By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On June 29, 2021, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres abducted and killed a villager, identified as Bhagchand Adme (45), a resident of Bamhani village under the Bithali Police outpost, situated near the Kanha National Park, in Balaghat District. A hand-written pamphlet was found near his body, claiming that Bhagchand was an ‘informer’ and was therefore ‘sentenced to death.’ Balaghat, Superintendent of Police (SP), Abhishek Tiwari, disclosed that cadres of the Malanjkhand ‘area committee’ were suspected to be behind Adme’s killing.
Earlier, on the intervening night of February 12 and 13, 2021, two CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an exchange of fire with the Security Forces (SFs) in a forest near Lalpur village under the Motinala Police Station limits in Mandla District. After the encounter, during search operation, the bodies of a male Maoist identified as Dulla aka Manu and a female Maoist identified as Geeta, both working as ‘area committee members’ (ACMs) of the ‘Dakshin Bastar Vistar Platoon 3’, were recovered. They were carrying a reward of INR 300,000 each from the Madhya Pradesh (MP) Government and INR 800,000 each by the Chhattisgarh Government. SFs also recovered .303, .313, and .315 bore rifles, Naxal [Left Wing Extremist, LWE] literature, and daily use material from the encounter spot.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least three fatalities (one civilian and two Maoists) have been recorded in two LWE-linked incidents of killing in MP in the current year, thus far (data till July 25, 2021). One (civilian) fatality was recorded during the corresponding period of 2020, while in the remaining period of 2020, three Maoist fatalities was recorded. Four fatalities (two civilians and two Maoists) were recorded in 2019; one each in 2018 (Maoist) and in 2017 (civilian); two fatalities (both civilians) in 2016; one each in 2012 (Maoist) and in 2010 (SF); and five fatalities (two civilians and three SFs) in 2000. There were no fatalities in 2015, 2014, 2013, 2011, and between 2009 and 2001. Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on LWE-linked incidents of killing, the first fatality was reported on April 20, 2000, when Naxalites laid an ambush on a Police party, killing two Policemen and injuring another, in Balaghat District. According to the SATP database, since March 6, 2000, MP has thus recorded at least 22 fatalities (nine civilians, four SF personnel and nine Maoists) in 17 LWE-linked incidents of killing thus far (data till July 25, 2021).
During this period, at least one incident of explosion (without any casualty) has been recorded. One incident of assault has also been reported. Six incidents each of arson and bandh (shutdown strike/ blockade) calls were also recorded. Moreover, on at least 21 occasions, SFs recovered arms and ammunition hidden by the rebels.
Since March 6, 2000, at least 70 Maoists have been arrested, including three in 2021, and 15 Maoists have surrendered. The last surrender was reported on June 6, 2013.
A total of 78 LWE-linked incidents have been reported from the state, of which Balaghat accounted for 56 incidents, including 14 killing incidents resulting in 17 fatalities (seven civilians, three SFs personnel, and seven LWEs); followed by Mandla which recorded three incidents including one killing incident resulting in two fatalities (both LWEs)]; and Konta in the present Sukma District of Chhattisgarh recorded one killing incident resulting in two civilian fatalities. It is useful to recall that the State of Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh on November 1, 2000.
According to a June 27, 2021, report, in the latest classification of LWE-affected Districts in the country, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) has included three Districts in MP: Balaghat, Mandla and Dindori. These Districts will be covered by Central funding under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme, to support focused operations against the LWE. Till 2018, MP only had one District, Balaghat, classified as an LWE-affected District, and in 2018, Mandla was included in the list. These three Districts in MP are among 70 Districts in 10 States currently covered under the SRE scheme.
Explaining the rationale of the inclusion of Dindori, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Anti-Naxal Operations, Sajid Fareed Shapu, observed,
The inclusion of Dindori as an LWE- affected district does not necessarily imply that the Maoist footprint in MP is expanding. Maoist presence in Balaghat District has been recorded for some years now and the forces have been successfully managing the challenge. Dindori’s inclusion as an SRE District would enable the forces to launch a more robust and effective response to Maoists through the security infrastructure that would be created.
Notably, Dindori is located to the north-east of Mandla and borders Chhattisgarh. Once Maoist activity takes hold in Mandla, it will logically have an impact on Dindori.
Meanwhile, Balaghat District is classified among the 25 ‘Most (LWE) Affected Districts’ in eight States, and Mandla is among the eight Districts in six States classified as ‘Districts of Concern’.
A January 3, 2021, report revealed that around 100 Maoists from neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra have sneaked into Balaghat and Mandla Districts to expand their base in the region.
Moreover, a February 27, 2021, report, suggested that, under the constant pressure of the Chhattisgarh Police and anti-Naxal squads, the Maoists have been strategically moving their cadres into the core of the Kanha National Park and Bhoramdeo Tiger Reserve, which are interconnected through a thick patch of forests located on the borders of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
Balaghat, Superintendent of Police (SP), Abhishek Tiwari, stated, on February 14, 2021,
New Maoist recruits are being sent to Balaghat and Mandla districts from southern regions, and the numbers of the ultras in Balaghat have surged. Moreover, around 350 Maoists have been deployed in Balaghat to recruit new cadres and reclaim their lost region.
An unnamed intelligence source also disclosed that, since the Kanha-Bhoramdeo area was more difficult to navigate than the terrains of south Bastar in Chhattisgarh, Maoists are using this geography to their advantage, rebuilding their military wing and recruiting new cadres. Further,
Several inputs suggest that a fraction of Battalion 1, the most dreaded battalion of CPI (Maoist), is active in the Kanha-Bhoramdeo Division. The way their movement and presence has developed in the Division, the chances of a big attack have become more imminent.
Indeed, the impenetrable forests patch of Kanha-Bhoramdeo-Amarkantak offers a significant safe haven for the Maoists.
Earlier, a March 2, 2020, report indicated that the Maoists were engaged in developing a new ‘base area’ in the dense Amarkantak Forest, to operate in Maharashtra, MP and Chhattisgarh (their MMC Zone). The Amarkantak Forest lies at a location where the Vindhya, Maikal and Satpura ranges converge in MP and Chhattisgarh.
Reports indicate that the Maoists in MP are making all efforts to regroup and were in the process of launching a huge attack, but their plans were foiled with the arrest of at least 10 alleged Maoist ‘couriers’ in Balaghat District in July 2021: eight on July 7 and two on July 12. SFs recovered a huge quantity of weapons, including AK-47s, from the possession of these ‘couriers’. Recoveries also included 400 rounds of AK-47 ammunition manufactured by State ordnance factories, a major source of concern.
Facing reverses across their traditional areas of dominance, the Maoists find areas in MP tempting for relocation, potentially bringing the State to the centre of the Maoists’ operational scheme. Coordinating strategy and operations with neighboring States, in tandem with Central Forces, will be necessary to thwart the incipient Maoist design.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management