By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On January 1, 2023, the dead body of a youth, identified as Sanjay Tati (30), who was killed by Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres, was recovered in Bijapur District. The body was found along with a Maoist note written in the local Gondi language which read, “Red salute to the fallen comrades.” Tati, a resident of the Tarem Police Station area, was reportedly abducted by around 10 Maoists in the night of December 31, 2022.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Chhattisgarh recorded 72 fatalities, [30 civilians, 10 Security Force (SF) personnel, and 32 Maoists], in Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-related violence in 2022. In 2021, there was a total of 119 such fatalities, (29 civilians, 45 SF personnel, and 45 Maoists). Thus, a decline of 39.49 per cent was recorded in overall fatalities.
In the fight against the insurgents, SF domination in Chhattisgarh has been sharply reflected in the further improvement in the SF:Maoist kill ratio in 2022, 1:3.2 as against 1:1 registered in 2021. Of 23 years since 2000, the ratio has been in favour of SFs for 12 years, and has favoured the Maoists in eight, while the ration has been at par twice (2015 and 2021). No fatality was recorded in either category in 2000. The best ratio of 1:20 was achieved in 2004. The kill ratio has favoured the SFs since 2016, barring 2021, when it was at par.
In addition, at least 72 Maoists were arrested in the state in 2022, adding to 132 such arrests in 2021. At least 99 Maoists were arrested in 2020 and 134 in 2019. Mounting SF pressure also yielded the surrender of 182 Maoists in 2022, in addition to 328 such surrenders in 2021. There were 238 surrenders in 2020 and 231 in 2019.
The number of Districts from where killings were reported also decreased through 2022. Out of a total of 33 Districts in Chhattisgarh, fatalities were reported from nine in 2022: Bijapur (32), Dantewada (14), Sukma (11), Kanker (seven), Narayanpur (four), Bastar, Kondagaon, Mohala Manpur and Rajnandgaon (one each). 10 Districts recorded such fatalities in 2021 – Sukma (46), Dantewada (23), Narayanpur (20), Bijapur (15), Kanker, and Rajnandgaon (four each), Kondagaon (three), Bastar (two), Dhamtari and Gariabandh (one each).
Other parameters of violence also indicate that the Maoists operational capabilities are waning considerably in Chhattisgarh. The Maoists could not carry out any major incident (resulting in three or more fatalities) in 2022, while three such incidents were recorded in 2021 in which 30 persons (three civilians and 27 SF personnel) were killed. The Maoists orchestrated at least 16 incidents of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blasts in which one trooper was killed in 2022, as against 17 such incidents, in which two civilians, 10 SF personnel and two Maoists were killed in 2021. Eight incidents of abduction, in which nine civilians and one trooper were abducted (six civilians were killed while the others were released after ‘warnings’; the one SF trooper was killed), were reported in 2022, as against 11 such incidents, in which 24 civilians and two SF personnel were abducted in 2021 (six civilians were killed while others were released; the two SF personnel were killed). A total of 37 incidents of exchange of fire between the SFs and Maoists were reported in 2022, 39 such incidents occurred in 2021.
According to the SATP database, on an analysis of the underground and over-ground activities of the Maoists in 2022, three Districts (Bijapur, Dantewada, and Sukma) were categorised as highly-affected; six (Bastar, Kanker, Narayanpur, Kondagaon, Mohala Manpur, and Rajnandgaon) were moderately affected; while four (Gariabandh, Kabirdham, Dhamtari, and Jashpur), were marginally affected. In 2021 – four Districts (Sukma, Dantewada, Narayanpur, and Bijapur) were categorised as highly-affected; six (Kanker, Rajnandgaon, Kondagaon, Bastar, Dhamtari, and Gariabandh) were moderately affected; and two (Balrampur-Ramanujganj, and Surguja) were marginally affected.
Nevertheless, concerns persist. Though there was decline in overall fatalities, as well as in the SF and terrorist categories in 2022, as compared to 2021, fatalities in the civilian category, a prime indicator of security in a conflict region, registered a marginal increase of 3.44 per cent. Emphasizing this on November 6, 2022, Sundarraj P, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Bastar Range, observed that the Maoists were turning on soft targets to register their presence and added:
In Bastar Range, though civilian killings have reduced to a great extent from 279 in the year 2006 to 29 in 2022, it is still an area of major concern in left-wing extremist affected areas. The Maoists are grossly mistaken that such killings would deter other villagers who have realised the malicious face and hollow ideology of the banned organisation.
Moreover, despite the fall in overall fatalities, Chhattisgarh upheld its top spot in terms of overall LWE-linked fatalities recorded in nine states across India in 2022, with Jharkhand at the second spot with 21 fatalities. The countrywide tally in 2022 stood at 136. Strikingly, Chhattisgarh has topped the list since 2014. In 2013, Jharkhand recorded the highest fatalities, a total of 130, as against 125 in Chhattisgarh, which was at the second spot in that year.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) currently includes seven Districts in Chhattisgarh (Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Narayanpur, Rajnandgaon, and Sukma), in its list, issued on June 19, 2021, of the ‘25 Most Affected Districts’ from eight States across India. Additionally, three Districts (Kabirdham, Kondagaon, and Mungeli), are classified as ‘Districts of Concern’ among eight Districts from six States across India. Another 14 Districts (Balarampur, Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Dhamtari, Gariabandh, Kanker, Kondagaon, Mahasamund, Narayanpur, Rajnandgaon, Sukma, Kabirdham, and Mungeli), are 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 extremists.
Maoist activities in the ‘Bastar Division’, which comprises seven Districts (Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, and Sukma), are the most significant remaining challenge for Chhattisgarh in particular and the country at large, in terms of Left Wing Extremism (LWE). According to the SATP database, in 2022, the Bastar Division accounted for 95.83 per cent of total LWE- linked killings reported in the State, as against 94.95 per cent in 2021. Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started documenting LWE violence across the country, the Bastar Division has accounted for 90.98 per cent of all fatalities in the State – 3,219 out of a total of 3,538. Markedly, the Division has accounted for 29.02 per cent of total of 11,091 fatalities recorded across India since 2000.
Interestingly, according to a July 15, 2022, report, the Chhattisgarh Government claimed that nearly 600,000 people of 589 villages of the Bastar Division had been completely freed from the influence of the Maoists. A total of 118 villages in Dantewada District, 115 villages in Bijapur District, 121 villages in Sukma District, 92 villages in Kanker District, 63 villages in Bastar District, 48 villages in Narayanpur District and 32 villages in Kondagaon District, had been extricated from Maoist control.
Meanwhile, speaking about the anti-LWE campaign through 2022 on December 23, 2022, State Director General of Police (DGP), Ashok Juneja, disclosed that 60 weapons and 120 IEDs were seized during the campaign through the year. 18 new security camps were set up in the remote LWE-affected areas, which were providing security for various infrastructure projects, including roads, bridges and culverts. The new camps had been set up at Nambi, Etepal, Pusnar in Bijapur District; Potakpalli, Dabbakonta, Elmagunda, Pedmel, Kunded in Sukma District; Chandameta and Kantabaans in Bastar District; Hiroli, Kamalur in Dantewada District; Kuenmari, Kudur in Kondagaon District; Dhodhribeda in Narayanpur District, and Padhargaon, Arra and Chilparas in Kanker District. Further, to promote the surrenders policy in the State, the surrendered Maoists were being provided economic aid and other facilities under the rehabilitation scheme of the Chhattisgarh Government.
On December 11, 2022, the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, asked security agencies to chalk out a plan for an all-out offensive against the CPI-Maoist in Chhattisgarh’s Abujhmad forests, that spread over 3,900 square kilometres in south Chhattisgarh.
According to reports, security agencies had been asked to take the help of the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), which helps operate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), to procure real-time images of Maoist strongholds inside these forests. The UAVs would be used for reconnaissance, and will take real-time pictures of the area, to support offensives against the Maoists, who still exercise significant control over the area and have built several camps where they provide arms training to recruits. The UAVs would also provide visual support to SFs conducting operations and area-domination exercises in rebel strongholds.
Unfortunately, Chhattisgarh continues to suffer significant shortfalls in the strength and quality of the State Police Force, which constitutes the first line of defence against any kind of internal challenge. According to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, there was a vacancy of 16.41 per cent in the State Police Force (sanctioned 75,861; actual 63,405), as on January 1, 2021. In this critically Maoist-afflicted State, the Police/Area Ratio (number of Policemen per 100 square kilometers) is 46.90, as against the sanctioned strength of 56.11. The all-India Police/area ratio stands at 62.96, as against a sanction of 80.07. Moreover, of a sanctioned strength of 142 apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State, 25 posts, i.e., 17.60 per cent remained vacant, considerably weakening executive direction of the Force. As against a sanctioned strength of 467 Police Stations, there were 456 Police Stations in the State and, appallingly, at least 28 of these had no telephones.
Maoist reverses are visible in their last heartland. The advantage of monitoring and procuring real-time images of Maoist strongholds will boost the operational efficacy of the SFs, even as the Maoists currently lie low, with waning influence in the State. The opportunities for SFs to further consolidate their gains and eliminate Maoist influence in the region, are now great.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management