India: Elusive Goal In Odisha – Analysis
By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On May 15, 2023, Security Forces (SFs) averted a major attack by defusing an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) planted by Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres in a forest area near Kichatpadar under Sadar Police limits in Kalahandi District. The IED, planted on the Bhawanipatna-Thuamul Rampur-Kashipur Road, which was blocked with felled trees, was to target Security Force (SF) personnel during the Maoists’ bandh (general shut down strike) call in Rayagada, Ganjam, Kandhamal, Kalahandi, Boudh, Nayagarh and Gajapati Districts, on May 15.
On May 9, 2023, at least three CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an encounter between Police personnel and the Maoists inside the Taperenga-Ludengad Forest area under M. Rampur Police Station limits in Kalahandi District. A combing operation was launched in view of the week-long Maoist campaign, as part of their strategy to regroup in the region. During the subsequent search operation, the bodies of three Maoists were recovered from the site. One AK-47 assault rifle was also recovered. One Deputy Superintendent of Police sustained critical injuries during the exchange of fire.
On February 2, 2023, during a combing operation in the Bhuruti Forest under Narla Police limits in Kalahandi District, SFs recovered one locally made rifle, 11 Electric detonators, four batteries, one axe, two torchlights, clothes, medicines, one Maoist banner, Naxal [Left Wing Extremism] literature, and other items.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), these are the three Maoist-linked incidents in 2023 (data till May 21). In 2022, there was a total of eight incidents. Since March 6, 2000, the district has recorded 71 incidents.
Just one of the three incidents in 2023 was a killing incident. Year 2022 had recorded two incidents of killing resulting two civilian deaths. Since March 6, 2000, a total of 23 incidents of killing have bene recorded in the district, resulting in 33 deaths (12 civilians, two SF personnel and 19 Naxalites).
These numbers demonstrate that the SFs have maintained their dominance on the ground in their fight against Maoists. Since 2000, there is only one incident in which SFs suffered fatal losses, that too during an offensive against Maoists. On September 9, 2020, SFs initiated an operation in the forest area of Kandhamal District, during which they were subjected to heavy firing from the other side. In the ensuing exchange, five Maoists, including a woman, and two SF personnel were killed.
Moreover, SFs have arrested a total of six Naxalites (Left Wing Extremist) in the District, since March 6, 2000, though no arrest has been registered in the current year. The last arrest was recorded on March 2, 2020, when a Maoist, identified as Ghana Majhi (30), a ‘militia member’ of the ‘Kandhamal, Kalahandi, Boudh, Nayagarh (KKBN) Division’, was arrested along with explosives, which were to be supplied to fellow Maoists from the Barabandha Forest under Madanpur Rampur Police Station limits in Kalahandi District. The Police also recovered Maoist leaflets and food materials from his possession.
Mounting SF pressure has led to the surrender of 10 Naxalites, since 2000. On May 1, 2022, the ‘secretary’ of the CPI-Maoist ‘Kalahandi Area Committee’, Laxman Apka alias Lalsu, carrying a cash reward of INR 500,000 on his head, surrendered before the Police at Bhawanipatna in Kalahandi District.
Other parameters also suggest that the Maoists were never able to establish their hold in Kalahandi. The rebels triggered five blasts since 2000, with the last one recorded on February 5, 2022. A total of eight arson incidents have been recorded in the district since 2000, the last one on May 24, 2022, when at least three vehicles engaged in road construction work at Tala Pipili village under Sadar Police Station limits in Kalahandi District were set ablaze by CPI-Maoist cadres.
Despite the clear SF dominance, civilians have intermittently been targeted. Of 12 civilians killed, one was killed in 2011, two in 2015, three in 2016, one each in 2017 and 2018 and two each in 2019 and 2022. The last civilian killing was reported on November 24, 2022, when Maoists shot dead a 48-year-old man, Lalbati Majhi, at Panchakul village under Sadar Police Station limits in Bhawanipatna, Kalahandi District. According to reports, while Lalbati was sleeping in his house, he was roused and forcibly taken away by the Maoists and killed near Katlang village. The Maoists left some posters at the spot in which the Maoists’ ‘Bansadhara-Ghumusar-Nagabali (BGN) Division’ declared that Lalbati was punished for working as a ‘Police informer’. The posters also warned other people in the area, who were working as informers for the Police, would soon be punished.
Kalahandi District occupies the south-western portion of Odisha, sharing borders with the Bolangir and Nuapada Districts in the north, Nabarangpur, Rayagada, and Koraput Districts to the south, Raipur District (Chhattisgarh State) to the west, and Rayagada, Kandhamal, and Boudh District to the east. The district occupies an area of 7,920 square kilometres, with 2538.01 square kilometres, or about 32.04 per cent of its total geographical area, under forest cover. The physiography of the district comprises plains, hills, and mountains. Administratively, Kalahandi District is divided into two subdivisions – Bhawanipatna and Dharmagarh. These two subdivisions are further divided into seven and six blocks, respectively. Sharing its borders with the worst Naxalite-affected state, Chhattisgarh, to the west, and other Naxalite-affected districts of Odisha to the east, north and south, has made Kalahandi an ideal place for a guerrilla safe haven.
Moreover, the district falls under the disturbed ‘KKBN Division’, which has accounted for at least 118 Maoist-linked fatalities (51 civilians, 23 SF personnel, and 44 Maoists), since March 6, 2000, which is around 12.62 per cent of the total fatalities recorded in the State, 935 Maoist-linked fatalities (375 civilians, 227 SF personnel, and 326 Maoists).
Kalahandi is in the list of ‘25 Most Affected Districts’, from eight States across India, released by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on June 19, 2021. Moreover, Kalahandi is also included among the 70 Naxal-affected Districts in 10 States across India, covered under the Centre’s Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme, which funds focused operations against the rebels.
Indeed, concerns persist, as the Maoists continue to work to secure the district as a safe haven. The recovery of a Maoist dump on February 2, 2023, underlines the persistence of such efforts.
The Maoists using diverse tactics to garner the sympathy of the civilian population, raising issues concerning the common people. Thus, for example, the Maoists called for a bandh (general shut down strike) in seven districts of Odisha, including Kalahandi, on May 15, 2023 alleging that the poor of the State were being denied access to education, healthcare and housing. They emphasised the need for the Government to rectify these discrepancies and ensure the welfare of the marginalised population. Further, the Maoists demanded establishment of Adarsha (Model) Schools and hospitals in every Panchayat (a village level local self-Government institution) within the district. Other demands included the fair distribution of forest land, accurate valuation of forest produce, end to the sale of alcohol in the region and fulfilment of demands put forth by Anganwadi (rural child care centre) workers and teachers.
At present, nine CRPF companies, along with five teams of the Special Operation Group, 50 District Voluntary Force units, five India Reserve Battalion, and one Special Security Battalion, are positioned in Kalahandi to counter the Maoists.
Though the Forces have long been able to contain the Maoist threat in Kalahandi, the rebels’ efforts to make a base in the district persist. Any neglect of the residual capacities of the Maoist at this juncture is likely to prove detrimental to a lasting solution to this enduring insurgency.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management