By Mrinal Kanta Das*
A ‘commander’ of the Jagargunda ‘area committee’ of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), identified as Kunjam Linga (22), carrying a reward money of INR 100,000 on his head, was killed in an encounter with a joint team of Security Force (SF) personnel in the forests of Chintagufa Police Station area in the Sukma District on February 4, 2016. In another incident, on the same day, an unidentified CPI-Maoist cadre was killed in an exchange of fire with personnel of the District Reserve Group (DRG) in the forested hills of Korli under the Mardum Police Station limits in the Bastar District.
On February 2, 2015, a CPI-Maoist cadre was killed in an encounter with SF personnel in the forests of Kesekodi under the Koyalibeda Police Station limits in the Kanker District. One SLR rifle and some magazines were recovered from the encounter site.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the Chhattisgarh has already recorded 29 fatalities in Maoist-related violence in 2016 (data till February 14). Significantly, at least 27 of these have been Maoists killed in SF action. On the other hand, the Maoists inflicted a single fatality on the SFs, though one civilian was killed by them on January 30, 2016. The body of the victim, identified as Hidma, was found lying in a pool of blood on the outskirts of his native village, Madiyaras Korra, in Sukma District. The villager had been abducted by the Maoists from a local market on January 28 for refusing to join their ranks.
According to the SATP database, a total of 777 Maoists have been killed in the State since 2005, as against 871 SF personnel, a ratio of 1:1.12 in favour of the rebels. Against this backdrop, the current reversal of fortunes is, indeed, remarkable. Significantly, 84 Maoists have already been arrested by SFs in the current year, in addition to the 221 arrested through 2015, and 414 in 2014. Another 150 Maoists have surrendered in the current year. 279 Maoists had surrendered in 2015 and 385 in 2014.
The SFs to Maoists killed ratio was in favour of SFs in 2015 as well, when 45 Maoist cadres were killed, as against 41 SF personnel. This was a huge improvement over 2014, when 55 SF personnel lost their lives, as against 33 Maoists. 2014 was, in fact, an aberration in an otherwise positive trend in favour of SFs since 2011. Crucially, to help SFs in their operations, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) base was finally set up in Bhilai in Chhattisgarh on March 1, 2015.
Significantly, the recent battering of the Maoists would not have been possible without the DRG. Dubbed the “sons of the soil” because its personnel are recruited from among local Koya (tribal) youth and surrendered Maoists, DRG attracted a lot of attention for its well executed strikes in Maoist ‘heartland’ areas including Abujhmad in Narayanpur District and south Sukma, the so called Maoist ‘capital’. DRG was raised over time in seven Districts of Bastar, first in Kanker and Narayanpur in 2008; and after a gap of five years in Bijapur and Bastar Districts in 2013.
Commenting on DRG’s recent successes, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Bastar Range, S. R. P. Kalluri observed, “They are emotionally attached to the region as they belong to this place. They are familiar with the culture, ethos and language of people. Having a bond with the tribals, they are better mentally-conditioned to handle them.”
According to media reports, DRG carried out 644 anti-Maoist operations in 2015, both individually and in coordination with other State Forces. In 2016, so far, DRG has executed 144 operations with one SF casualty.
Though the SFs had a slight upper hand against the Maoists through 2015, the State accounted for a higher number of civilian killings. 2015 saw 34 civilians killed in Chhattisgarh, as against 25 in 2014, an increase of 36 per cent. The State also recorded the highest number of civilian deaths among all Maoist-affected States in the country in 2015, followed by Odisha at 20. Chhattisgarh was up at the first position in civilian fatalities for the first time since 2013 when, the State, along with Jharkhand, recorded 48 civilian deaths each in Maoist violence. Civilian fatalities in Jharkhand were down to 16 in 2015.
Again, in terms of overall fatalities, Chhattisgarh secured the ‘first position’ in 2015, with 120 fatalities, including 34 civilians, 41 SF personnel and 45 Maoists. Jharkhand, with 58 fatalities, including 16 civilians, five SF personnel and 37 Maoists, stood a distant second. Total fatalities in Chhattisgarh through 2014 were 113, including 25 civilians, 55 SF personnel and 33 Maoists.
Moreover, Chhattisgarh alone accounted for 47.80 per cent of total Maoist-related fatalities across the country. 251 persons were killed across India in Maoist related incidents in 2015, of which 120 were in Chhattisgarh. Out of a total of 93 civilians killed across India in such violence, 34 were reported from Chhattisgarh (36.55 per cent); and out of 57 SF fatalities across India 41 (71 per cent) were reported from Chhattisgarh. It is clear that an overwhelming proportion of Maoist linked violence is located in Chhattisgarh and the State remains the nerve centre of the Maoist movement .
Among the Maoist afflicted regions of the country Chhattisgarh’s Bastar Division continues to be the most violent. Of the 14 major incidents in 2015 (each resulting in three or more fatalities) eight were reported from this region alone. Further, three Districts of Bastar – Sukma, Bijapur and Dantewada – have contributed more than 75 per cent of all incidents of killing in the State since 2012.
Among other patterns of violence in Chhattisgarh, the Maoists orchestrated 33 incidents of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blasts, as against five such incidents in 2014; 17 abduction incidents, including two panchayat (village level self government institution) members and eight Police personnel, against one such incident in 2014; 18 arson incidents in 2015 against four such incidents in 2014; and 52 exchange of fire incidents in 2015, against 56 such incidents in 2014.
Though Maoist violence has seen tremendous decline in the State in particular and India at large, in terms of fatalities , the Maoists continue to exercise significant influence. Indeed, on September 27, 2015, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Director General (DG) Prakash Mishra asserted that the Maoists’ writ still runs across large swathes of territory in south Chhattisgarh, posing the “biggest challenge” for SFs deployed for anti-Maoist operations: “South Chhattisgarh continues to pose the biggest challenge for Security Forces where almost 11,000 square kilometres has no presence of Security Forces, which gives Maoists the liberty to unleash their free reign (sic). However, it is only a matter of time before the void is filled.”
As recent as on February 11, 2016, the Maoists detonated five serial IED blasts and fired indiscriminately at a team of the Chhattisgarh Armed Force (CAF) in Bijapur District, though no one was injured in the incident. On February 12, 2016, the Maoists orchestrated an IED blast in which a CRPF trooper was injured in Bijapur District. Earlier, on February 1, two Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) personnel were injured in an IED explosion triggered by the Maoists in Kanker District.
Amidst this simmering violence, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister (CM) Raman Singh complained to Union Home Minister (UHM) Rajnath Singh that there is “no cooperation” from the Telangana Government in the fight against the Maoists in the Bastar region. Officials disclosed that Raman Singh also described Odisha’s cooperation as ‘moderate’, while he praised “active participation” by Maharashtra. The Chief Minister also had a host of complaints against the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, the Road Transport and Highways Ministry, the Telecom Department and the Environment Ministry. He argued that there had been “no progress” in increasing the capacity and reach of radio networks in Bastar — even the Prime Minister’s ‘Mann ki Baat’ programme hardly reached the remote areas of Bastar. The Chief Minister also complained of “slow progress” in the installation of mobile towers, especially in Sukma District near CRPF camps, and asked for supply of more helicopters and UAVs by the Centre.
Anti-Maoist Operations in Chhattisgarh are presently delicately balanced. Effective coordination with neighbouring States is imperative if the Maoist threat is to be neutralized, even as the support and cooperation of the Centre remains decisive. While the Maoists have been immensely weakened, K. Vijay Kumar, the Special Security Adviser of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on March 11, 2015, rightly noted, “This is a sign that two-third violence has come down. But that does not mean that they (Maoists) are incapable of causing hiccups and giving surprises.” The Maoists are in no mood to relent, and their capacity to bounce back has been repeatedly demonstrated in the past. Current state successes create opportunities for consolidation, but if these are neglected due to the fractious relations between States and jurisdictional tensions, this would provide the necessary space for Maoist survival, if not a revival.
* Mrinal Kanta Das
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management