By Ajit Kumar Singh*
In the evening of January 8, 2019, orchestrating their first significant incident of violence in the new year, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres stormed into the house of a civilian identified as Suresh Hupendi in Niche Kamta village under the Amabeda Police Station limits in Kanker District and forcibly took him along with them. His dead body was found on the outskirts of the village the next day. A Maoist banner recovered from the spot branded the deceased a ‘police informer’.
Since the beginning of 2019 this is the lone Maoist linked fatality recorded in Chhattisgarh (data till January 13, 2019).
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Chhattisgarh recorded 249 fatalities, including 60 civilians, 57 Security Force (SF) personnel, and 132 Maoists, in Maoist-related violence in 2018. In 2017, there were a total of 169 fatalities, including 32 civilians, 59 SF personnel, and 78 Maoists. Thus, a spike of 32.12 per cent was recorded in terms of overall fatalities. Moreover, Chhattisgarh in 2018 maintained its TOP position in terms of fatalities (249 out of a total of 412 countrywide) recorded in a State during the course of a year, with Maharashtra at a distant second with 58 fatalities. Chhattisgarh has topped the list since 2014. Jharkhand recorded the highest fatalities in 2013, a total of 131 as against 128 in Chhattisgarh, which stood at the second position that year.
A cursory analysis of fatalities in all three categories (civilian, SF, and Maoist) suggest that civilians faced significantly increased pressure in the State through 2018, with fatalities in this category increasing 87.5 per cent, in comparison to 2017, from 32 to 60. Civilian fatalities in 2018 were the highest recorded in the State since 2010, when civilian fatalities stood at 72. The 2018 civilian fatalities are the fifth highest recorded since the formation of CPI-Maoist on September 21, 2014. The highest of 189 fatalities was recorded way back in 2006. A low of 25 civilian fatalities was recorded in 2014. Civilian fatalities in Chhattisgarh have been escalating since, barring a dip in 2017.
Other parameters of violence also indicate that the Maoists retain significant operational capabilities in Chhattisgarh. Six incidents of abduction, in which seven civilians and two SF personnel were abducted (one civilian was killed while others were released after ‘warnings’; the two SF personnel were killed), were reported in 2018, as against three such incidents, in which 14 civilians were abducted in 2017 (12 were released after ‘warnings’ in 2017, two were killed). 17 incidents of arson were reported in 2018 in addition to 18 such incidents in 2017. The Maoists also orchestrated at least 28 incidents of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blasts adding to 32 such incidents in 2017.
The number of Districts from where killings were reported also increased through 2018. Out of a total of 27 Districts in Chhattisgarh, fatalities were reported from 13 in 2018: Sukma (88), Bijapur (70), Dantewada (34), Narayanpur and Rajnandgaon (15 each), Kanker (11), Bastar (four), Gariyabandh and Kondagaon (three each), Kabirdham (two), and Balrampur, Dhamtari, and Koriya (one each). 10 Districts recorded such fatalities in 2017 – Sukma (62), Bijapur (29), Narayanpur (25), Rajnandgaon (16), Dantewada (15), Kanker (11), Bastar (six), Kondagaon (three), and Bilaspur and Gariyabandh (one each).
According to the SATP database, based on underground and over-ground activities of the Maoists in 2018, seven Districts (Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Narayanpur, Rajnandgaon, and Sukma) were categorised as highly-affected; three (Balrampur, Gariabandh, and Kondagaon) were moderately affected; while Dhamtariand Kabirdham and Koriya, were marginally affected.
Significantly, on April 16, 2018, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) disclosed that at least 30 Districts were categorized as ‘worst Maoist-affected’, across seven States. Eight of these Districts fell in Chhattisgarh: Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Rajnandgaon, and Sukma. On April 16, 2018, MHA also disclosed that the number of Maoist-affected Districts covered under the Security Related Expenditure Scheme (SRE) scheme had decreased from 126 in 10 states to 90 in 11 states. 14 of these 90 districts were in Chhattisgarh. In addition to the eight worst-affected Districts mentioned, the other six Districts were Balod, Balrampur, Dhamtari, Gariyabandh, Mahasamund, and Kabirdham.
Violence in the Bastar Division remains the principal challenge for the State in particular and the country at large. According to SATP, in 2018, the Bastar Division accounted for 90.76 per cent of total killings reported in the State, as against 89.34 per cent in 2017. Since 2005, the Bastar Division has accounted for a total of 93.61 per cent of all fatalities in the State – 1,495 out of a total of 1,597. The Division has accounted for 19.80 per cent of total of 8,063 fatalities recorded across India since 2005.
The Bastar Division was created in 1999, when the Bastar District was divided into the present-day Districts of Bastar, Dantewada, and Kanker. On November 1, 2000, the Division became part of the newly created state of Chhattisgarh. The Bastar Division was further subdivided in 2007 and 2012, and currently comprises seven Districts – Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, and Sukma – in the southernmost region in the State. The Division shares its borders with Maoist-afflicted regions of neighbouring States, including Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Telangana.
Nevertheless, in a significant achievement, during the 2018 State Assembly Polls, the 18 constituencies in the eight worst affected Districts of Chhattisgarh, including seven in the Bastar Division, and the neighbouring Rajnandgaon District, recorded an average of 76.39 per cent polling on November 12, 2018. During the 2013 Assembly Polls as well, these 18 Assembly constituencies recorded a 75.53 per cent voter turnout. At least 76.34 per cent voters cast their vote during the second phase of the two-phase Chhattisgarh State Assembly Elections held on held on November 20, 2018, in 72 Assembly seats spread across the 19 remaining Districts of Chhattisgarh. During the 2013 Assembly Polls, these 72 Assembly constituencies had seen a voter turnout at 78.5 per cent of registered voters. After completion of both phases of the 2018 Assembly elections, the average voter turnout worked out at 76.35 per cent as against 77 per cent in 2013. The high voter turnout despite continuous CPI-Maoist calls to boycott the elections, was a clear manifestation of the Maoists diminishing ‘popular support’.
SF successes have been sharply reflected in the improved kill ratio against the Maoists in 2018, 1: 2.31 as against 1:1.32 registered in 2017. Out of 13 years since 2005, the ratio has been in favour of SFs for eight years, and the best ratio of 1:3.69 was achieved in 2016. The kill ratio has favoured the SFs after 2015, in which year it stood at an adverse 1.09:1.
At least 354 Maoists were arrested in 2018, adding to 377 such arrests in 2017. At least 438 Maoists were arrested in 2016 and 230 in 2015. Mounting SF pressure also resulted in the surrender of 354 Maoists in 2018, in addition to 327 such surrenders in 2017. There were 1,210 surrenders in 2016 and 282 in 2015.
Several additional measures were taken during the course of 2018 to counter Maoist violence, in addition to the measures taken in the past. According to an August 5, 2018, report, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has taken responsibility, for the first time, to ensure the completion of a vital 4.5-kilometres stretch of an RCC (Roller Compacted Concrete) road between Bhairamgarh and Keshkutul in the southern Bijapur District. Significant improvements in Police capacity are also on record in the District. According to a September 18, 2018, report, two Police Stations – Bhopalpatnam and Madded – in Bijapur were found to be in accordance with the requirements of the Quality Management System International Standards Organisation (ISO) 9001:2015 certification [maintenance of law and order, prevention & detection of crime, establishing peace and tranquillity and achieving other policing activities]. Bastar range Inspector General of Police (IGP), Vivekanand Sinha disclosed,
|This is indeed a historic achievement for the Bastar police. For the first time the two Police Stations in any left-wing extremism (LWE) area in the country got the ISO certificates. The people-centric approach and the initiatives taken under community policing to win the heart and minds of masses by the Bastar Police were equally instrumental in achieving the given aim and people-friendly policing. Gradually we will see more Police Stations with such certification.|
Meanwhile, the newly-elected Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel in an interview published on December 26, 2018, stated,
|Guns are not the solution. But I don’t think we should be talking to Naxals [Left Wing Extremists]. I think we should be talking to the victims of Naxalism [Left Wing Extremism]. We need a political, economic and social approach. For 15 years, Raman Singh tried one path. Now, after Jammu and Kashmir, we have the maximum number of paramilitary forces in the country, in Bastar. From three blocks, Maoists are now in 15 districts in 15 years.|
On December 23, 2018, the Chief Minister Baghel had stated, “Naxal issue cannot be tackled with the barrel of gun” and “social-economic-political way is another route to solve the issue.” Earlier, on December 19, 2018, talking about his Government’s strategy towards Maoist violence, the Chief Minister had asserted that his Government was not interested in “figures of encounters and body count of Naxals” but is rather keen on initiating a dialogue with ‘all stakeholders’. He added that “the policy of bullet-for-bullet has failed miserably and it’s time to give a new thought to the issue.” The CM, however, categorically stated that “there is no question of withdrawing security forces (from Naxal-affected areas). Whatever system is going on, will be continued till further strategy is devised. The immediate withdrawal of forces can prove to be suicidal.” According to reports, around 65,000 SF personnel, including 45,000 Central Armed Police Forces and 20,000 state police personnel, were posted in seven districts of Bastar Division. Only 40 percent of the total posted personnel, i.e. around 26,000, would ordinarily be operationally deployed.
Though the Chief Minister has made ambiguous statements on the proposed anti-Naxal strategy, the newly-appointed Director General of Police (DGP), D.M. Awasthi, clearly declared, in a December 24, 2018 interview,
|The anti-Naxal [Left wing Extremism] operations will continue as intensely as they have been. If forces are attacked at the time of area domination, our jawans will retaliate for sure. A bullet for bullet strategy will continue right from Bastar to Surguja. Yet, Maoists will be persuaded to join mainstream. Chief Minister’s approach on talking with all the stakeholders in conflict zones is an appropriate strategy to encourage a secure environment.|
The huge voter turnout in the Maoists’ Bastar heartland in particular and across Chhattisgarh as well, clearly demonstrates that the Maoists have little ‘popular support’ in the State. This appears to have unsettled the rebel leadership and is one of the reasons that more and more civilians are being killed, to instil fear among the masses. Clearly, SFs will need to intensify operations, both to protect the civilian population, and also to ensure that the gains of the past are not frittered away in petty political games, as has been the case on occasion in the past.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management