By Mrinal Kanta Das*
Four Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres, including the ‘intelligence chief’ of Bhairamgarh unit of the party, were killed in an encounter with the Security Forces (SFs) near Hallur and Hakawa villages under the Mirtur Police Station limits in Bijapur District on November 13, 2015. The Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP), Bijapur, Indira Kalyan Elesela, disclosed, “Acting on a specific tip-off from the Intelligence Bureau (IB) about the possible major attack planned by Maoists in the region, a joint team of Bijapur District Police force and specially trained District Reserve Guards (DRG) launched the search operation. Close to Hallur, the rebels opened fire on the forces. In the ensuing gun-battle, four Maoists, including the head of intelligence wing of Bhairamgarh unit, identified as Rainu, were killed.” Rainu carried a reward of INR 5,000,00 on his head. Following the hour-long gunfight, the bodies of four Maoists were recovered from the encounter site along with their weapons. “The police found a pistol, two rifles and a 12 bore gun from the spot,” ASP Elesela added.
Earlier, on November 6, 2015, another Maoist was killed in a gun-battle with SFs in Bijapur District. The encounter took place under Basaguda Police Station limits. After the encounter, SFs found the body of the Maoist in uniform, a gun and two pipe bombs.
Further, three Maoists were killed by SFs in Sukma District on November 3. A gun battle ensued when a group of Maoists opened indiscriminate fire on a joint team of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), Special Task Force (STF) and the State’s District Reserve Group (DRG), who were conducting anti-Maoist operation in the region. SFs retaliated and the confrontation lasted for around two hours. SFs recovered bodies of the three Maoists along with two rifles from the spot.
These incidents, coming after the killing of Sonadhar, the ‘secretary’ of the CPI-Maoist’s Kanger Valley ‘area committee’ in the Malkangiri District of Odisha on September 19, 2015; the killing of two Maoists in an encounter in Warangal District in Telangana on September 15; and the arrest of seven Maoist explosive suppliers in Chhattisgarh on September 25 – all suggesting better intelligence flows from the Maoists’ ‘core areas’ – give the impression of a steady consolidation of gains by SFs in the Bastar area of Chhattisgarh, the nerve centre of Maoist counter offensive operations.
Nevertheless, trends in fatalities would suggest a measure of caution.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, as of November 15, 2015, Chhattisgarh had recorded a total of a 102 fatalities, including 29 civilians, 40 SF personnel and 33 Maoists in Left Wing Extremist (LWE)-related incidents. A total of 113 fatalities, including 25 civilians, 55 SF personnel and 33 Maoists had been killed in 2014, indicating a ‘shortfall’ of 11 in the current year, with a month and a half to go. While civilian and Maoist fatalities are already comparable, the lower SF fatalities may be deceptive, as the Bastar region remains a very active theatre of conflict. Moreover, the tally of 40 SF personnel killed in Chhattisgarh is enormously disproportionate, as the total all India SF fatality in LWE violence through 2015 stands at 56 till date [all data till November 15, 2015].
The cyclical pattern of violence in 2015 is significant. In the first bout of killings, the Maoists went on a rampage and killed 10 civilians and 24 SF personnel, and lost six of their own cadres between January and April. SFs intensified their anti-Maoist operations, eliminating 11 Maoists and losing five of their own personnel in June-July 2015, while one civilian was killed by the Maoists. Further, in September and October, eight civilians and five SF personnel were killed by the Maoists, who lost just three of their cadres. Since November 3, however, the Maoists have lost eight of their cadres, and one civilian has been killed by the Maoists.
Further, the surrender of Sannu Poyam with his wife Maini Majhi, on October 22, 2015, with an AK-47 rifle and other weapons, confirms the trend of Maoist desertions. Sannu was a ‘commander’ of ‘platoon 13’ and carried reward of INR 800,000 on his head. Similarly, Maini performed the role of a doctor for the Bhairamgarh Local Guerrilla Squad (LGS) in Bijapur, and carried a reward of INR 100,000. Speaking to the media after his surrender, Sannu asserted that he was ‘hurt’ when a ‘divisional committee member’ of the Bhairamgarh ‘area committee’, Santosh Anna, was hanged to death in front of his own villagers in a Jan Adalat (people’s court) in 2013. Andhra Pradesh Maoists had accused Santosh of supporting surrenders before the Police and ‘sentenced’ him to death.
Earlier, on August 11, 2015, five hardcore Maoists including two women, carrying cash rewards of INR 1.9 million in all, surrendered with weapons before Kanker Superintendent of Police (SP) Jitendra Meena. Maoists cited exploitation of lower rank cadres by senior Maoist leaders of Andhra Pradesh as the reason for surrendering. Meena stated that Juri Gawde alias Basantin surrendered with an INSAS rifle; Ramsai Dugga, ‘commander’ of platoon number 5 under the ‘North Bastar division’ surrendered with an AK-47; Nilap Usendi alias Milap surrendered with an AK-47; Manki, ‘commander’ of the East Charagaon Local Organisational Squad (LOS) surrendered with a 12 bore gun; and Juru Salam, ‘chief’ of a local Jantana Sarkar (People’ Government).
There is growing tension and conflict within Maoist ranks. A recent media report suggested that a key Maoist leader identified as Vinod, who played a crucial role in the 2013 Maoist ambush on the Congress convoy in the Jiram Valley in Bastar District on May 25, 2013, in which 31 people were killed, is believed to have been taken hostage by his colleagues. Vinod, who heads the Kanger Valley ‘area committee’, a CPI-Maoist unit functioning in the Darbha region in the Bastar District, has been kept under 24-hour-vigil by Maoist cadres at a Maoist camp in the forest, when the local Maoist leadership got to know about his apparent bid to surrender before the Police to get medical treatment. Vinod was said to have been grievously wounded in an encounter with SFs at Chandameta in Bastar District on October 8, 2015, but managed to flee the spot with the help of his colleagues. A number of similar incidents of detention of their own cadres by the Maoists have been reported earlier.
The Chhattisgarh Police has also detected and neutralized a Maoist urban support network in July, 2015, with the arrest of five people including a Raipur-based scrap businessman, from separate places. Dantewada SP Kamlochan Kashyap disclosed that, based on intelligence inputs, businessman Arun Agrawal and his accountant Balaram were arrested from Raipur Airport in the night of July 25 when they were trying to flee, while three Maoist cadres were apprehended from Bhansi Police Station limits in Dantewada District: “Agarwal is said to be in close contact with a prominent Maoist of the Western Bastar Division Committee called Commander Sanjay alias Mohan Kadti. He often supplied detonators, explosives, generators, welding machines and other materials to the Maoists.”
In response to their perceived organizational weaknesses and inability to contain flows of information, the Maoists have increased IED blasts targeting the SFs in the State. There have already been 29 IED blasts in 2015, as against five in 2014. IEDs have increasingly been planted on footpaths in jungles targeting SF personnel who are moving on foot after being repeatedly targeted with huge IED explosions on motorable roads.
In other recent incidents of violence, the Maoists set ablaze 29 vehicles near the Chargaon mines in Kanker District on October 30, 2015. A group of 60 to 70 Maoists thrashed some drivers and cleaners before setting fire to their vehicles, resulting in injuries to many. The Maoists also set ablaze a passenger bus in the Bhopalpatnam Block of Bijapur District on the same day. No one was hurt in the incident as the Maoists asked the passengers to alight before setting the bus on fire. The Maoists also left pamphlets appealing for a ‘Bhopalpatnam Bandh’ (shutdown strike) in protest against the arrest of Maoist leader Bhima Singh.
The Maoists have suffered stinging reverses, but Bastar is a region where the Maoists had made occasional claims to have entered the ‘mobile warfare’ stage of their revolution. Their surviving capacities in the Bastar Division remain significant, and it would be a mistake to believe that the SFs have made gains that will automatically be held. Indeed, it is only a redoubling of efforts, with enormous administrative initiatives to address enormous welfare and developmental deficits in this area that can ensure a gradual consolidation of the state, and the progressive marginalization of rebel elements.
* Mrinal Kanta Das
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management