By Ajit Kumar Singh*
A civilian, Sukhdev Baghel, was hacked to death by suspected Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres at a village in the Chintagufa area of Sukma District in the afternoon of January 19, 2017. According to the Police, “As per the eyewitness, two people armed with sharp weapons stormed into Baghel’s shop and slit his throat before escaping from the spot.”
Two women and a minor girl were killed while four others sustained injuries in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion near Godagaon village forest in Narayanpur District on January 18, 2017. According to preliminary information, the residents of nearby Tumnaar village, including some women and their children, were passing through the area where road construction work was underway. They inadvertently stepped on the pressure IED which exploded. Inspector General of Police (Bastar Range) S.R.P. Kalluri noted, “The Maoists have planted the IEDs to target security forces [SFs] deployed to facilitate ongoing road construction on that axis.”
A village sarpanch (head of the Panchayat, village level local self Government institution) was killed, by suspected Maoists at Masenar village in the Dantewada District in the night of January 17, 2017. According to the Police, “Raju Netam, the sarpanch of Masenar village, was hacked to death with an axe last night at his native place under Bhansi Police Station area…The exact reason behind the attack was yet to be ascertained as Netam was never on the target of ultras. Though some Maoist pamphlets were recovered from the spot, no specific reason has been mentioned in them behind the brutal murder (sic).”
At least five civilians have already been killed by Maoists in Chhattisgarh in the current year (data till January 22, 2016). According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) data, at least 64 civilians were killed between January 1, 2016, and November 15, 2016. Another three civilians were killed between November 16, 2016, and December 31, 2016, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), yielding a total of at least 67 civilian deaths through 2016, as against 53 (UMHA data) through 2015, an increase of 26.41 per cent. Worryingly, this is the highest number of civilian fatalities in the State since 2011, when 124 such fatalities were recorded (UMHA data). Civilian fatalities had dropped to 67 (UMHA data) in 2013. However, at the peak of Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-linked violence in the State in 2006, Chhattisgarh accounted for 304 civilian fatalities (UMHA data).
Most of the civilians killed were branded as ‘police informers’, even as the Maoists continue to suffer losses at the hands of the SFs in operations backed by deep penetration by intelligence agencies into ‘their areas’ with the help of the local population. Indeed, CPI-Maoist ‘East Division secretary’, Pratap Reddy aka Ramchandra Reddy aka Appa Rao aka Chalapathi, in an interview published on July 21, 2016, stated, “I must add that in the conspiracy to eliminate the Maoist party, the ruling classes and the State Government have been exploiting people in the tribal areas by converting them as police informer and agents. Such people are being given arms by the police and a special police officer (SPO) network created. It is such elements that we are eliminating.” By eliminating these alleged ‘police informers’ the Maoists believe they can break the information chain the SFs have built to target the Maoists deep inside their ‘safe heavens’. At least 56 Maoist leaders, including 25 ‘commander’ level cadres, have been killed in Chhattisgarh alone out of a total of 98 killed across India since 2010.
Moreover, according to UMHA data available since 2003, SFs achieved their best ever kill ratio in their fight against the Maoists in Chhattisgarh in 2016 – at 1:3.19 (115 Maoists killed as against 36 SF personnel). 47 SF personnel and 48 Maoists were killed in 2015, i.e., a kill ratio of 1:1.02 in favour of the SFs. Prior to that, the SFs secured a positive kill ratio of 1:1.11 and 1:1.18, respectively, only twice in the past, in 2009 and 2004. On the other hand, Maoists had twice achieved a kill ratio of three or above – in 2003 (1: 3.75) and 2007 (1:3). In the current year (data till January 20, 2017), the SFs have eliminated seven Maoists while losing one of their own troopers.
SFs have also arrested large numbers of Maoists. UMHA data indicates that at least 686 Maoists were arrested in 2016 (up to November 15) adding to 512 in 2015. At least 687 Maoists were arrested in 2014 and 387 in 2013. The mounting pressure has also resulted in the surrender of 1,174 Maoists in 2016 (up to November 15), as against just 173 surrenders in the corresponding period of 2015. Total surrenders through 2015 stood at 323. There were 413 surrenders in 2014 and a mere 28 in 2013. The Chhattisgarh Government has made liberal changes in the existing “surrender and rehabilitation policy” for Maoists in the State. In one such lucrative addition, the Chhattisgarh Government decided that, upon surrender “the individual will be watched for six months, and if his behaviour is deemed to be good”, he will be eligible for a government job. A Cabinet Subcommittee “may also take back criminal cases against him.”
Crippling and cumulative losses have hit Maoist activities in the State. For instance, Chhattisgarh recorded 381 Maoist-linked incidents in 2016 (up to November 15), as against 453 such incidents in the corresponding period of 2015. There was a total of 466 such incidents through 2015.
Nevertheless, the trend in civilian killings indicates that the Maoists continue to pose potent threat to security in the State. Further, an analysis of partial fatalities data compiled by the SATP for the Bastar Division of the State suggests that, though the Maoists are losing their hold in the region, they still retain a strong presence and operational capabilities. The Bastar Division comprises seven of Chhattisgarh’s 27 Districts – Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur and Sukma – but accounted for 202 fatalities out of a total of 207 recorded in the Maoist-related violence in the State through 2016, i.e., a staggering 97.58 per cent. Similarly, in 2015, the Bastar Division accounted for 95.83 per cent of total fatalities in the State. Worryingly, on October 26, 2016, the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB), disclosed that the CPI-Maoist was reportedly working on a plan to create a new ‘guerrilla zone’ along the Chhattisgarh-Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh (MP) border region as an “extension” of its current stronghold in Bastar. The proposed new ‘guerrilla zone’, will be nestled in the Satpura Hills range, spreading over eight Districts in the three States of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and MP, with the objective of facilitating the expansion of the CPI-Maoist base north and east of Bastar. Of these eight Districts, the Maoists have already established bases in Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh, Balaghat in MP and Gadchiroli in Maharashtra. Efforts are underway to expand into the border Districts of Kawardha and Mungeli in Chhattisgarh; Mandla and Dindori in MP; and Gondia in Maharashtra. The new ‘guerrilla zone’ would function under the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC), presently the most powerful entity within the CPI-Maoist operational setup.
SFs have achieved tremendous success in their fight against the Maoists in Chhattisgarh over the past few years, despite great odds. For instance, according to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as against a sanctioned strength of 425 Police Stations, the State has only 402. Shockingly, 161 of these 402 Police Stations are without any vehicle. There are 14 Police Stations without a telephone connection. The State has 55,330 policemen, as against a sanctioned strength of 65,749, leaving at least 15.84 posts vacant. In this highly Maoist-afflicted state, the Police/Area Ratio (number of policemen per 100 square kilometers) is 40.93, as against the sanctioned strength of 48.63. The all-India ratio stands at 54.69, as against a sanction of 72.03. Governments, both at the central and state levels, continue to have fail to address these issues and deficits.
After a successful experiment with the District Reserve Group (DRG), a special wing of the Chhattisgarh Police used exclusively for anti-Maoist operational duties in the Bastar Division, the State Government, on July 1, 2016, suggested raising a ‘Dandakaranya Battalion’ in the Armed Forces, on the lines of the Naga Regiment of the Indian Army, to facilitate the entry of tribal youth from the Maoist-hit Bastar Division. Meanwhile, to augment the State’s capacity to counter the Maoists, the Centre has approved the setting up of the ‘Bastariya Battalion’ of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which is likely to be established in 2017, recruiting youth mostly from the Bastar region. Reports indicate that DRG carried out 644 anti-LWE operations in 2015, both individually and in coordination with other State and paramilitary Forces, during which they gunned down 46 ultras. No such data is available for 2016.
At a time when the CPI-Maoist is at its lowest ebb since its inception in September 2004, there is simply no room for complacence. Any lackadaisical approach can facilitate a Maoist resurrection as they are still not a spent force, and have repeatedly demonstrated their capacities to recover from reverses in the past.
* Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management