By Indrajit Sharma*
On September 4, 2020, four civilians were hacked to death by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres in the Gangaloor area of Bijapur District in Chhattisgarh. The Maoists called a group of 20 villagers, who were supporting the construction work inside a forest, to a jan adalat (Maoist people’s/Kangaroo court) held in the village. The jan adalat branded four of the 20 villagers called for the ‘adalat’ as ‘police informers’ and ‘sentenced them to death’, while the remaining 16 villagers were assaulted and released later.
On September 3, 2020, the Maoists strangulated two civilians to death in the Dudi Tumnar village of Bijapur District. In a pamphlet recovered from the incident site, the Maoists claimed that a ‘jan adalat’ held in the village found them to be ‘police informers’ and ‘sentenced them to death’. Three women and two girls, who were accompanying the deceased, were also assaulted by the rebels before being released.
On February 6, 2020, a civilian was hacked to death in the Badli village of Bijapur District. The report stated that the Maoists had earlier warned Dhaniram to end any contact with the Police. Suspecting that he had not paid heed to the warnings, the Maoists killed him.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Bijapur has recorded eight civilian fatalities in 2020 (data till September 13). During the corresponding period of 2019, the District had accounted for five civilian fatalities. In the remaining period of 2019, there another three civilians were killed in the District.
Worryingly, fatalities in the civilian category in the District have been increasing since 2018, when there were seven fatalities, as against three recorded in 2017 – the lowest since 2007, when Bijapur was carved out as a separate District from Dantewada. Civilian fatalities, which witnessed cyclical trends till 2012, had registered a constant decline between 2013 and 2017.
Significantly, Bijapur accounted for a total of 182 civilian fatalities since May 11, 2007, when it was formed (data till September 13, 2020). During this period, only West Medinipur (West Bengal) saw a larger number of civilian fatalities, 427, than Bijapur. During this entire period, a total of 111 Districts across 11 States recorded civilian fatalities in Maoist violence.
Also, though the overall Security Force (SF): Maoist kill ratio stands at 1:1.40 in favour of the SFs, it favours the Maoists in the current year, at 1.6:1. In 2019, the ratio was also in favour of the Maoists at 1.4:1. Prior to that it was way back in 2011 that the ratio favoured the Maoists at 1.28:1.
During the period May 11, 2007, to September 13, 2020, Bijapur has accounted for a total of 236 fatalities among Security Force (SF) personnel, second only to Dantewada, which registered the killing of 311 SF personnel. During this entire period, a total of 67 Districts across 11 States saw fatalities in the SF category in Maoist violence.
The Maoists have been perturbed by their losses due to the effectiveness of specific intelligence-based operations by SFs between 2016 and 2018, during which period they lost 110 cadres, while there were 27 fatalities in the SF category, resulting in SF: Maoist kill ratio of 1:4.07. The Maoists have lost a total of 331 cadres since the creation of the district.
According to a June 26, 2020, report the Maoists organized a three-day program (June 18-20) in the remote villages at the border of Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur Districts in the State. Around 10,000 people reportedly attended the gathering, which was addressed by top Maoist leaders, including Nambala Keshav Rao aka Basavaraj, CPI-Maoist ‘general secretary’; Mandavi Hidma, head of the CPI-Maoist ‘battalion number 1’; ‘Central Committee (CC)’ members, Kosa aka Kadari Satyanarayan Reddy and P. Tirupathi aka Devji; and senior woman Maoist leader, Sujata aka Moyna. An unnamed Police officer said,
During the meeting, a senior-level discussion took place over the successor of Maoist leader Ravula Srinivas aka Ramanna (56), who died on December 09, 2019, and was in charge of Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC). A review meeting of the ‘Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign’ (TCOC) also took place.
Reportedly, the Maoist leadership is yet to find Ramanna’s replacement as two ‘CC’ members of the organization – Ramakrishna, currently ‘secretary of Andhra Orissa Border (AOB) committee’, and Ganesh Uike aka Saka Hanumanthu, a ‘DKSZC member’ – have declined the offer to head the DKSZC citing advancing age. Following this, to fill the void, the Maoists, as reported on January 10, 2020, made Madkam Hidma, a leader hailing from Sukma District in south Bastar, state in-charge of the CPI-Maoist’s militia actions.
Meanwhile, the Maoists are becoming more brutal, as evident from the recent killings, as they are facing opposition from locals. Indeed, an unnamed Police officer asserted on September 5, 2020,
As there has been more lodging of cases and villagers are coming out to report against them, the Maoists are trying to instil fear among villagers. They want the villagers to not cooperate with or join the Police. There is no clarity among Maoists whether to proceed militarily or increase mass support in Bastar. And also, there is a gradual deterioration in command and control of Maoists, thus resulting in indiscipline among cadres… cadres take decisions themselves without permission from seniors.
Corroborating the fact, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Sundarraj Patilingam, on September 6, 2020, observed,
The Maoists are afraid of the entry of security forces in their core areas in Bijapur, Dantewada, and Sukma. They have been killing and thrashing innocent tribals out of frustration.
Further, on September 10, the IGP Sundarraj, stated,
Under the pressure of present circumstances, Maoists are struggling to retain their supremacy and in order to satisfy a senior Maoist commander, the lower cadres are killing civilians…
Meanwhile, the security agencies have taken certain measures. Apart from killing five Maoists, including a ‘section commander’, in 2020, the SFs have arrested 20 Maoists in the current year (data till September 13) in addition to 29 in 2019. Five Maoists were killed in 2019.
On September 4, 2020, Chhattisgarh Director General of Police (DGP), DM Awasthi, asserted,
Anti-Naxal [Left Wing Extremism] operations will be intensified in the next three months. In core areas like Sukma, Dantewada, and Bijapur of Bastar division, operations should be launched with complete planning. Along with Naxals, actions should also be taken against their supporters. To expedite operations, construction of bridges and culvert should be done at a rapid pace in Maoist-hit areas.
More recently on September 4, 2020, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel in a letter to the Union Minister for Home Affairs Amit Shah urged the construction of roads, bridges, and culverts with pre-fabricated materials and advanced technology in the Bastar Division to speed up infrastructure projects in the region.
The Maoists, after having faced continuous setbacks in the District, are struggling to regain their hold. In this pursuit, they have become more brutal towards the locals, in an effort to instill terror. It is imperative that the SFs intensify their aggressive operations to ensure that the Maoists fail in this renewed attempt at revival.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management