By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On January 4, 2022, former Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Manoharpur, Gurucharan Nayak, narrowly escaped a Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) attack. However, the Maoists slit the throats of his two Police bodyguards and snatched their AK-47 rifles, before escaping from the spot in Jheelruwa village, under Goilkera Police Station limits, in West Singhbhum District. According to reports, Nayak had just attended a football match in Jheelruwa village as the chief guest. Soon after the match, the Maoists, who were in the crowd, suddenly attacked Nayak.
No other Left-Wing Extremism (LWE)-linked fatality has been recorded in the State in the current year, thus far (data till January 16, 2022).
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 25 fatalities, including 11 civilians, six Security Force (SF) personnel and eight Naxalites (Left Wing Extremists), were recorded in Jharkhand in LWE-linked violence in 2021, as against 28 such fatalities, including eight civilians, two SF personnel and 18 Naxalites, in 2020. This is the lowest number of overall fatalities recorded in the State since 2001. (Jharkhand was formed on November 15, 2000). The previous low of 28 was recorded in 2020. Overall fatalities in the State have been declining since 2016, barring 2019. A total of 82 fatalities were recorded in 2016, 58 in 2017, 53 in 2018, and 64 in 2019. A peak of 200 fatalities was recorded in 2009.
Worryingly, however, fatalities among civilians in 2021 increased by 37.5 per cent, as compared to 2020, from eight to 11. Nevertheless, civilian fatalities in 2021 have been the second lowest in a year since 2001. The fatalities in this category in 2020 were the lowest. A peak of 79 fatalities was recorded in this category in 2011.
Fatalities among SFs also spiked, from two in 2020 to six in 2021. The 2020 SF fatalities were the lowest in the category recorded in the State during the course of a year since 2001. A peak of 77 SF fatalities was recorded in 2002.
On the other hand, LWE fatalities fell by 55.55 per cent, as compared to 2020, from 18 to eight. LWE fatalities through 2021, at eight, were the lowest number of recorded in the State during the course of a year, since 2001. A peak of 61 fatalities in this category was recorded twice, in 2008 and 2009.
Clearly, though, the SFs:LWEs kill ratio remained in favor of the SFs once again in 2021, as in 2020, it deteriorated, from 1:9 to 1:1.3, indicating some resurgence of LWE activities, albeit marginal.
Nevertheless, at least 141 LWEs were arrested in 2021 as against 92 such arrests in 2020. At least 69 LWEs were arrested in 2019 and 157 in 2018. Mounting SF pressure also resulted in the surrender of 17 LWEs in 2021, as against 11 such surrenders in 2020. There were 11 surrenders in 2019 and 23 in 2018.
As with the fall in overall fatalities and incidents of killing (from 24 to 22), other parameters of violence also registered a declining trend. At least nine incidents of arson carried out against civilian construction companies were recorded in 2021, as against 12 in 2020. Moreover, one major incident (involving three or more killings) was recorded in 2021, as against two such incidents in 2020.
More significantly, the number of Districts from where killings were reported also decreased. Out of a total of 24 Districts in Jharkhand, fatalities were reported from seven in 2021: West Singhbhum (nine); Gumla (five); Latehar (four); Lohardaga (three); Palamu (two); and Chatra and Hazaribagh (one each). 13 Districts recorded such fatalities in 2020 – West Singhbhum (11); Chatra and Gumla (three each); Lohardaga (two); and Bokaro, Giridih, Hazaribagh, Khunti, Koderma, Latehar, Ranchi, Simdega and Seraikela Kharsawan (one each).
Meanwhile, according to SATP data for 2021, based on assessments of underground and over-ground activities of the Naxalites, seven districts – West Singhbhum, Gumla, Latehar, Lohardaga, Palamu, Chatra and Hazaribagh – remained moderately affected; while, eight districts – Bokaro, Deoghar, Garhwa, Giridih, Khunti, Ramgarh, Ranchi and Seraikela Kharsawan – were in the marginally affected category. In 2020, West Singhbhum had been flagged as highly affected; while, 12 districts – Bokaro, Chatra, Giridih, Gumla, Hazaribagh, Khunti, Koderma, Latehar, Lohardaga, Ranchi, Simdega and Seraikela Kharsawan – were moderately affected; and, six districts – Deoghar, Dumka, Dhanbad, East Singhbhum, Palamu, and Ramgarh – were marginally affected.
According to the latest available government data, Chatra, Gumla, Latehar, Lohardaga, and West Singhbhum, are among the 25 Most Affected Districts from eight States across India, identified by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA). Moreover, Garhwa is among eight districts from six States which are classified as ‘Districts of Concern’. Further, Hazaribagh and Palamu are covered under the ‘Security Related Expenditure (SRE)’ scheme which underwrites focused operations against the ultras, among 70 LWE-affected Districts in 10 States across the country under the scheme.
Significantly, the State saw the waning impact of prominent splinter groups of the CPI-Maoist, with the power of the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), Jharkhand Jan Mukti Parishad (JJMP), and other CPI-Maoist splinters, visibly diminished. There are around 19 LWE groups operating in Jharkhand.
The Naxalites, however, continue to make efforts to restore their influence. On September 30, 2021, Union Minister for Heavy Industries Mahendra Nath Pandey expressed concern over a “spurt” in CPI-Maoist activities and “loot” of mineral reserves in Jharkhand, adding,
Extremism and Naxalism [Left Wing Extremism] have started spreading its tentacles in the state, and freedom is also being granted to loot mineral reserves.
According to a July 7, 2021, report, CPI-Maoist is planning to challenge SFs in Jharkhand with a new strategy, and has issued a 14-page booklet detailing their plans. According to the booklet released by the CPI-Maoist ‘Central Committee,’ the Naxalites are preparing to set up base camps in East Bihar, Northeast Jharkhand and the Dandakaranya regions, and are increasing the strength of the organization as well as expanding their base. Moreover, a December 2, 2021, report, indicated that the Maoists had come out with an open advertisement for recruitment, and handwritten posters and pamphlets had been pasted and distributed in the bordering areas of Bihar and Jharkhand, calling for applications to join the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA). CPI-Maoist has also asked people to come forward and submit their applications against the vacancies announced in schools, Anganwadi Centres and Panchayat Bhavans (village level local self-Government institution buildings).
The Government has launched several initiatives to counter the Maoist thrust, including efforts to fast-track development. Responding to a demand by the Singhbhum Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Ashok Bhalotia to set up heavy industries in the State, Minister Pandey expressed his keenness to develop Jamshedpur as an auto hub, declaring,
All possible steps will be taken to revive heavy industries, including the Heavy Engineering Corporation Ltd, in the State. The Central Government has been implementing various programmes to encourage industries under the Production Linked Incentive Scheme, and it has a provision of about INR 570 billion for setting up auto and auto component units in the country.
On October 12, 2021, the Central Government sanctioned the construction of as many as 233 roads across Jharkhand with an allocation of INR 13.96 billion, in order to improve connectivity in the Naxal hit areas of the State. Under the scheme a total of 1,753.77 kilometers road will be constructed, in addition to 71 bridges. The road infrastructure will be developed in the ‘aspirational districts’ of Jharkhand.
On the security front, pursuing the two-pronged strategy against Naxals – penetrating deeper into Naxalite strongholds and setting up security camps, the Forces are eyeing a target of setting up as many as six Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) in Jharkhand. Besides these six bases, the Government is also mulling a several other camps in the State. The idea is to corner the Maoists by establishing a grid of new Police and paramilitary camps to cut down the area of Maoist influence to a minimum, and then go out after the top Maoist leaders.
Deficits in the Police, nevertheless, persist. According to the latest data provided by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), the State had a police-population ratio (policemen per hundred thousand population), as on January 1, 2020, of 172.18, significantly lower than the sanctioned strength of 218.15, though much higher than the national average of 155.78. The ratio was 181.14 per 100,000, while, the national average was 158.22 on January 1, 2019. Similarly, total Police per 100 square kilometers of area, was 81.34, significantly lower than the sanctioned strength of 103.05, which is higher than the national average of 63.63. The ratio was 78.79, while, the national average was 62.88 on January 1, 2019. Moreover, the State continues to suffer other significant deficits in the strength and quality of the State Police Force. According to BPR&D data, there was a vacancy of 17,339 personnel, against the sanctioned strength of 82,277 in the State. Moreover, of a sanctioned strength of 149 apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State, 28 posts remained vacant, considerably weakening executive direction of the Force.
Manifestly, Naxals in the State has largely been confined in their erstwhile areas of influence, however, there is need for continuing vigilance. Further strengthening and amplification of the SFs, and proper implementation of several developmental measures, will be necessary to push away the Naxalites for an enduring peace.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management