seven Maoist-linked incidents, as against five recorded in 2019. The number of incidents recorded in 2020 were the highest in a year since March 6, 2000, when South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) started compiling data on Left Wing Extremism (LWE).
Out of seven incidents in 2020, three involved killings, which resulted in four fatalities (one civilian and three Maoists). In 2019, out of five incidents, three involved killings, resulting in four deaths (two civilians and two Maoists). Since March 6, 2000, a total of 15 incidents of killing have resulted in 19 deaths [eight civilians, seven Maoists and four Security Force (SF) personnel]. The last SF fatality in the State was recorded on September 22, 2010, when a Madhya Pradesh Police’s Hawk Force trooper was killed in a Maoist ambush near Sitapala in Balaghat District.
Since March 6, 2000, at least 67 Maoists have been arrested, including one in 2020, and 15 Maoists have surrendered. The last surrender was reported on June 6, 2013,
As in 2019, all fatalities in 2020 were reported from Balaghat District. In a total of 19 fatalities recorded in the State since March 6, 2000, 16 have been reported from Balaghat. Also, out of a total of 72 incidents recorded during this period, 51 have been reported from Balaghat, followed by two each in Bhopal, Dantewada, Jagdalpur, Mandla; and one each in Bastar, Barwani, Indore, Jabalpur, Singrauli, Shahdol, Sehore, Seoni, and Ujjain. The location of four incidents remains unspecified.
On November 1, 2000, when Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh, 16 of the partent State’s districts became part of the of new state, including Dantewada, Jagdalpur and Bastar.
Balaghat is one among two Districts of Madhya Pradesh among the 90 Districts in 11 States identified as LWE-affected by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), as stated by G. Kishan Reddy, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, on September 21, 2020. The other one is Mandla, as a result of recent developments in the District.
Indeed, according to a January 3, 2021, report, around 100 Maoists from Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra have sneaked into Balaghat and Mandla Districts.
On December 13, 2020, Balaghat, Superintendent of Police (SP), Abhishek Tiwari disclosed,
New Maoist recruits are being sent into Balaghat and Mandla District from southern regions, and that the numbers of the ultras in Balaghat have increased. Police sources said around 350 Maoists have been deployed in Balaghat.
He added that the headquarters of the Police’s Hawk Force had been moved into the Balaghat District to counter this development. The headquarters of the Hawk Force was earlier situated in Bhopal.
According to another report, on October 1, 2020, the Maoists’ ‘special zone secretary’ for ‘Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (MMC) zone’, Deepak Teltumbde aka Jeeva, had been spotted in the Mandla and Balaghat regions.
On December 21, 2020, CPI-Maoist cadres belonging to the ‘Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Special Zonal Committee (MMCSZC)’ put up pamphlets in Balaghat, warning that they would avenge the death of three of their cadres in Police encounters in 2020. The pamphlets also warned that ‘Police informers’ would be executed in public. Incidentally, on November 7, 2020, a CPI-Maoist cadre, identified as Sharada aka Pujje (25), an active ‘area committee member’ in the Khatia Mocha Dalam (armed squad) in the Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh, who carried a reward of INR 800,000 on her head, was killed in an encounter in Malkhedi village under the Baihar Police Station limits of Balaghat District. Again, on December 12, 2020, two women CPI-Maoist cadres, identified as Savitri and Shoba, members of Darrekasa and Malajkhand Dalams, were shot dead in an encounter with SFs in Borevan forest in Kirnapur in Balaghat District.
Reports also indicate that the Maoists are making all efforts to expand their base in the Madhya Pradesh. On October 1, 2020, Abhishek Tiwari, SP, Balaghat, disclosed, “Maoists of Vistar Dalam… in Mandla and Balaghat Districts… are using it as a gateway to enhance their reach to other parts of MP [Madhya Pradesh] including the Vindhya region.”
The Maoists are attempting to carve out a ‘safe haven’ in the dense Amarkantak Forest, which lies in the region where the Vindhya, Maikal and Satpura ranges converge, in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The Amarkantak Forest falls in the Anuppur, Balaghat, and Mandla Districts of Madhya Pradesh, and the Bastar and Bilaspur Districts of Chhattisgarh. The Forest is “highly inaccessible” because of its tough hilly terrain and provides “adequate safe haven” for senior Maoist leaders, who are under pressure from SFs in Jharkhand and the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh.
Despite these worrying developments, the Madhya Pradesh Police continue to face critical gaps in capacities and deployment in the State.
According to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as on January 1, 2020, Madhya Pradesh had 120.02 Police personnel per 100,000 population, significantly below the inadequate national average of 155.78. More worryingly, the Police/Area Ratio (number of policemen per 100 square kilometres) was just 32.28, as against the national average of 63.63. Both the State and national averages on the Police/Area ratio were well below the sanctioned strength, at 42.49 and 79.80, respectively. Worryingly, the sanctioned strength for the States’ Police was 130,984, while just 99,496 personnel were in position, creating a deficit of 24.03 per cent. In addition, the sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State was 305, but just 261 officers were in position, a deficit of 14.42 per cent, considerably weakening the executive supervision of the Force.
Indeed, the Madhya Pradesh Government has sought the deployment of an additional six companies of Central Armed Police Forces in Balaghat and Mandla Districts. A Central Reserve Police Force battalion is already stationed at Balaghat.
The Maoists are making determined efforts to carve out a safe haven in Madhya Pradesh, and the State Police will have to take preemptive action, in coordination with the Central Forces, to thwart the emerging Maoist design.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management