India: Losing The Heartland In Sukma – Analysis
By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
A team of District Reserve Guard (DRG) personnel of the Chhattisgarh Police killed at least 15 Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres in an encounter in a forested area between Golapalli and Konta, near Nalkatong village in Sukma District. Chhattisgarh, on August 6, 2018. Special Director General (SDG), anti-Naxal[Left Wing Extremism, LWE] Operations, Durgesh Madhav Awasthi, confirmed that a ‘militia platoon commander’, identified as Vanjam Hunga, was among those killed, while the identities of rest of the deceased Maoists were yet to be ascertained. Four Maoists, including a woman, were also arrested during the operation. Of the three male Maoist cadres arrested, one Madkami Deva is an ‘area committee member’ and carried a bounty of INR 500,000. The identities of the other three, including the woman cadre, were yet to be ascertained. The slain and arrested Maoists belonged to three separate militia formations–the Gompad militia, Balatong militia and Belponcha militia –which are active in the Konta, Golapalli, and Bhejji areas in Sukma.
Disclosing details about the operation, Awasthi, stated that the combing operation was launched after receiving specific intelligence inputs about the locations of camps being held by Maoists in the area. Seeing the presence of armed Maoists in the camp, the team cordoned off the area, and there was an exchange of fire between the Security Forces (SFs) and Maoists which lasted for over half-an-hour. Subsequent to the encounter, the SFs recovered bodies of 15 Maoists along with 16 weapons, including ten muzzle guns, one .315 bore rifle and one 12 bore rifle, one pistol, one country-made pistol, banners and posters, medicines, ammunitions of different calibre, detonators, battery, electric wire and other materials.
Incidentally, the August 6, 2018, operation is the most successful operation against the Maoists in the District in terms of fatalities, since Sukma was carved out of Dantewada District on January 16, 2012.
Previously, the most successful operation against the Maoists in the District was on March 1, 2016, when at least eight members of the Venkatapuram ‘area committee’ of the CPI-Maoist, which operates in the Bhadrachalam area of Khammam District in Telangana, were killed in an encounter in the Sakler area of Sukma District. Along with the bodies of the eight slain Maoists, SF personnel had also recovered an AK-47 rifle, three Self-Loading Rifle (SLRs), several .303 rifles, and ammunition from the encounter spot.
Since the formation of Sukma on January 16, 2012, the SFs have eliminated at least 118 Maoists in 62 operations in the District. Seven of these were major incidents (resulting in three or more fatalities). These included:
June 15, 2018: Three CPI-Maoist cadres were killed during an encounter in the Chintagufa village area of Sukma District.
September 28, 2016: Three women CPI-Maoist cadres, including a ‘commander’, were killed in an exchange of fire with SFs near Bade Satti village under Gadiras Police Station limits in Sukma District.
March 1, 2016: Eight CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an encounter in the Sakler area of Sukma District.
November 22, 2015: Four CPI-Maoist woman cadres were killed in an encounter with SFs at Nagalguda hill area under Gadiras Police Station limits in Sukma District.
April 16, 2013: Nine CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an encounter with SFs in the forest area of Puarti village in Sukma District.
On the other hand, the Maoists have killed at least 140 SF personnel in 45 attacks in the District since its formation. 11 of these attacks were major incidents (three or more fatalities). Some of the major attacks on SFs include:
March 13, 2018: At least nine Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed and two were critically injured when CPI-Maoist cadres blew up a Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) in the Kistaram jungle area of Sukma District.
April 24, 2017: At least 25 personnel of the 74thBattalion of CRPF were killed and six were injured in an attack by 300 to 400 CPI-Maoist cadres near Burkapal village in the Chintagufa Police Station limits in Sukma District.
March 11, 2017: At least 12 personnel of the 219thbattalion of the CRPF were killed and another four injured when CPI-Maoist cadres ambushed a road opening party in the dense forests near Kottacheru village under Bhejji Police Station in Sukma District.
December 1, 2014: At least 14 CRPF personnel, including two officers, were killed and another 13 troopers seriously injured in a CPI-Maoist ambush near the Kasalpara village in Sukma District.
March 11, 2014: At least 15 SF personnel were killed in a CPI-Maoist ambush near the Tongpal village in Sukma District. One civilian, identified as Vikram Nishad, also died in the crossfire, while three others sustained injuries.
May 25, 2013: At least 10 SF personnel and 21 others were killed when heavily-armed CPI-Maoist cadres ambushed a convoy of political leaders inside a dense forest near Darbha Ghati valley in Sukma District.
More worryingly, the Sukma region has the ‘distinction’ of recording the worst ever attack on SFs engaged in anti-Maoist operations. The incident in which 75 CRPF personnel and one State Policeman were killed occurred on April 6, 2010, at Tarmetla village near Chintalnad under the Konta Block (administrative division), one of the seven Blocks of the undivided Dantewada District, which is now among one of the three tehsils (revenue units) of Sukma District.
According to SATP data, the overall Police:Maoist kill ratio in the District (between January 16, 2012 to August 12, 2018) is marginally in favour of Maoists – 1.8:1. Moreover, out of six years (2012 to 2017), the ratio has gone in favour of the Maoists in four. These include 2012 (4:1); 2013 (1.5:1); 2014 (11.66:1) and 2017 (2.8:1). The ratio was in favour of the SFs in 2015 (1:1.07) and 2016 (1:3.54). The ratio stands in favour of SFs in the current year, so far, at 1:2.53.
The data on kill ratios as well as major incidents involving the Maoists and the SFs indicate that the SFs have of late succeeded in making decisive gains in the region, though they continue to suffer major losses in this Maoist stronghold.
Further, civilian fatalities, a crucial index of the security situation, indicate a cyclical trend in Sukma. A total of 68 civilian fatalities has been recorded since the creation of the District in January 16, 2012. At peak, 26 fatalities were registered in this category in 2013. The district recorded a low of three civilian fatalities in 2014, rising to nine in 2015, and 10 in 2016. 2017 saw a decline to six, but the current year has already recorded eight civilian fatalities (data till August 12, 2018).
The Sukma success reflects a wider continuum of SF operational gains across the country since the beginning of 2018 and steady successes in recent years. In at 10 major incidents, SFs have eliminated at least 83 Maoists in the current year (data till August 12, 2018). One of the biggest successes came on April 22-23, 2018, in which SFs killed at least 40 Maoists in the Gadchiroli District of Maharashtra. This was the biggest victory for the SFs since the formation of the CPI-Maoist in September 21, 2004. The second most successful operation in terms of fatalities among Maoists across India was the October 24 – 27, 2016, incident, in which SFs killed at least 30 Maoists in two successive encounters in the Bejingi Forest area, between Ramgarh and Panasput, in the Malkangiri District of Odisha.
The Maoists are indeed feeling the heat of intensified operations. Significantly, on March 20, 2018, Union Minister of State for Home Hansraj Gangaram Ahir informed the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian Parliament) that elimination of LWE cadres has increased by 88.6 per cent, while surrenders increased by 92.2 per cent over the past three years (2015-17) as compared to the preceding three years (2012-2014), indicating waning Maoist capacities and will. These operational successes have put further pressure on the Maoists and have helped SFs restore peace in larger areas of erstwhile Maoist influence. Replying to a question in the Lok Sabha on August 7, 2018, Ahir stated that there had been a reduction in Naxal violence and its geographical spread since 2017.
Returning to Chhattisgarh, Chief Minister Raman Singh, speaking at the passing out parade of trainee constables at the Police Training School in the Mana Camp area in Raipur, on August 2, 2018, stated:
The State government has given a strong message to Naxals that they should join the mainstream. Either they should surrender or security forces are ready to finish them. Now there is no way left for them.
hough the Central Government has not disclosed actual strength of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) deployment in Maoist affected areas, CRPF Inspector General (Chhattisgarh), Sanjay Arora, on July 25, 2018, disclosed that over 33,000 CRPF personnel are deployed in the State to combat Maoists. This includes 28 regular battalions and five teams of the Commando Battalions for Resolute Action (CoBRA). This combined Force is deployed in the Bastar region comprising seven Districts – Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur and Sukma. In addition, the CRPF has raised a specialised ‘Bastariya Battalion’ comprising 534 personnel, including 189 women commandoes, to combat the Maoists in Dandakaranya region of the State. The battalion, named “Bastariya Warriors”, comprises personnel, largely drawn from the tribal population of the Bastar region. Of these 534 personnel, 140 are from Sukma, 150 from Dantewada, 81 from Narayanpur and the remaining 163 from Bijapur District.
Sukma which shares its borders with the Maoist-infested Bastar, Bijapur and Dantewada Districts of Chhattisgarh to the north and west; the Malkangiri District of Odisha to the east; and the Khammam District of Telangana to the South, has long been used by the Maoists to establish a disruptive dominance over much of the region. It is here that the final battle continues. The Maoists are clearly hurting in this last bastion, though they continue to demonstrate capacities to inflict significant harm on SF and civilians alike.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management