By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On October 20, 2021, as many as 43 Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) jan militia (people’s army) members, including nine women, who were active in the Chintagufa and Tongpal areas of Sukma, and used to assist senior leaders and arrange logistics in the southern parts of Bastar, surrendered before Superintendent of Police (SP) Sunil Sharma in Sukma District. According to the Police, all the jan militia members wanted to return to the mainstream because they were disillusioned with the Maoists’ violent ideology and were inspired by Puna Narkom (New Dawn), a campaign launched by the Sukma Police. One of the surrendered militants, identified as Podium Lakshman, a ‘militia commander’, carried a reward of INR 100,000. Significantly, SP Sunil Sharma took charge of Sukma District in July 2021, launched Puna Narkom campaign on August 9, 2021, to win the confidence of the rebels.
On September 29, 2021, 11 CPI-Maoist cadres, including two women, surrendered in Sukma District. These Maoists were active as lower-rung cadres, and all of them had warrants pending against them. “These cadres, who were active in the Naxal-infested Gadiras area, turned themselves in before the police and the security forces, expressing disappointment over the hollow Maoist ideology,” SP Sunil Sharma disclosed, adding they were also influenced by the District Police’s rehabilitation campaign.
On September 27, 2021, 24 CPI-Maoist cadres, including seven women, surrendered in Sukma District. They were active in the Kistaram region. One of them, Muchaki Hunga, was active as a ‘militia deputy commander’ in the Karaigudem area under Kistaram Police Station limits in the District.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 84 Maoistshave surrendered in Sukma District since the launch of the Puna Narkom campaign on August 9, 2021, and another eight had surrendered in June 2021. A total of 92 Maoists has surrendered in the current year thus far (data till November 7, 2021). During the corresponding period in 2020, 19 Maoists had surrendered in the District, and no further surrender was recorded in the remaining period of 2020. The number of surrenders stood at 122 in 2019, 159 in 2018, 11 in 2017, 530 in 2016, 117 in 2015, 26 in 2014, and two in 2012. No surrender was recorded in 2013.
Meanwhile, combing operations and raids have resulted in the arrest of 42 Maoists in Sukma District in the current year. During the corresponding period in 2020, 17 Maoists were arrested, while another six arrests were recorded in the remaining period of 2020. The number of arrests stood at 24 in 2019, 157 in 2018, 168 in 2017, 143 in 2016, 35 in 2015, 20 in 2014, five in 2013, and seven in 2012.
However, the Security Force (SF):Maoist kill ratio in the District favours the Maoists in the current year and stands at 3.12:1 (25 SF personnel and eight Maoists killed). Of the 25 SF personnel killed in the current year, 22 were killed in a single incident in a forest area near Jonaguda village under Konta Tehsil (revenue unit) in Sukma District on April 3, 2021. In the corresponding period of 2020, the kill ratio was 1: 1.84 in favour of the SFs (19 SF personnel and 35 Maoists killed). Through 2020, the ratio was 1: 1.71 (21 SF personnel and 36 Maoists killed). Nonetheless, the overall SF:Maoist kill ratio, since the creation of Sukma District stands at 1:1.09 (187 SF personnel and 204 Maoists Killed), in favour of the SFs.
Civilian fatalities, a crucial index of the security situation, have remained more or less the same. Four civilians have been killed in the current year as compared to five in the corresponding period of 2020. No civilian fatality was recorded in the remaining period of 2020. Notably, a high of 33 fatalities in this category was recorded in 2013 in the District, while a low of three fatalities were recorded in 2014.
In terms of overall fatalities, out of the 10 Districts recording Maoist-related fatalities in the State of Chhattisgarh in the current year, Sukma District tops the list with 37 fatalities (four civilians, 25 SF personnel and eight Maoists), followed by Dantewada with 19 fatalities (three civilians, one trooper and 15 Maoists), Narayanpur 18 (five civilians, 11 SF personnel and two Maoists), Bijapur 14 (five civilians, five SF personnel and four Maoists), Rajnandgaon four (all civilians), three each in Kanker (two SF personnel and one Maoist) and Kondagaon (one civilian and two Maoists), Bastar two (both Maoists), and one civilian fatality each in Dhamtari and Gariabandh.
On January 16, 2012, Sukma was carved out of Dantewada as a separate District, with the intention of providing momentum to developmental activities by removing all the hindrances and problems that were being experienced in this area. To bring in holistic development, Sukma was listed under the ‘Aspirational Districts Programme’, which focuses on five main themes – Health & Nutrition, Education, Agriculture & Water Resources, Financial Inclusion & Skill Development, and Basic Infrastructure – which have direct bearing on the quality of life and economic productivity of citizens.
Accordingly, some developmental measures have since been taken forward. Thus, according to an August 15, 2021, report, Minpa, a small village in Sukma District, cut off for over three decades, began receiving electricity. Emphasizing the importance of Minpa village, Sundarraj Pattilingam, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Bastar Range, noted,
Minpa village is strategically very important for us. In 2013 we tried to establish a camp here at the village but due to stronghold of Naxals, we withdrew the camp. In December 2020, we started establishing a new camp in Minpa.
On August 22, 2021, to combat Maoist the atrocities in the Sukma District, the Chhattisgarh Police formed a ‘Durga Fighter’ force comprising 32 female staff. The ‘captain’ of the ‘Durga Fighters’, Asha Sen, pledged to make Sukma a ‘Naxal free region’, asserting,
Today, we all have pledged to make Sukma a ‘Naxal free region’. Just like brothers and sisters promise to protect each other on Raksha Bandhan, we all have pledged to protect the people of the Sukma region from Naxalites.
Developmental and security measures have created some confidence among the general masses to raise their voice against the Maoists. Most recently, on September 25, 2021, posters and banners demanding that the CPI-Maoist should stop killing innocent villagers by planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in the forests appeared in different villages in Sukma District. The posters in the name of Mazdoor Sanghatan (Labour Organisation) were found tagged to trees at Ammapenta and nearby villages under the Kistaram Police Station limits. The organisation wanted the Maoists to let the tribal children of in the villages choose their own future by going to schools and colleges. The posters indicate growing resistance among tribals against the Maoists.
However, even after almost 10 years of its formation, Sukma continues to be listed among the ‘25 Most Affected (LWE) Districts’ in eight States of the country. Sukma is also covered under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme that funds focused operations against the Left-Wing Extremists.
Indeed, while the Maoist threat has declined significantly in the District, it remains a risk, even as the Maoists make continuous attempts to adapt and revive their activities. Disturbingly, to trap and ambush the SFs, the Maoists have been making spike holes – a type of booby trap – containing up to 1,000 iron spikes. Most recently, on October 23, 2021, as many as 50 spike holes, planted by Maoists, were found during a search operation by SFs in the Arlampalli area under Polampalli Police Station limits in Sukma District.
Challenges thus persist. Sukma is the last surviving Maoist mainstays in the country, with much of the LWE operational strength in the District intact, despite significant security and developmental consolidation. Sukma remains the last Maoist bastion in the troubled ‘Bastar Division’ of Chhattisgarh, where the final battle remains to be fought.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management