By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On November 11, 2018, a Border Security Force (BSF) Sub-Inspector was killed in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) triggered by Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres near the Koliyabeda area in Kanker District. Another BSF trooper was injured in the explosion. Police disclosed that the Maoists triggered another five IED blasts at separate locations in the areas between Kattakal and Gome villages in the District, though there were no casualties. These incidents took place a day ahead of the scheduled polling in the region.
The first phase of the two-phase State Assembly Elections is being held on November 12 [at the time of writing] while the second phase is scheduled to be held on November 20, 2018. Polling in 18 constituencies in eight Districts–Bastar, Kanker, Sukma, Bijapur, Dantewada, Narayanpur, Kondagaon and Rajnandgaon–is being held in the first phase [these are the eight districts in Chhattisgarh which have been listed among the 30 worst Naxal(Left Wing extremism, LWE)-affected Districts across the country.] The remaining 72 constituencies will go to the polls on November 20. Counting of votes will be held on December 11.
On November 8, 2018, at least four civilians and a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) Head Constablewere killed when cadres of the CPI-Maoist triggered an IED targeting a bus carrying CISF personnel in a hilly area in Bacheli in Dantewada District.The dead civilians included the bus driver, two helpers, and a truck driver who had taken lift in the bus. Two CISF troopers were also injured in the incident. The explosion took place when the CISF personnel were returning to their camp in Akashnagar after purchasing groceries from a nearby market. The CISF unit was deployed in the area for the first phase of the polls in the State.
On November 7, 2018, the husband of asarpanch (head of the Panchayat, village level local self-government institution) was killed by CPI-Maoist cadres in Sukma District. KalmuDhruva was brutally beaten to death with sticks. Sukma, Superintendent of Police (SP) Abhishek Meena disclosed that Dhruva, the victim, was a worker of the Communist Party of India (CPI), while his wife is thesarpanch of Bodko village.
On October 30, 2018, four persons, including a Doordarshan(national Television)camera man andthreeCentral Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel,were killed whenCPI-Maoist cadres attacked the crew members of Doordarshannear Nilawaya village under Aranapur Police Station limitsin Dantewada District. According to reports, aDoordarshanteam gone to Dantewada for coverage of election related developments.
In a separate incident on the same day, a 65-year-old villager was killed when a pressure bomb, suspected to have been planted by the Maoists, went off near Nawadih village under Samri Police Station limits in BalrampurDistrict.Road construction work is reportedly under way in Samri.
On October 28, 2018, a local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader was critically injured after he was attacked by half a dozen suspected CPI-Maoist cadres with sharp edged weapons in Dantewada District. Nandlal Mudami is a Zilla Parishad (District Council) member. Dantewada SP Abhishek Pallav stated, “Mudami played a major role in bringing people in Palnar to the mainstream. This angered the Naxals [Left Wing extremism, LWE]. We used to keep getting the info that they are planning to strike back.” BJP is the ruling party in the State.
On October 27, 2018, four personnel of the CRPF were killed and another two injured in an attack carried out by CPI-Maoist cadres just a kilometre away from the CRPF’s Murdana camp under Awapalli Police Station in Bijapur District. Troops of the 168thBattalion were out on an ‘area domination’ exercise and a road-opening operation between Murdana and Timapur when they were attacked around 4.10pm. TheMaoists first blew up a Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) and then fired upon the injured troopers with automatic weapons, killing four personnel on the spot.
On October 25, 2018, a CRPF trooper was injured in an IED blast triggered by CPI-Maoist cadres in Sukma District. The incident took place when a team of CRPF’s 223rdBattalion was out on an anti-Naxal operation in a forested area under Jagargunda Police Station limits.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least seven civilians and nine Security Force (SF) personnel have been killed in 15 incidents of LWE-linked violence (data till November 11, 2018) recorded in 37 days, since the State Assembly Polls wereannounced on October 6, 2018.
In the interim, on October 8, 2018, intelligence units operating in Chhattisgarh warned of heightened Maoist activity in the State, especially in Bijapur, Dantewada, Narayanpur and Sukma, in the run-up to the State Assembly elections. At least nine incidents of LWE-linked violence havealready been recorded.
The Maoists had called upon voters to boycott the Assembly polls in the State.Among others, Maoist banners written in Hindi were recovered from forests in the Bastar regiononOctober 30, 2018, declaring,
Farzi Chhattisgarh Vidhan Sabha ka Chunao ka Bahiskar karo. Janatana Sarkar ko majboot karenge unka vistaar karenge. Janyudhya ko tej karke, daman yojna-samadhan ko harayenge. [Boycott fake Chhattisgarh Vidhan Sabha (Assembly) election. Strengthen and expand people’s government. Speed up people’s war to defeat oppressive regime]
Inspector Salim of Katekalyan Police Stationin Dantewada Districtstatedon October 31, 2018, that election preparations were going according to schedule, despite threats and the boycott call by the Naxals. He elaborated,
We are trying to ensure that polling takes place here. Forces from other areashave also come to assist us. It is true that Naxals exist inthis area and they have been campaigning and advocating against participationin elections; sometimes even scaring the locals in such a way that they desistfrom casting votes. However, we are prepared to face all challenges…It’s challenging but we are ready. Villagers are connecting with us.
According to a report dated October 31, 2018, the State Government has built up a polling booth in the Telam village of the Katekalyan region in Dantewada District.The villagers in the area will be getting an opportunity to cast their vote for the first time since independence and are reportedly excited about the construction of the polling booth in their village.
Meanwhile, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister (CM)Raman Singhstated on October 31, 2018, “We have prepared a roadmap on how better security can be provided to media and locals… We have adequate security for polls.”
Indeed, in view of the threat perception,in 18 constituencies falling in the Bastar region, which go to the polls in the first phase on November 12, about 65,000 additional troops from various Central and State Police Forces have been deployed, as disclosed by officials on October 31, 2018:“About 650 companies of central and State [from other States]Police Forces will be deployed for the first phase of polls in the State. The (personnel of) Chhattisgarh Police is in addition to this.”Chhattisgarh has a Police population ratio of 228.60 per 100,000 (as on January 1, 2017), substantially higher than the national average of 150.75, but significantly below the required strength, in view of the scale of the ongoing Maoist insurgency.There is no informationat present regarding additional deployment for the 72 constituenciesfor the second Phase of polls to be held on November 20. Around 50 battalions of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) remain posted in Chhattisgarh throughout the year.
In the 37 days since the notification of the Elections on October 6, 2018, SFs have neutralised seven Maoists in five separate incidents and arrested at least another 16. Continuing SF pressure has led to the surrender of at least 104 LWE elements in the state (data till November 11, 2018). Notably, over the past 10 months and 11 days, SFs have neutralised 104 Maoists in 46 separate incidents and arrested at least another 315 in the State. SF pressure has led to the surrender of at least 273 LWE elements in Chhattisgarh (data till November 11, 2018).
Assembly Elections in 2013 had been quite peaceful. On October 4, 2013, the Election Commission had announced two-phased electionsin Chhattisgarh on November 11 and 19, 2013.According to the SATP database, four SF personnel and one civilian were killed in 12 incidents of LWE-linked violence between October 4, 2013, and November 19, 2013.There were at least five Maoist fatalities during this period of 46 days. Moreover, the voter turnout stood at over 77 per cent across the State. One constituency (Kurud) saw an astonishing 88 per cent vote.
A high voter turnout is once again expected in the current Assembly elections, despite the relative spike in LWE-violence since the publication of the electionnotification. In an unrelated by significant development, according media reports on November 5, 2018, Muppala Lakshmana Rao aka Ganapathy, the 71-year-old ‘general secretary’ of the CPI-Maoist, had been replaced by his ‘second-in-command’ Nambala Keshava Rao aka Basavaraj (63). It is to be noted that Basavaraj was heading the CPI-Maoist’s ‘military-wing’, PLGA (People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army), since its inception. He is also suspected to be behind almost all major Maoist attacks that have taken place in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Odisha in the recent past. Basavaraj is an expert in explosives and military techniques and has a good network with arms traders. He also has a reputation for greater proclivities to violence than Ganapathy. While this transition has not been confirmed by Maoist sources, if corroborated, it would suggest the possibility of heightened Maoist violence, despite the rising pressure of the SFs over the past years.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management