Two troopers of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) – Constable Gulab Yadav and Constable Narottam Das – were killed and another 12 were injured when Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres blew up a mini-bus carrying personnel near Nandai on the Imamganj – Dumaria route in Gaya District on February 24, 2015. The unit also came under fire from the Maoists after the improvised explosive device (IED) blast. According to Police sources, there was ‘heavy force mobilization’ in the area in the wake of an encounter in the vicinity a day earlier. The site of the explosion was part of an area believed to be safe, with regular traffic flows, and was not, prima facie in the ‘vulnerable’ category, which is why the COBRA unit took the liberty of travelling in a mini bus. A measure of complacency may also have crept in because of the decline in Maoist violence in the State in 2014.
According to the partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Bihar recorded 17 fatalities in Left Wing Extremism (LWE) related incidents in 2014, including seven civilians, seven Security Force (SF) personnel and three Maoists; these numbers represented a sharp drop from the 48 fatalities in 2013, including 21 civilians, 25 SF personnel and two Maoists. Indeed, on January 9, 2015, Bihar Police claimed that it had successfully contained LWE in the State, with the arrest of a number of Maoists and the recovery of explosives. According to figures released by Bihar Police Headquarters, though there were 105 incidents of Maoist violence in 2014, as against 103 in 2013, only 20 civilians were killed in 2014, against 36 in 2013. The number of Police killed also saw a sharp drop, to six in 2014, from 25 in 2013. [Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) data indicates that the number of civilians killed by Maoists in 2014 in Bihar was 26]. Maoists were also able to drastically reduce their own casualties in the State over 2013 and 2014, suggesting that the decline in Maoist violence may not entirely have been enforced by state, and could represent a choice by the Maoists to observe strategic silence. The February 24, 2015, explosion in Gaya is a reminder that Maoist strike capabilities are intact.
Bihar recorded one major incident (resulting in three or more fatalities) in 2014, in comparison to five such incidents in 2013. Three SFs were killed and another eight were injured under the Dhibra Police Station limits in Aurangabad District on April 7, 2014, while diffusing an IED.
The Maoists engaged in six encounters, 11 arson incidents, three attacks involving their Peoples Militia, and three recorded incidents of abduction in 2014. Crucially, as in 2013, Gaya, Aurangabad and Jamui saw the maximum number of violent incidents. The Maoists were also involved in several act of violence during the 16th Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) election. On March 27, 2014, for instance, about 100 Maoist cadres blew up two mobile towers, exploding powerful bombs at Manjhauli and Dumaria Bazar villages of Gaya District, ahead of then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Ministerial Candidate Narendra Modi’s election rallies. Further on April 5, 2014, the Maoists ordered the closure of Janata Dal-United and BJP election offices at the Dumaria Block Headquarters in Gaya District. However, despite these actions, threats, and calls for election boycott, the voter turn-out in Bihar during the 2014 Lok Sabha election, at 56.28 per cent, was 11.82 per cent higher than the 2009 elections (44.46 per cent).
Huge amounts of arms and ammunition were recovered from 10 Districts of the State in 2014, particularly from Rohtas and Munger. East Champaran (21), Munger (25), Patna (6) and Muzaffarpur (31) recorded the maximum number of arrests, 83, out of a total of 164 arrests in the State in 2014, as compared to 110 in 2013. Among those arrested in 2014 were Azad Paswan, ‘secretary’ of the Sone Vindhyanchal Zonal Committee; Sunil Kumar aka Shambhuji aka Lambuji, a member of the ‘special area committee’; five ‘commanders’, one ‘central zonal area commander’, two ‘zonal commanders,’ two ‘sub-zonal commanders’ and five ‘area commanders.’
Maoist-related incidents (both violent and non-violent) were reported from 21 Districts, out of a total of 38 Districts in Bihar. On the basis of underground and over ground activities, three Districts – Aurangabad, Gaya, and Jamui – were categorized as highly affected in 2014; another three – Rohtas, Muzaffarpur and Munger – were moderately affected; while fifteen Districts – East Champaran, Patna, Arwal, Banka, Nawada, Kaimur, Lakhisarai, Jehanabad, Sheohar, Buxar, Vaishali, Saran, Khagaria, Bhojpur, Begusarai – remained marginally affected.
Under pressure of a rapidly changing situation, the Maoists claimed to have introduced ‘structural changes’ in their organization, introducing a ‘new committee’ with a focus on the Jharkhand-Bihar region, dismantling the existing Bihar-Jharkhand Special Area Committee (BJSAC). The newly constituted East Bihar Eastern Jharkhand Special Area Committee (EBEJSAC) will include Dumka, Godda, Pakur and Jamtara under Santhal Pargana Division of Jharkhand; and Bhagalpur, Banka, Jamui, Lakhisarai and Monghyr in Bihar. This was part of the strategy adopted during the ‘fourth central committee meeting’ held in 2013.
The decline in tactical errors by state Forces was reflected in comparable declines in Maoist violence and strength. Unfortunately, the political situation in Bihar hardly provides a conducive environment to a sustained response to the enduring Maoist challenge in the State. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has often reiterated his position that development will result in a decline in Maoist activities, and this mantra was repeated by Jitan Ram Manjhi, who briefly served as the State’s Chief Minister between 20 May 2014 and 20 February 2015. On June 28, 2014, Manjhi declared that he disagreed with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s position that no talks would be held with the Maoists and that a befitting reply would be given to Maoist attacks: “Theoretically I disagree with what he (Singh) has said. Naxalism cannot be solved with the help of gun. We have to find the underlying reasons behind it. The only solution lies in all-round development of society… Frustration over lack of socio-economic-educational development and employment, as well as unavailability of justice among the weaker sections has led to Naxalism. The answer to it lies only in development.” Going a step further, on January 4, 2015, Manjhi stated, at a gathering at Tarapur in Munger District, that Maoists were “not wrong in demanding levy from contractors if quality of work is poor.” He also recounted his interaction with three Naxals before he became Chief Minister. According to media reports, Maoists were happy that in the wake of the Aurangabad Police firing on July 19, 2014, [two persons killed], Manjhi effectively intervened and ordered a high-level inquiry into the Police firing. The then Chief Minister also questioned the Police claim that the villagers, who were fired upon by the Police, were, in fact, Maoist sympathisers. Media reports suggest that anti-Maoist operations in the State slowed down considerably after the Aurangabad Police firing and the then Chief Minister’s intervention.
Taking a serious stand on the State Government’s lackadaisical attitude, the UMHA, on June 30, 2014, warned that the Centre could stop allocating substantial funds to the Bihar Government under various schemes for security and development in areas affected by Naxalism if the State Government failed to act in accordance with a uniform national policy against the Maoists.
According to National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) data, Bihar had 77 Police personnel per 100,000 population, as on December 31, 2013, the worst ratio in the country, and far below the national average of 141. At the request of the State, at least six battalions of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) have been deployed in the State, though this number is far from what is required to cover the shortfall. On October 1, 2014, the State Government decided to recruit Police Women from the Scheduled Tribes category and deploy them in the Maoist affected zones as part of a ‘two-pronged strategy’ to provide employment to tribal women and check the Maoists. A proposal to this effect was forwarded by Police Headquarters to the State’s Home Department, arguing that, since tribal women were hard-working and well-versed with the topography of the difficult terrain, a separate battalion of tribal policewoman should be raised. The Cabinet meeting, chaired by the then Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, approved the proposal, though recruitment is yet to take place. In any event, this is seen more as a gesture to play to the galleries, rather than any serious response to the Maoist insurgency.
Bihar has long been at odds with the Centre on the strategy to counter the Maoist insurgency, and this is unlikely to change till Assembly elections take place in the State late in 2015. With the State currently in the control of an opportunistic alliance between former political rivals, and all focus on the impending elections, it is unlikely that any substantive initiatives to deal with the Maoists are going to go forward.