India: Violent Upsurge In Bijapur, Chhattisgarh – Analysis
By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On May 4, 2022, the dead body of one person was recovered from the Modakpal Police Station limits in Bijapur District. In the evening of May 3, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres abducted two persons – Satyam Pulse and Bhima – from Guddipal village under the Usoor Block (administrative division) and later, after holding a ‘Jan Adalat’ (People’s/Kangaroo Court organized by the Maoists), stabbed Satyam Pulse to death. Bhima, however, was released.
On April 10, 2022, Maoists killed a Policeman in broad daylight near the Mirtur Police Station of Bijapur District. The Policeman, identified as Gopal Kadti, on his way from home to the Police Station, was attacked in the market around 500 meters from the Police Station, with sharp-edged weapons.
On March 16, 2022, suspected CPI-Maoist cadres killed a Pastor, Yalam Shankar, in Angampalliguda village under Madder Police Station limits in Bijapur District. According to the Police, the Pastor was dragged out from his house and his throat was slit with a sharp edge weapon.
On March 11, 2022, a CPI-Maoist ‘commander’, Ritesh Punem, carrying a reward of INR 300,000 on his head, was killed in an encounter with Security Forces (SFs) in a forest near Kaika and Mosla villages under Naimed Police Station limits in Bijapur District. A trooper of the District Reserve Guard (DRG) was also injured in the gunfight.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 16 Maoist-linked fatalities (seven civilians, three SF personnel, and six Maoists) have been registered in Bijapur District, thus far in 2022, (data till June 12). During the corresponding period in 2021, 10 fatalities (two civilians, five SF personnel, and three Maoists) were recorded, and in the remaining period of 2021, another five fatalities (four civilians, and one Maoist) occurred.
There is, thus, a surge of 60 per cent in fatalities in the district in 2022, as compared the first five months and 10 days of 2021. Civilian fatalities in particular have increased almost fourfold. Moreover, the fatalities in 2022, with over six months still left, have crossed the total fatalities recorded in 2021. Significantly, Bijapur had recorded its lowest fatalities in a year in 2022, since the formation of the district in 2007.
While fatalities in Maoist-linked violence have witnessed an increase, other parameters of violence in the district also recorded a surge. Importantly, according to the SATP database, 13 incidents of killing have already been reported in the current year, as compared to 10 in the corresponding period of 2021, and another five in the remaining period of 2021. At least six exchanges of fire between SFs and Maoists have been reported in the district in the current year, as against three such encounters in the corresponding period of 2021, and another one in the remaining period of 2021. Further, there have been at least six incidents of explosion in the current year, as compared to four such incidents in the corresponding period of 2021, and another two in the remaining period of 2021.
Bijapur, one of the 27 districts of Chhattisgarh, was carved out of Dantewada as a separate District on May 11, 2007. The district is spread over a geographical area of 6,562.48 square kilometres, of which around 1,848.07 square kilometres (28 per cent of its total area) is under forest cover, and has immense geo-strategic significance for the Naxalites (Left Wing Extremists). The district falls under the formidable Abujhmad Forest region (which spreads over 3,900 square kilometres), and the troubled Bastar Division, a significant threat for the State, which is still considered the worst LWE-affected region in the country. The geographical proximity with the Maoist-afflicted Narayanpur (Chhattisgarh) to the North; Bastar (Chhattisgarh) to the North-east; Dantewada (Chhattisgarh) to the east; Sukma (Chhattisgarh) to the South-east; Karimnagar, Warangal and Khammam of Telangana to the south; and Gadchiroli of Maharashtra in the West, makes it a significant strategic tri-junction for the rebels to carry on their violent activities.
Unsurprisingly, reflecting the severity of the Naxal [Left Wing Extremism, LWE] threat in the district, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) had, on June 19, 2021, included Bijapur among its list of ‘25 Most Affected Districts’ from eight States across India. Moreover, Bijapur is also included among the 70 LWE-affected Districts in 10 States across, to be covered under the Centre’s ‘Security Related Expenditure (SRE)’ scheme, which funds focused operations against the LWEs.
According to a May 4, 2022, report, SFs in Chhattisgarh have a new threat to deal with – ‘desi’ (locally manufactured) Under Barrel Grenade Launchers (UBGLs). The Maoists are using these to attack several of the old and newly established Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camps. The report quoted an unnamed CRPF officer involved in anti-Maoist operations, who noted, “Earlier, we would recover UBGLs which were mostly stolen or seized from security forces. But recently, there has been a surge in attacks with ‘desi’ UBGL.”
The report quoted another officer as stating that these ‘desi’ UBGLs help the Maoists target forces from a safe distance.
There have been roughly half a dozen attacks where 150-200 ‘desi’ UBGL rounds were fired at the SFs over the past six months – mostly in the south Bastar region – Bijapur, Dantewada and Sukma. This coincides with the number of SFs’ camps increasing in Maoist-infested areas.
Meanwhile, according to an April 23, 2022, report, Maoists accused SFs of resorting to “aerial attack,” targeting the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army [PLGA] and a “local tribe” in the Pamed area under the Usur Tehsil (revenue unit) of Bijapur District in the intervening night of April 14-15.
Maoist ‘spokesperson’ Abhay claimed, “The central committee of CPI(Maoists) condemns the blitz carried out at Pamed guerrilla base area of south Bastar by Chhattisgarh police and security forces supported by Indian Army and Air Force officials on April 15, 1am, targeting PLGA [People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army] and local tribe.”
Interestingly, villagers of Metagudam and Botetom in Pamed, a hilly area, confirmed that they heard deafening explosions in the night, and collected some metal shards from the spot, which they said were parts of bombs dropped from drones.
The Police, however, denied the allegations and declared that they were just Maoist propaganda to malign the Police’s image and to scare people. Bastar, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Sundarraj P., stated, “We deny the allegations levelled by CPI(Maoist) cadres against the security forces with regard to use of drones to strike their hideouts. It is part of the propaganda by Maoist leadership to mislead the local population with an unrealistic hope of regaining their lost ground in Dandakaranya. The reality is that due to their own inhumane and anti-development deeds, Naxals have become unpopular among the native population and are on the verge of extinction.”
Meanwhile, on May 20, 2022, during his ‘Bhaint Mulakat’ (visit and meet) campaign Chief Minister (CM) Bhupesh Baghel observed that, with the development of roads, bridges and schools, LWE-affected Bastar Division (which includes Bijapur) was changing. Describing the picture of transformation, CM Baghel declared that development work on new bridges, culverts, and roads was going on, and schools which have been shut for the past 15 years had reopened:
Bastar is changing, and development work is underway. Schools reopened after about 15 years, 156 schools reopened in Bijapur and 98 schools started in Sukma. People are getting benefits from state government schemes. The income of the people is increasing. There are four tractor showrooms in Bijapur alone. Apart from motorcycles and cars, tractor showrooms are visible all around Jagdalpur. This shows that People are taking benefits of government schemes.
Earlier, on February 12, 2022, acknowledging the SFs sacrifice and consolidation in the fight against the Maoists, CM Baghel declared, “our jawans [troopers] have been entering the den of Naxals” and “have pushed Maoists to a limited pocket (in Bastar).”
Meanwhile, according to a June 1, 2022, report, in order to augment the State’s capacities to counter the Maoists, the Centre has approved the UMHA proposal to relax the requisite minimum educational qualification from 10th Class pass to 8th Class, for the recruitment of 400 tribal youth as Constable (General Duty) in the CRPF from the Bijapur, Dantewada and Sukma districts. Earlier, during 2016-2017, CRPF had raised a ‘Bastariya Battalion,’ recruiting Scheduled Tribe candidates from four districts – Bijapur, Dantewada, Narayanpur and Sukma. However, the recruitment drive did not yield optimal results, as candidates from the interior areas could not compete in the process due because of their inability to fulfil the prescribed educational requirements.
Following severe losses across the country, the Maoists are trying to regroup. In their fight for survival, it is expected that they will focus more on their erstwhile strongholds. Consequently, districts like Bijapur will be under increased threat. Coherent and sustained efforts by SFs and other State agencies, including the civil government, will be necessary to contain the rebels’ efforts for revival.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management