By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
There is a necessary and great difference between lives sacrificed to secure quantifiable and enduring gain, and lives simply wasted, thrown away, without plan or purpose, to sheer strategic or tactical stupidity. — Where the Buck Stops, 2010
No ‘solution’ has any relevance whatsoever without a clear detailing of the resource configuration and the objective context within which it is to be applied. Yet, virtually the entire counter-insurgency (CI) discourse in India has remained doctrinaire, with almost no reference to the nuts and bolts of what is available, a coherent strategy into which these capacities are woven, and how this is to be implemented. — The Dreamscape of Solutions, 2010
On March 21, 2020, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres ambushed a Police partyin 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, DRG, and five Special Task Force, STF], 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 has been recovered during search operations in the area.
Chhattisgarh Director General of Police (DGP), D.M. Awasthi, disclosed that a joint team of DRG, STF, and the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), a specialised unit of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) proficient in guerrilla tactics and jungle warfare, had launched an operation from Chintagufa, Burkapal and Timelwada camps, based on information about the presence of ultras near Elmagunda. Intelligence inputs indicated a substantial “Maoist presence in the area”. The operation failed to track down the Maoists. However, the rebels triggered Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and opened fire at the returning SFs, leading to an exchange of fire, in which the SF casualties occurred.
An unnamed senior intelligence official, disclosed;
They (Naxals) have been re-grouping for a long time now under Basavaraj, who is highly trained in guerrilla warfare and improvised explosive device (IEDs) and ambushes. We acted well on time, but our men were highly outnumbered with 300-350 Naxals being involved in the ambush.
Further, a senior official of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on condition of anonymity, stated;
During this period, Naxalites usually launch their tactical counter offensive campaign, wherein they conduct the maximum strikes. The months prior to that, from the onset of the monsoons, they had been recruiting more people who were trained between June and September 2019.
Unsurprisingly, routine condemnations followed:
Strongly condemn the Maoist attack in Sukma, Chhattisgarh. My tributes to the security personnel martyred in the attack. Their valour will never be forgotten. Condolences to the bereaved families. I pray for a quick recovery of those injured. – Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 22, 2020.
In the annals of Left Wing Extremism (LWE) and major LWE attacks in Chhattisgarh, the debacle at Chintalnad, nor far from the location of the present attack, on April 6, 2010, [75 dead of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and one State Policeman] had demonstrated the primordial brutality of war – of cunning, deceit, possibly betrayal, but also of tactical superiority. Since then, despite the “efficient strategy in place” and the massive and largely successful anti-Maoist operations, SFs in Chhattisgarh have come under repeated and major Maoist attacks (each involving three or more casualties). According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 119 major attacks, resulting in 856 fatalities – 136 civilians, 383 SF personnel, and 337 Maoists – have been recorded since April 6, 2010, in Chhattisgarh (data till March 22, 2020). Significantly, the number stands at 315 such incidents, resulting in 2,028 fatalities (492 civilians, 624 SF personnel, 897 Maoists, and 15 unspecified) across the country, over the same period.
The Bastar Division the core of the residual Maoist problem not only in Chhattisgarh but in the entire so-called ‘Red Corridor’ region, comprises seven densely forested Districts sprawling across 40,000 square kilometers, including Sukma, the location of the current attack. The other six Districts – Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, and Narayanpur – in the southernmost region of the State, along with Sukma, share their borders with other Maoist-afflicted States, including Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Telangana.
According to the SATP database, Sukma has accounted for at least 25 Maoist-related deaths (three civilians, 19 SF personnel, three Maoists) during the current year so far (data till March 22, 2020). Out of the six Districts in Chhattisgarh from where Maoist-linked fatalities have been reported in 2020, Sukma recorded the highest number of killings, at 25. Bijapur District is second, with six fatalities (one civilian, three troopers, two Maoists); followed by Dantewada, three (two civilians, one Maoist); two fatalities each in Bastar (two SF personnel) and Narayanpur (one civilian, one Maoist); and one fatality (civilian) in Kanker. Significantly, since January 16, 2012, the day Sukma was carved out of Dantewada as a separate District, a total of 420 fatalities (including 97 civilians, 160 SF personnel, 163 Maoists) have been recorded in the District.
According to a February 19, 2020, report, as many as 38 Maoist leaders and top functionaries of CPI-Maoist and its frontal organisations, with bounties worth over INR 140 million, are on Chhattisgarh’s most-wanted list. Of these 38, 21 are office bearers and members of the CPI-Maoist ‘politburo’, the outfit’s highest decision-making body and ‘central committee (CC)’, the second highest rung in the hierarchy. The remaining 17 are members and managers of the organisation’s Dandakaranya Zonal Special Committee (DKZSC) and its State-level frontal bodies, mainly active in Naxal-hit areas of the State, which has an approximately 32 per cent tribal population. Interestingly, according to two unnamed senior Police and intelligence officials in the State, these wanted Maoists are still supervising activities in the 13 Naxal-hit Districts of the State, as well as in other affected States, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha.
Further, a January 29, 2020, report, revealed that the Maoists had reinstated the CC of the CPI-Maoist, 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, was elected ‘general secretary’ of the CC. Rao is also the ‘politburo’ and ‘Central Military Commission, CMC’ member, and the current ‘chief’ of CPI-Maoist. He took over the reins of the Maoist party two years ago from Muppala Lakshmana Rao aka Ganapathi.
The Maoists are choosing to orchestrate tactical attacks in their campaign to engineer a potential resurrection. Despite decades of fighting the Maoists, SFs remain vulnerable to surprise attacks, as well as the elaborate traps the Maoists lay out, as in the case of the March 21, 2020, incident. The rebels are fighting a battle for their very existence now, and such major incidents are a necessary element of their strategy for revival. The most extraordinary care will be necessary on the part of the SFs to ensure that their losses are minimized, even as the operational initiative remains on the side of the State’s Forces.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management