India: Remains Of A Rebellion In Odisha – Analysis
By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On February 9, 2022, a 20-year-old youth, identified as Pranayaranjan Kanhar, was killed when he accidently stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), reportedly planted by Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres at Kiamunda village under Phiringia Police Station limits in the Kandhamal District.
On February 8, 2022, Maoists set ablaze two construction vehicles near the Kiamunda village in Kandhamal District. Posters and at least two banners were also found near the village. The banners threatened locals if they failed to observe a boycott of the upcoming Panchayat (village level local-self-Government institution) polls scheduled from February 16 to 24, in several Districts in the State.
On February 5, 2022, a journalist, identified as Rohit Kumar Biswal (43), a resident of Madanpur Town in Madanpur Rampur Block (administrative unit) in Kalahandi District, was killed in an IED explosion near the Karlakhunta Bridge in the Mohangiri area under the Madanpur Rampur Police Station limits in Kalahandi District. Biswal was working as a reporter for an Odia daily ‘Dharitri.’ The IED was reportedly planted by the Maoists to target Security Forces (SFs). In posters found at the explosion site, the ‘Kalahandi-Kandhamal-Boudh-Nayagarh (KKBN) division’ of the Maoists had appealed to the villagers to boycott the upcoming Panchayat polls.
On January 15, 2022, CPI-Maoist cadres killed a civilian identified as Ananda in Kerimiti village under Mahupadar Block in Malkangiri District. According to reports, a ‘Praja Court’ [people’s (kangaroo) court held by the Maoists] organized by the extremist group awarded the death penalty to Ananda, who was taken captive by the Maoists on January 13. He was allegedly beaten and tortured by the Maoists on January 14 and the ‘death sentence’ was pronounced on January 15. Ananda was then burnt alive.
According to partial data collated by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), three Left Wing Extremism (LWE) violence-linked fatalities (all civilians) have been recorded in the State in the current year (data till February 13, 2022). During the corresponding period in 2021, the State also accounted for three fatalities (two civilians and one Maoist).
Meanwhile, the trend of declining fatalities, on year-on-year basis, in LWE-linked violence has been established since 2016, with the exception in 2020, and continued through 2021. According to the SATP database, at least 11 persons, including three civilians and eight Maoists, were killed in the State in 2021, as against 23 persons, including four civilians, two SF personnel and 17 Maoists, killed in 2020, registering a significant decline of 52.17 per cent in overall fatalities. The fatalities recorded in 2021 were the lowest since 2005, when 16 were recorded. Significantly, at its peak in 2008, the State had registered a total of 133 fatalities, including 21 civilians, 77 SF personnel, 33 Maoists, and two deaths unspecified.
For the second consecutive year, civilian fatalities remained in single digits (three) in 2021. There were four fatalities in this category in 2020. For 13 consecutive years, between 2007 and 2019, Odisha recorded double-digit civilian fatalities. The highest number of civilian fatalities since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on LWE in India, in the State was in 2010, at 62.
Moreover, no SF fatality was recorded in 2021. There were two fatalities in this category in 2020. In 2008, 77 SF personnel were killed, the maximum in a year.
Eight Naxalites (Left Wing Extremists) were killed in 2021, in addition to 17 in 2020. At least four Naxalites were arrested in 2021, as against three in 2020. At least 21 Naxalites surrendered in 2021, and 22 in 2020.
We are hopeful and committed to make the State Maoist-free. We appeal to the ultras to lay down their arms and return to the social mainstream. The State Government’s rehabilitation policy is one of the best in the country.We are hopeful and committed to make the State Maoist-free. We appeal to the ultras to lay down their arms and return to the social mainstream. The State Government’s rehabilitation policy is one of the best in the country.Meanwhile, on February 7, 2021, the State Director General of Police (DGP), Abhay, stated,
Other parameters of violence are also indicative of the weakening influence and impact of the Maoists in the State. A total of 53 LWE-related incidents were recorded in 2021, as against 71 in 2020. One major incident (resulting in three or more fatalities) was recorded in 2021, as against two such incidents in 2020. Further, the Maoists were involved in four incidents of arson in 2020, which came down to one incident in 2021.
The dwindling strength and diminishing influence of the Maoists was also evident in the number of bandh (total shut down) calls given by the rebels in 2021 – just one – as against two such calls in 2020. At peak, at least 33 bandh calls were given by the extremists in 2011 alone.
An analysis of over ground and underground Maoist activities in Odisha also suggests a waning influence. According to SATP, in 2021, Maoist activities were reported from 10 Districts (Odisha has a total of 30 Districts). Six Districts (Bargarh, Bolangir, Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Malkangiri, and Rayagada), fell in the ‘moderately affected’ category, while the remaining four Districts (Koraput, Nabarangpur, Nuapada and Sundargarh) were ‘marginally affected.’ By comparison, in 2020, Maoist activities were reported from 12 Districts. Three Districts (Kalahandi, Kandhamal and Malkangiri) were ‘moderately affected’; while the remaining nine Districts (Bargarh, Bolangir, Ganjam, Koraput, Nabarangpur, Nuapada, Rayagada, Sambalpur, and Sundargarh) were ‘marginally affected’.
Yet, there are lingering worries. At least 10 Districts of the State – Bargarh, Bolangir, Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur, Nuapada, Rayagada, and Sundargarh – are still covered under the ‘Security Related Expenditure (SRE)’ scheme for conducting focused operations against the ultras, among 70 LWE-affected Districts in 10 States across the country, identified by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) for the scheme. Moreover, three Districts – Kalahandi, Kandhamal and Malkangiri – are included in the ‘25 Most Affected Districts’ in eight States across India. Koraput is classified as a ‘District of Concern,’ along with another seven Districts in five States.
Despite the visible and dramatic improvements, with the commencement of the ‘Peoples Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) Week’ observed by the CPI-Maoist, the Odisha State Road Transport Corporation suspended bus services on 14 out of 17 routes in Jeypore in Koraput District, and on six routes in Rayagada District, for security reasons. The ‘PLGA Week’ is observed by the Maoists from December 2 to 8, every year.
It is significant that three civilians have already been killed in the current year, amidst the Maoist campaign against the upcoming Panchayat elections.
They are already on the back foot due to continuous anti-Maoist operations launched by the Odisha Police. They are finding it really difficult to gather any support from the locals and tribals. People need not fear. The police are always with them to protect. We are extra cautious for the Panchayat Polls, so the people should come out to vote in a large number.
A February 11, 2022, report, indicated that the Odisha Police would be using drones to track any movement by Naxalites and, if required, helicopters would also be used in certain places to ensure peaceful Panchayat polls. On February 8, 2022, Satyabrata Bhoi, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Southern Range, assured the people living in the ‘Red corridors’ of the State not to be intimidated by the poll boycott call given by the Maoists. Asserting SF dominance over the ultras, he declared,
In addition to several measures taken over the past years, the State Government launched some new initiatives on the security front through 2021. To maximise network connectivity in inaccessible areas, the Department of Telecom (DoT) sanctioned 483 mobile towers with 4G features on October 27, 2021, to be set up by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) in nine Districts of Odisha, based on the recommendations of the State Government under the LWE Phase-II projects, with financial support from the Government of India. Around 256 mobile towers have already been installed in 22 Districts in the State. The absence of mobile connectivity in Maoist bastions hinders intelligence sharing to counter the Naxal menace. A mobile phone network is necessary to gather information about extremists as well as to keep a track of their movements. Network connectivity is being provided to help the SFs maintain easy access to communication facilities, as well as to State Police agencies, inside Naxalite-dominated areas in poor network zones.
The State does face a persistent deficit in its Police strength. According to Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, the State had a Police-population ratio (Policemen per hundred thousand population), as on January 1, 2020, of 129.31, significantly lower than the sanctioned strength of 146.36, as well as than the national average of 155.78. The Civil Police/Area Ratio (number of Civil Policemen per 100 square kilometers) is also at 16.84, below the sanctioned strength of 19.53, and significantly below the national average of 40.58. Moreover, at least 7,706 Police posts were vacant, against a sanctioned strength of 66,616 – a deficit of 11.64 per cent. 72 posts of apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers were also vacant, against a sanctioned strength of 195 – a 36.92 per cent deficit, considerably weakening executive direction of the Force.
According to a February 11, 2022, report, 30 companies of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and 48 companies of Border Security Force (BSF) are currently deployed in the State to fight the Naxalites. The BSF has established a new Company Operating Base (COB) at Ghanabeda village under the Panaspur Panchayat in Chitrakonda Block in Malkangiri District, on the Odisha-Andhra Pradesh border, on December 10, 2021. With this, a total of four COBs have been set up along the Odisha-Andhra Pradesh border.
Odisha has done incredibly well in the fight against the Naxalites over the past years, but the Naxalites not yet a spent force, yet. Strengthening the necessary administrative, developmental and security outreach, and addressing critical security deficits, will help contain the remaining threat.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management