ISSN 2330-717X

India: Blundering On In Chhattisgarh – Analysis

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By Fakir Mohan Pradhan

In the biggest attack on Security Forces (SFs) in Chhattisgarh, so far this year, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres ambushed a Police party in Metlaperu village forests in the Bhadrakali Police Station area of Bijapur District on August 19, 2011, killing 11 Policemen and one civilian.

According to Chhattisgarh Additional Director General of Police (Naxal operations), Ram Niwas, two teams of SF personnel were sent for patrolling from Bhadrakali and Bhopalpatnam Police Stations. One of them comprised Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and District Police personnel, while the other consisted of Chhattisgarh Armed Force (CAF) troopers. The two teams met on the way and, after completing a joint patrol, separately headed back to their respective Police Stations. The CAF team heading towards the Bhadrakali Police Station chose to hitch a ride in a tractor. The CAF squad came under heavy fire from the Maoists in the Metlaperu forests. When Police followed the Maoists into the forest, they were again attacked, and 11 Policemen and the tractor driver were killed in the encounter [it is not clear how the CAF squad was ‘following’ the Maoists into the forest on a tractor, after they had already been in a fire fight]. Ram Niwas added that, though at least four Maoists were killed by the Police, their bodies could not be recovered.

An unnamed senior officer regretted that the deaths were due to laxity. “The police team had successfully repelled the Naxals [Left-Wing Extremists] at the first instance. There was no need for Policemen to sit on a tractor, especially in such hostile terrain.”

Earlier, Anil M. Navaney, the State’s newly appointed Director General of Police (DGP) had declared, on July 18, “The campaign against the Naxalites will continue and Police have an efficient strategy in place to combat that menace.” Further, in a reflection on the state of affairs within the Police leadership, during a meeting in Raipur on August 6, Navaney told officers to focus on the issue instead of indulging in party politics, and to assist the headquarters in its strategy to tackle the Maoists. According to reports, the Government was planning to launch massive anti-Maoist operation simultaneously in the dense forests of the Bastar Division as well as the Gariyaband Police District in Raipur District – in all the affected areas so as to create ‘wide scale impact’. DGP Navaney said that the operations would be aimed at countering the expansion of Maoist activities into new regions of the State and also to weed out the Maoists from their strongholds.

Despite the “efficient strategy in place” and the massive anti-Maoist operations planned, SFs in Chhattisgarh have come under repeated and major (involving three or more casualties) Maoist attacks in 2011. These include:

August 17: Four Maoists were killed in an exchange of fire with the SFs in Tirkanar forest area under Dhaudai Police Station in Narayanpur District. One Policeman also died in the encounter.

June 26: The Maoists blew up an SUV near Kirandul in Dantewada District, 6 kilometres from Raipur in Chhattisgarh, killing three Policemen and injuring three.

In a separate incident, a patrolling team of the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Police was ambushed by around 300 Maoists. Two BSF troopers were killed on the spot in Kanker District while one Maoist was killed in retaliatory firing.

June 11: Three CRPF personnel were killed when a group of an estimated 250 cadres of the CPI-Maoist attacked the CRPF camp at Bhejji village in Dantewada District. ADGP Ram Niwas claimed 10 Maoists were killed in the encounter, but no bodies were recovered.

June 10: CPI-Maoist cadres blew up an anti-landmine vehicle, killing 10 SF personnel – seven Special Police Officers (SPOs) and three Police constables – and injuring another three at bridge near Gatan village in the Katekalyan area of Dantewada District.

India
India

June 9: CPI-Maoist cadres opened indiscriminate fire near a CAF camp in Narayanpur District, killing four troopers and leaving another injured. The injured CAF trooper later succumbed to his injuries, taking the death toll to five. The troopers were engaged in regular chores near the camp of the 16th battalion of the Force in Bharaghati village when the Maoists opened fire on them. The Maoists decamped with two weapons.

May 17: Five CRPF troopers, belonging to the 2nd battalion, were killed and two were injured in a landmine blast triggered by the Maoists near Borguda village on National Highway 221, six kilometres away from Sukma town in Dantewada District. The CRPF convoy of three vehicles was returning from Kerlapal to the camp at Sukma when they were hit by the landmine.

March 14: Three Policemen were killed and nine were injured when a Police team of 145 troopers that was on a search operation in the Chintalnaar area in Dantewada District was ambushed by the Maoists. Police claimed “to have killed 30 Naxals” in retaliatory action but could not recover a single body.

In addition to these attacks in Chhattisgarh, on May 23, nine Policemen including the Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) of Gariyaband Police Station of Chhattisgarh were killed some 15 kilometres inside Odisha, when Chhattisgarh Police crossed the State border following reports of Maoist movement in the area.

Further, on July 20, mistaking a convoy of a Congress party leader to be a Police Party, Maoists blew up one of the vehicles at Udanti near Devbhog, in an isolated place near the Odisha-Chhattisgarh border in Raipur District, killing four Congress Party workers. Police officers said that Maoist cadres subsequently surrounded a trailing vehicle in the convoy and injected the wounded with pain-killers when the guerrillas realised that they had attacked civilians, and not a Police convoy.

Nevertheless, the current year has seen a decline in overall fatalities, principally as a result of a de-escalation of the State’s Operation Green Hunt. The first eight months of 2011 have witnessed nine major incidents, as against 17 in the corresponding period of 2010. Of the 17 major incidents of 2010, the Police had initiated the operation in at least five incidents, while, in 2011, just one of the major incidents was initiated by the Police, demonstrating the slowdown in the offensive against the Maoists.

The State has witnessed a total of 150 fatalities including a claimed 69 Maoists – a majority (up to 47) in incidents where no bodies were recovered – 54 SFs and 27 civilians, thus far in 2011. In the corresponding period of 2010, 273 fatalities were recorded, including 73 Maoists, 140 SFs and 60 civilians.

Fatality in Maoist Violence: 2005-2011
Years 
Civilians
SFs
Maoists
Total
2005
52
48
26
126
2006
189
55
117
361
2007
95
182
73
350
2008
35
67
66
168
2009
87
121
137
345
2010
72
153
102
327
2011*
27
54
69
150

Source: SATP, *Data till August 21, 2011
The decline in fatalities is, at best, an index of the diminishing enthusiasm of SFs for offensive operations in the Maoist heartland – something that had been forced on local commanders through the latter half of 2009, and up to the debacle at Chintalnad in April 2010. Recent incidents demonstrate that the Maoists entrenchment in the Bastar Division – comprising the Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Bastar and Kanker Districts – remains unchallenged. Barring the July 20 incident, in which four civilians were killed, all other major incidents in the State have taken place in the Bastar Division, each on a Maoist initiative. By intensively mining an estimated 25,000 square kilometres across the Bastar Division (which spans over 40,000 square kilometers) the Maoists effectively forced the SFs to curtail their movements. The Maoists also claim to have formed Janatana Sarkars (“people’s government” units) in as many as 300 panchayat (village level local self-government institution) areas in the Bastar Division, and to have established 20 guerrilla bases. If the Maoists are to be believed, nearly 2,000 villages are being administered by these Janatana Sarkars. [Independent reports suggest, rather, an absence of all ‘governance’, and a disruptive dominance by the Maoists across the region].

Making the situation even worse, the Maoists have spread their influence northwards. The killing of civilians in the July 20 incident and the killing of nine Policemen, including the Gariyaband ASP, point unmistakably toward growing Maoist influence in the Central Chhattisgarh. Police also claim that the Maoists have set up a Bargarh-Mahasamund Divisional Committee, which includes Odisha’s Bargarh District and Chhattisgarh’s Mahasamund District. On October 10, 2010, in the first incident of killing in the District, the Police killed six Maoists in a gun battle near Padki Pali village. The Maoists were part of a larger company that was passing through the area. The then DGP Vishwa Ranjan observed, “The Maoists want to establish a corridor linking south Orissa with north Orissa, passing through Chhattisgarh. This military company was marching through the villages to instil fear and a sense of awe.” On their march, before the encounter, the Maoist stopped in villages, held meetings, and posed for photographs – including a photo-op with school children in Padkipali village.

A number of recent incidents suggest that the Maoist plan for a Mahasamund-Bargah corridor are being pushed forward vigorously. On July 6, 2011, a Maoist group of some 30 cadres attacked a Police team which was conducting combing operations near Pardhiyapali village, though no fatalities were recorded. On June 28, a Raipur Police and Special Task Force (STF) team demolished a temporary Maoist camp near the Raigarh District, north of Mahasamund. No Maoist was arrested, but huge quantities of food supplies, bombs, explosives and Maoist literature were seized from the camp. Police said around 30 to 40 Maoists had stayed in the region for an estimated 3 to 4 weeks.

On present categorization, just four – Bilaspur, Korba, Raigarh and Janjgir – of Chhattisgarh’s 18 Districts, are classified as ‘not affected’ by Maoist activities.

Noting the rising Maoist activity in the area, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), on June 14, 2011, agreed to provide an additional five battalions of Central Para-military Forces to Odisha and Chhattisgarh to facilitate ‘seamless anti-Naxal operations’ in the Nuapada-Mahasamund inter-state junction. Given existing deficits in SF capacities in the State, however, it is unlikely that this additional Force can be deployed to secure any extraordinary effectiveness in the newly afflicted areas.

Nearly two years after the Centre initiated its ‘massive and coordinated operations’ in Chhattisgarh, and the State Police launched Operation Green Hunt, the Maoists have clearly held their ground. Current plans and projections only add to a picture of incoherence and disarray. Big plans to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in anti-Maoist operations have achieved hardly anything. Implicitly drawing the Army into the picture, the State has allotted 400 square kilometres in the Abujhmadh Forest in the Bastar Division to set up an Army Jungle Warfare Training School. The Army has already moved into the area, and the Maoists now accept that they must prepare, at some point of time, to confront the Army.

The State Government remains clueless about its anti-Maoist strategy. Speaking at a discussion on Naxalism at the Constitution Club in New Delhi on August 11, 2011, Chief Minister Raman Singh stressed that the problem could only be solved through dialogue and continuous development of the affected areas. To speed up development, he announced, on August 15, the creation of nine new Districts, with effect from January 1, 2012. Yet, the pattern of development the Chhattisgarh Government has been advocating has only hardened lines of opposition, and created new recruitment pools for the Maoists. In the interim, steps to strengthen the State’s Police remain inadequate and contradictory – significant numbers of armed Police personnel have been trained at the State’s Counter-insurgency (CI) and Jungle Warfare School at Kanker, but only a fraction of these has been deployed for CI operations. There is no evidence that, after the failure of Operation Green Hunt, there has been a comprehensive review of operational experience, and a focused revision of strategies. Indeed, all that is visible is a diminished scale of the same pattern of directionless and unsustainable operations, putting SF lives at constant risk, without any clear calculus of success, even as the spaces for Maoist consolidation continue to expand.

Fakir Mohan Pradhan
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

SATP

SATP

SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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