By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On January 13, 2023, the Police arrested a woman Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadre, Renuka Koda aka Renu Koda, carrying a reward of INR 50,000, in the Jamui District of Bihar. A resident of Saradhi village under the Ladaitand Police Station area of the district, Renu, used to provide food and water to the Maoists, and later joined their ‘Marak’ (killing) Squad.
On January 3, 2023, the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) arrested a CPI-Maoist cadre, Janaki Koda, during a search operation in the Lakhisarai District. Koda was accused of shooting and killing Chhotu Saav, the driver of Ganesh Rajak, the then head of the Bhalui Panchayat (village level local self-Government institution), on August 19, 2019.
So far in 2023, two Maoists have been arrested in the State (data till January 22). During the corresponding period of 2022, eight Naxalites were arrested. At least 52 Left Wing Extremists (LWEs) were arrested through 2022, in addition to 45 arrested in 2021, 34 in 2020 and 50 in 2019.
Further, three Maoists surrendered in 2022, in addition to one in 2021, four in 2020 and seven in 2019. No surrender has been reported in 2023, thus far (data till January 22).
Meanwhile, according to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Security Forces (SFs) killed four Maoists in the State in 2022, six in 2021, five in 2020 and seven in 2019. No Maoist fatality has been reported in 2023.
The last SF fatality in the state was reported on February 14, 2019, when a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Sub-Inspector, Raushan Kumar, was killed in a landmine blast triggered by CPI-Maoist cadres during a combing operation in the Langurahi Forests in Gaya District. Since then, SFs have killed 22 Maoists. These numbers clearly indicate that, over time, the SFs have established complete dominance over the Maoists in the state.
It is not surprising, consequently, that civilians are now more secure in terms of Maoist-linked activities. No fatality in this category was recorded in the state in 2022. This was the first time, since 2000, when SATP started compiling data on LWE in India, that there was a zero fatality in this category for an entire year. In fact, fatalities in this category have been declining since 2020, when they fell from 13 in 2019, to 10 in 2020, and further down to seven in 2021. A maximum of 46 civilians were killed in 2010.
Other parameters of violence also indicate that the Maoist influence is waning in Bihar. The Maoists failed to carry out a single major incident (resulting in three or more fatalities) in 2022, while one such incidents was recorded in 2021, in which four civilians were killed. The Maoists orchestrated one blast in 2022, as against three such incidents in 2021. No incident of abduction was reported in 2022, as against one such incident, in which one civilian was abducted in the Lakhisarai district in 2021, for whose release an INR 10 million ransom was demanded. The victim was, however, released within 48 hours, after the Maoists failed to escape an immediate and intensive combing operation by the SFs. The Maoists executed one incident of arson in 2022, as against two such incidents in 2021.
Further, the number of Districts from where killings were reported also decreased in 2022. Out of a total of 38 Districts in Bihar, fatalities were reported from three in 2022 – Lakhisarai (two), Aurangabad and Jamui (one each). Four Districts recorded such fatalities in 2021 – Gaya (eight), Jamui and Lakhisarai (two each) and Munger (one).
Meanwhile, according to SATP data for 2022, based on assessments of underground and over-ground activities of the Maoists, three districts – Lakhisarai, Aurangabad and Jamui – remained moderately affected; while, four districts – Buxar, Gaya, Rohtas, Munger – were in the marginally affected category. In 2021, four districts – Gaya, Jamui, Lakhisarai and Munger – were moderately affected; while, seven districts – Aurangabad, Kaimur, Nawada, Patna, Rohtas, Sitamarhi and West Champaran – were marginally affected.
Moreover, a September 21, 2022, report, suggest that anti-insurgency operations by SFs had freed the ‘Chakrabandha’ Forest area scattered across the Gaya and Aurangabad districts of Bihar, from Maoist dominance, under the overall command of the paramilitary force. CRPF, Director General (DG) Kuldiep Singh disclosed that, while some Maoist elements were still present in the Forest in the form of extortion gangs, there was no place in the State where Maoists remained dominant:
‘We have managed to soften the extremely inaccessible areas of Chakrabandha and Bhimabandh of Bihar and successfully ousted the Maoists from their strongholds, establishing permanent security camps there.
Earlier, on April 25, 2022, the Bihar Police claimed to have choked the supply chain of medicines to CPI-Maoist during a sustained anti-Maoist crackdown, leading to a drastic reduction in their strength. An illegal arms factory, a major source of weapons for the Maoists, was also neutralized by the Special Task Force (STF) and Central Forces in Nawada. Sushil Mansingh Khopde, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Operations, Bihar, described this as a ‘major success’ and asserted that similar operations by the STF had helped bring down the number of Naxalites to no more than 80. He noted,
‘Now, our security forces are moving towards making 10 most troubled administrative blocks or villages in three districts – Gaya, Lakhisarai, and Jamui – free from left-wing insurgency. Besides, five special forward bases are also being set up in troubled areas, including the hills near Sherghati and Chhakarbandha Forests, in these districts. Security forces had arrested six persons for allegedly running an illegal arms factory in Nawada district last month. Custodial interrogation of the accused revealed that Maoists of the area were in constant touch with them for the procurement of weapons. We also busted two other illegal arms factories, that were major sources of arms supply to the Naxals.
ADG, Khopde, however, noted that there were certain areas in the State where over ground workers (OGW) of the Maoists remained active, and in some cases provided logistics support to the ultras: ,
‘OGWs of Naxals are still active in Bagaha, Munger, Arwal, Nawada, Kaimur, and Jehanabad districts. We are keeping a close watch on them.
Also, according to the latest available government data, Gaya, Jamui, and Lakhisarai, were among the 25 ‘Most Affected Districts’ from eight States across India, identified by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA). Moreover, Aurangabad was also among eight districts from six States, classified as ‘Districts of Concern’. Further, Aurangabad, Banka, Gaya, Jamui, Kaimur, Lakhisarai, Munger, Nawada, Rohtas, and West Champaran, were covered under the ‘Security Related Expenditure (SRE)’ scheme, which underwrites focused operations against the Naxalites(Left Wing Extremists), among 70 LWE-affected Districts in 10 States across the country.
Nevertheless, despite losing their influence to a large extent, the Maoists continue to make efforts to remain relevant. For instance, on December 12, 2022, the Maoists pasted a pamphlet with “Lal Salaam” (Red Salute) written on it, on the house of a teacher identified as Dharmendra Kumar, in Dharampur village under Khaira Police Station limits in Jamui District, demanding a ‘levy’ (extortion money) of INR 1.1 million from him. The Maoists threatened to kill the teacher and his family for failure to pay.
Despite the consolidation of SF dominance across Bihar, according to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as on January 1, 2021, the state continues to reel under critical deficits in the strength and quality of its Police Force, hobbling the fight against the insurgents. The State’s police-population ratio (policemen per hundred thousand populations) stands at an abysmal 67.85, the lowest in the country, and less than half the national average of 152.51. The police strength : area ratio for both the state and the national average, is far below the sanctioned ratio of 116.52 and 193.95, respectively. Further, there is a vacancy of 59,540 Police personnel (58.23 per cent) against the sanctioned strength of 1,42,551 in Bihar. Moreover, of a sanctioned strength of 242 apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State, 22 posts (9.09 per cent) were vacant, substantially weakening executive direction of the Force.
Exhaustive and aggressive SF operations in the remaining affected areas are a necessity to contain Maoist efforts to engineer a resurgence. A strengthening of the Bihar’s Police Force would go a long way towards consolidating SF dominance, and establishing an enduring peace in this long-afflicted state.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management