By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On April 18, 2020, a Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadre was killed in an exchange of fire with Security Forces (SFs) in the forests of Chintalnar-Mundwal villages under Puspal Police Station limits in the Sukma District of Chhattisgarh. The slain Maoist, identified as Podiyam Kama aka Nagesh, a native of the Bhejji area of Sukma, was active as an ‘Area Committee Member (ACM)’ of the CPI-Maoist ‘Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC)’, and carried a cash reward of INR 500,000 on his head.
On April 17, 2020, a civilian was killed and another injured when they were caught in an exchange of fire between the CPI-Maoist cadres and SFs in a forested area near Otkalpada village under Modakpal Police Station limits in Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh.
On April 16, 2020, a Policeman identified as Ramesh Kursam was hacked to death by CPI-Maoist cadres at Farsegarh village in Bhairamgarh Tehsil (revenue unit) in Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh. Ramesh had been missing since April 14, 2020, and his slain body multiple injuries apparently inflicted with sharp-edged weapons was found by local villagers on the outskirt of Farsegarh village. A leaflet purportedly written by the Maoists was also recovered from the spot claiming responsibility for the killing.
On the same day, a CPI-Maoist cadre was killed in an exchange of fire with SFs in a forested area under the Mirtur Police Station limits in Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh. The identity of the slain Maoist is yet to be ascertained.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), there have been a total of 61 fatalities (18 civilians, 25 SF personnel, and 18 Naxalites, Left Wing Extremists) in Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-linked violence in the current year (data till April 19, 2020). During the corresponding period of 2019, the number of such fatalities stood at 81 (22 civilians, 12 SF personnel, and 47 Naxalites).
Through 2019, there were a total of 302 fatalities (99 civilians, 49 SF personnel, and 154 Naxalites) in such violence. In the preceding year (2018), there were a total of 412 fatalities (108 civilians, 73 SF personnel, and 231 Naxalites). The overall fatalities in 2019 were the third lowest recorded in a year since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on LWE. The lowest total of 256 fatalities (90 civilians, 56 SF personnel, and 110 Naxalites), was recorded in 2015, followed by 278 fatalities (94 civilians, 40 SF personnel, 135 Naxalites and nine unspecified), in 2000. A peak of 1,1179 fatalities were recorded in 2010.
The number of overall LWE-linked incidents also fell from 781 in 2018 to 673 in 2019. Incidents of killing also came down from 217 in 2018 to 176 in 2019. 26 of the 176 overall incidents of killing were major incidents (involving three or more fatalities) in 2019. In 2018, the number of major incidents was 28. Resultant fatalities from major incidents declined from 157 (eight civilians, 36 SF personnel, and 113 Naxalites) in 2018 to 122 (nine civilians, 39 SF personnel, and 74 Naxalites) in 2019.
Significantly, fatalities among civilians registered a drop of 8.33 per cent, from 108 in 2018 to 99 in 2019. The latest round of continuous decline in this category has remained uninterrupted since 2016, when 122 were killed. A high of 628 civilian fatalities were recorded in 2010.
SFs suffered 49 fatalities in 2019 as against 73 in 2018, a decline of 32.87 per cent. There were 76 fatalities in this category in 2017. In 2010, 267 SF personnel were killed, the maximum in a year
The SF:Maoist kill ratio remained significantly in favour of the SFs in 2019 at 1:3.14. In 2018, the ratio was at 1:3.16. The ratio has remined in favour of the SFs since 2011, when it was at 1:1.53. In 2010, the SF: Maoist kill ratio was at 1.01:1, favouring the rebels. Since March 6, 2000, the overall kill ratio has been in favour of the SFs (1:1.53).
According to SATP data, SFs arrested 410 LWEs in 2019 in addition to 776 in 2018. In the current year, as on April 19, 2020, the number of arrests stood at 78. Since March 6, 2000, total arrests number 14,869.
Through 2019, SFs recovered arms from the Maoists in 219 incidents, in addition to 129 such incidents of recoveries in 2018. During the current year, as on April 19, 2020, the number of such incidents was 43. Since March 6, 2000, 4,003 incidents of arms recovery are on record.
The mounting pressure on LWEs has resulted in a large number of surrenders over the past few years. According to SATP, at least 340 LWEs surrender through 2019 in addition to 480 in 2018. During the current year, as on April 19, 2020, the number of surrenders was 55. Since March 6, 2000, the number 12,799 LWEs have surrendered.
Successful intelligence-based operations by the SFs have dealt a severe blow to the Maoist leadership at several levels. According to the SATP database, at least 1,240 ‘leadership elements’ have been neutralised since 2010. These include 25 at the national level (three killed, 18 arrested and four surrendered); 257 State level (26 killed, 190 arrested and 41 surrendered); and 958 local level (160 killed, 418 arrested and 380 surrendered) (data till April 19, 2020). The 25 at the national level include 22 ‘CC’ members and three others: Marri alias Leevu, member of the ‘East Division Committee’ and of the ‘first Central Reorganisation Committee (CRC)’; Sadanala Ramakrishna alias RK, head of ‘Central Technical Committee’; and Mohan Vishwakarma, senior member of the ‘Central Technical Committee’ and ‘Technical Research and Arms Manufacturing (TRAM)’.
An analysis of over-ground and underground Maoist activities in the country’s LWE-affected areas also suggests a waning influence. According to SATP, in 2019, Maoist activities were reported from 12 States in comparison to 13 States in 2018. (India has a total of 640 Districts in 29 States and nine Union Territories). The 12 affected States have a total of 410 Districts, of which 91 recorded a Maoist presence. Of these 91, seven Districts fell in the ‘highly affected’ category; 37 in the ‘moderately affected’ category; and 47 were ‘marginally affected’. By comparison in 2018, three Districts fell in the ‘extremely-affected’ category, six in the ‘highly affected’ category, 36 in the ‘moderately affected’ category, and 36 were ‘marginally affected’.
Indeed, on February 4, 2020, Minister of State in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, G. Kishan Reddy, told the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament), “Left Wing Extremism (LWE) related violence and geographical spread have declined over the years”
The overall improvement in the security situation has been evident across all Maoist-affected States: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Telangana.
The Central Government has taken several steps to combat this problem. On February 4, 2020, Minister G. Kishan Reddy, told the Lok Sabha,
To combat the LWE menace, the Government of India has formulated National Policy and Action Plan in 2015, which consists of a multi-pronged approach comprising security measures, development initiatives and ensuring rights & entitlements of local communities. Operation Prahar was launched in 2017 in core moist areas of Bastar range. Such sustained, offensive, intelligence-based operations are continuously executed.
Some of the measures initiated by the Government of India (GoI) in 2019, to curb LWE activity, include:
Strengthened and upgraded capabilities of intelligence agencies at the Central and State levels, including intelligence sharing through Multi Agency Centre (MAC) at the Central level, and State Multi Agency Centres (SMAC) at the State level, on round-the-clock basis.Strengthened the intelligence mechanism by setting up of Joint Command and Control Centre at Jagdalpur (Chhattisgarh) and Gaya (Bihar), to reinforce the technical and human intelligence, thrust for generation of real-time intelligence and creation and strengthening of State Intelligence Bureaus (SIBs) in the affected States, for which Central assistance is provided.The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) issued a Standard Operating Procedure on issues related to Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and landmines in Maoist-affected areas, which was circulated to all stake-holders to promote best practices in IED management.A total of 56 India Reserve (IR) Battalions were sanctioned for 10 LWE affected States – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal – out of which, 44 have been raised. In addition, the Centre has sanctioned the raising of 10 new Specialised India Reserve Battalion (SIRB) for Bihar (1), Chhattisgarh (2), Jharkhand (2), Madhya Pradesh (1), Odisha (3) and West Bengal (1), of which eight have been raised.
Despite the improvement, the Maoist threat persists in several hotspots across the country.
The Bastar Division, the core of the residual Maoist problem not only in Chhattisgarh but in the entire so-called ‘Red Corridor’ region, comprising seven densely forested Districts – Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur and Sukma – sprawling across 40,000 square kilometers, in the southernmost region of the State, is the most significant concentration of residual Maoist activity.
On March 21, 2020, CPI-Maoist cadres ambushed a Police party in the dense forests of Elmaguda close to Kasalpad and Minpa villages in the Chintagufa area in the Sukma District of Chhattisgarh, killing 17 security personnel [12 District Reserve Guards and five Special Task Force], and injuring another 15. The Maoists also looted at least 15 weapons from the possession of the slain personnel – 12 AK 47 assault rifles, one Under Barrel Grenade Launcher (UBGL), one INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) assault rifle and one Excalibur, the upgraded variant of the INSAS rifle. Though the Police claimed that a considerable number of Maoists are believed to have been killed in the encounter, only one body of a Maoist cadre was recovered during search operations in the area.
According to an April 16, 2020, report, the Maoists were using the nationwide lockdown amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak to regain strength, as a large group of the rebels entered the South Bastar region of Chhattisgarh from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, and even Nepal. The report citing intelligence inputs noted,
[Maoists were] continuously conducting meetings in the core areas in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma District and in the Darbha Division in Jagdalpur District of the State and part of Dantewada District there under the supervision of top Maoist leaders. They are also organising villagers for confronting the Government on the issue of fixing a minimum price for plucking up of tendu leaves and compensation for death or injury of villagers involved in plucking of the leaves.
A March 10, 2020, report, revealed that Maoist action teams were on the prowl in the Visakhapatnam Agency of Andhra Pradesh in an effort to establish their dominance and to take their chances during the forthcoming local body elections. An unnamed senior official of the Visakhapatnam Rural Police, stated, “A lull in their activities indicates that they may strike at any time during the elections. We have information that there have been changes in their rank and file.” The local body elections scheduled for March 21, 2020, have now been put off indefinitely by the State Election Commission (SEC) in view of the coronavirus crisis.
A March 2, 2020, report claimed that the Maoists were engaged in developing a new ‘base area’ in the dense Amarkantak Forest, to operate in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (MMC). The Amarkantak Forest lies at a location where the Vindhya, Maikal and Satpura ranges converge in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Over the past few years, the Maoists have increased their presence in the region. According to an unnamed State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) official, the ‘Vistaar Dalam of MMC zone’ was active in the forests of Amarkantak, and its numbers are sizeable. Most of its cadres are recruited from south Bastar (in Chhattisgarh) and a document seized from the Maoists in December 2019 suggested that there were about 200 Maoist cadres in the ‘MMC Zone’
Significantly, a January 29, 2020, report, confirmed that the CPI-Maoist had succeeded in reinstating its ‘central committee (CC)’, the second highest rung in its hierarchy, with 21 members, 10 of whom are from Telangana, four from Jharkhand, two each from Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal, and one from Bihar. Nambala Keshava Rao aka Basava Raju (65), hailing from Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh, was elected ‘general secretary’ of the ‘CC’. Rao is also a member of the ‘politburo’ and ‘Central Military Commission’ (CMC), and is the current ‘chief’ of CPI-Maoist. He took over the reins of the Maoist party from Muppala Lakshmana Rao aka Ganapathi on November 5, 2018. As noted earlier, at the time of its formation in 2004, the CPI-Maoist reportedly had a 34-member strong ‘CC’. Five members were subsequently added to the ‘alternate CC’. However, out of 39 members of the ‘CC’, only 17 remained ‘operational’ or were untraceable, including eight ‘politburo’ members, five ‘CC’ members, and four ‘alternate CC’ members.
Despite the very significant operational gains and state initiatives to reinforce capacities for response, several deficits in the fighting forces remained noticeable in some of the worst afflicted States. According to the Bureau of Police Research & Development (BPR&D), as on January 1, 2019, there were at least 21 Police Stations in Chhattisgarh, the worst affected State, which did not have a telephone. Similarly, at least 37 Police Stations in Odisha, did not have a vehicle; and 59 Police Stations in Madhya Pradesh had no wireless/mobile connectivity.
Moreover, large vacancies persist in the State Police Forces. According to BPR&D data, as on January 1, 2019, as against the sanctioned strength of 1,595,680 there were a total of 1,243,537 policemen in position, leaving a vacancy of 352,143, i.e. 20.37 per cent in 12 LWE-affected States. At the national level, deficits against sanctioned strength were 20.34 per cent, almost the same as the shortage in the Maoist affected States. The police-population ratio (policemen per hundred thousand population) of these 12 States had increased from an average of 138.63 in 2018 to 149.42 in 2019. On the other hand, the all-India police-population ratio had increased from 150.80 in 2018 to 158.22 in 2019, significantly higher than the levels in the LWE affected States. Importantly, existing police-population ratios in these 12 states remained significantly lower than the sanctioned strength of 183.97, while at the national level where, the existing levels were also significantly lower than the sanctioned strength of 198.65 per 100,000. Moreover, the number of vacancies in the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) of these 12 States was 595 (22.44 per cent), as against 948 (19.97 per cent) at the national level, considerably weakening executive direction of the Force. These critical deficiencies in the enforcement apparatuses need urgent attention.
There is an overall declining trend in Maoist violence and activity across the country. Nevertheless, the rebels have shown tremendous capacities for resurgence in the past, and retain significant operational and over-ground capabilities in substantial areas of their erstwhile regions of dominance. A sustainable peace in the Maoist belt, consequently, remains some way off.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management