By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On October 29, 2020, a woman Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadre was killed in an encounter with the Security Forces (SFs) in a forest between Duled and Minpa villages under the Chintalnar Police Station limits in Sukma District. During subsequent search operation, SFs recovered the body of the woman Maoist, along with a .303 rifle, a huge cache of explosive materials and other items. The identity of the slain woman is yet to be ascertained.
On August 12, 2020, four CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an exchange fire with SFs near the Pulamphar forest under Jagargunda Police Station limits in Sukma District. SFs later found four bodies along with a .303 rifle, and a cache of country-made weapons, and explosive material from the encounter site. The identities of the slain Maoists are yet to be ascertained.
On May 23, 2020, two CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an exchange of fire with SFs in a forested area of Mankapal village under Gadiras Police Station limits in Sukma District. The slain Maoists were identified as, Gundadhur, a Local Guerrilla Squad ‘commander’ of the CPI-Maoist ‘Malangir area committee’, who carried a cash reward of INR 500,000 on his head; and Aaytu, who was a security guard of a senior Maoist cadre – Vinod (a ‘divisional committee member’).
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 35 Maoists have been killed in Sukma District since the beginning of 2020 (data till November 8). During the corresponding period in 2019, 16 Maoists had been killed in the District. There were 24 Maoist fatalities in the whole of 2019.
Since its creation on January 16, 2012, the Sukma District has recorded a total of 195 Maoist fatalities (data till November 8, 2020).
Combing operations and raids have also resulted in the arrest of 17 Maoists in the District in the current year (data till November 8, 2020), in addition to 24 in 2019 (21 in the corresponding period of 2019). Mounting SF pressure has led to the surrender of 19 Maoists, in addition to 122 in 2019 (111 in the corresponding period of 2019).
On the other hand, at least 19 SF personnel have lost their lives in the current year so far (data till November 8, 2020), as against none in 2019. Thus, though the SF:Maoist kill ratio favours the SFs with 1:1.84 in the current year, 2020, it has worsened considerably when we compare it with the previous years. The ratio was 1:3.11 in 2018.
The ratio, however, was in favour of the Maoists in 2017, at 3.5:1 The SF:Maoist kill ratio was in favour of the Maoists on three earlier occasions as well – 3:1 in 2012, 3.23:1 in 2014, and 1.18:1 in 2015. Conversely, the SF:Maoist kill ratio remained in favor of the SFs on five occasions, 1:1.22 in 2013, 1:2.81 in 2016, 1:3.11 in 2018, and 1:1.84 in 2020. In 2019 the SFs did not lose a single trooper while killing 24 Maoists. Since 2012, the overall SF:Maoist kill ratio has been in favour of the SFs at 1:1.21.
In the worst incident of 2020, CPI-Maoist cadres ambushed a group of SFs on March 21, killing 18 of them and injuring 15, in the dense forests of Elmaguda close to Kasalpad and Minpa villages in the Chintagufa area of Sukma District. SFs killed 23 Maoists in retaliatory actions.
Meanwhile, five civilians have been killed in the current year, till November 8. During the corresponding period of 2019, eight civilians were killed. One more civilian was killed during the remaining period of 2019. Civilian fatalities have documented a cyclical trend. A high of 33 fatalities in this category was recorded in 2013, while a low of three fatalities was registered in 2014 in the District.
Sukma was carved out of Dantewada as a separate District on January 16, 2012, and is spread over a geographical area of 5635.79 square kilometres, of which around 3,500 square kilometres (more than 75 per cent of its total area) is under forest cover. The forest cover, terrain and geography of the District provide the Maoists distinct tactical advantages, allowing them to establish disruptive dominance over much of the area. In addition, the District abuts the Maoist-afflicted Bastar, Bijapur and Dantewada Districts of the State to the north and west; the highly affected Malkangiri District of Odisha to the east; and the Khammam District of Telangana to the South.
Moreover, Sukma is one of the most underdeveloped areas of the State and is listed among the ‘Aspirational Districts’ included in the ‘Aspirational Districts Programme’. The programme 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.
Not surprisingly, Sukma is among the 90 Districts in 11 States that are considered Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-affected, according to a Government release of February 5, 2019. Further, it is among the ‘30 worst Maoist-affected’ Districts, across seven States in the country, according to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA).
Meanwhile, an April 16, 2020, report, revealed that the Maoists were using the nationwide lockdown amid the COVID-19 outbreak to regain strength, as a large group of the rebels entered the South Bastar region of Chhattisgarh from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, and even Nepal. The report citing intelligence inputs noted,
[Maoists were] continuously conducting meetings in the core areas in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma District and in the Darbha Division in Jagdalpur District of the State and part of Dantewada District there under the supervision of top Maoist leaders. They are also organising villagers for confronting the Government on the issue of fixing a minimum price for plucking up of tendu leaves and compensation for death or injury of villagers involved in plucking of the leaves.
A disturbing development came to light with the arrest of two Police personnel, identified as Assistant Sub-Inspector Anand Jatav and Head Constable Subhash Singh, for their alleged involvement in supplying arms and ammunition to CPI-Maoist cadres in Sukma District. Inspector General of Police (IGP), Sundarraj Patilingam, disclosed, on June 8, 2020,
Following the recovery of a large number of bullets and interrogation of those arrested, the Bastar Police is keeping a close watch on the urban network of Maoists. The collusion of some personnel of the police department has emerged. They have been arrested and are being interrogated.
Significantly, four persons identified as, Harishankar Gedam of Balod District and Manoj Sharma of Dhamtari District and Ganesh Kunjam and Aatmaram Nareti were arrested from Sukma and Kanker Districts on June 2 and June 6, respectively. During investigations and interrogation, they opened up about the other links of the urban network of Maoist, which led to the arrest of the Police personnel. The Police recovered 695 bullets of .303, AK-47, Self-Loading Rifle, and INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) assault rifles from their possession.
Further, a June 25, 2020, report suggested that the Maoists retained large influence in the District. Around 10,000 people attended a meeting in a three-day program (June 18-20) organised by the CPI-Maoist in the villages at the border of Sukma and Bijapur Districts. About 300 armed Maoists and more than 500 ‘jan militias’ (people’s army of the Maoists) were deployed to protect the area where the meeting was held. Top Maoist leaders including the new ‘general secretary’ of CPI-Maoist Nambala Keshav Rao aka Basavaraju and the ‘head’ of battalion number 1, Mandavi Hidma attended the meeting. An unnamed Police officer stated,
During the meeting, a senior-level discussion took place over the successor of Maoist leader Ravula Srinivas alias Ramanna (56), who died in December 2019 and was in charge of Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee [DKSZC]. A review meeting of tactical counter offensive campaign [TCOC], in which Maoists carry out attacks between April and July every year, also took place.
More recently, on September 11, 2020, the Maoists expelled 13 villagers, including members of two families, from Palamdagu village in Sukma District, and directed them to migrate to another village – Polampally under Polampally Police Station limits in the District, after accusing them of being ‘Police informers.’ The Maoists held a ‘jan adalat’ (‘people’s court’) a kangaroo court where allegations of spying were imposed on the family members. A decree was passed to expel all of them from the village.
Despite efforts, the Maoists continue to fail to regain their old strength as battle ground losses (as the data suggests) erode capacities, and a financial crisis cripples the outfit.
A September 13, 2020, report revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted the CPI-Maoist supply chain, aggravating the funds crisis of the organisation in the Bastar Division. According to a Maoist documents recovered during the recent joint operation launched by the Security Forces in Sukma District [date unspecified], the rebels were facing an acute shortage of provisions as the supply network was choked owing to the 24×7 lockdowns and check posts forces placed by SFs along the interstate and inter-District borders. IGP, Sundarraj Patilingam, noted,
The analysis of the Maoist documents revealed that their main area of concern was the obstruction of regular supply of ration and medicines during the lockdown. And even the unlock phases are bringing no apparent respite as we maintained round-the-clock monitoring at the inter-district and inter-state borders where the movement continues to be regulated.
The Maoists are struggling to restore their influence in their erstwhile strongholds, even as they face severe reverses across the country, including in Chhattisgarh. The geographical proximity of Sukma, which is part of the ‘Bastar Division’ and shares borders with other LWE-affected States (Odisha and Telangana), fives it great strategic importance for the Maoist, as they cling to the region in the hope of a possible comeback.
In this situation, it becomes more pertinent on the part of the State Government to boost security establishments to endure operational strengths to dissuade the rebels from gaining hold in the area/region.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management