By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On September 21, 2022, Union Home Minister (UHM) Amit Shah congratulated the Government Forces for freeing Buddha Pahad in Jharkhand, after almost three decades of Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) dominance, and tweeted,
“A historic milestone in the internal security of the country has been crossed. Under the leadership of PM @narendramodi ji, the security forces [SFs] have achieved unprecedented success in the decisive battle against Left Wing Extremism [LWE] across the country. Congratulations to @crpfindia, security agencies and state police forces for this.“
In another tweet, he said,
“For the first time, permanent camps of security forces have been established by successfully removing Maoists from the inaccessible areas of Buddha Pahad, Chakrabandha and Bhimabandh. Under the leadership of @narendramodi ji, the policy of zero tolerance of the Ministry of Home Affairs against terrorism and LWE will continue and this fight will intensify further. “
Buddha Pahad is a 55-square kilometer forested area at the tri-junction of Latehar and Garhwa Districts in Jharkhand and Balrampur in neighbouring Chhattisgarh; the extremely inaccessible forested areas of Chakrabandha is scattered across Gaya and Aurangabad Districts; and Bhimabandh is located in the Munger District of Bihar. The three had long been described as the ‘Terror Axis region’, which the Maoists had dominated for the last three decades due to its topography.
According to data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 32 Maoist-linked incidents have been recorded in the ‘Terror Axis region’ in the current year (data till September 25, 2022). In the corresponding period of 2021, there were 20 such incidents. Through 2021, the region accounted for 35 such incidents. 1,393 such incidents have been recorded in the region since March 6, 2000, when SATP started documenting data on LWE-related incidents in India.
Of 32 Maoist-linked incidents in 2022, two were incidents of killing, which resulted in four fatalities, all Maoists, (data till September 25, 2022). In the corresponding period of 2021, there were three incidents of killing, resulting in six fatalities (two civilians and four Maoists). There were another three incidents of killing, resulting in seven fatalities (five civilians, one SF trooper and one Maoist) in the remaining period of 2021. Since March 6, 2000, the ‘Terror Axis region’ recorded 779 fatalities (282 civilians, 211 SF personnel, 257 Maoists, and 29 fatalities in the Not Specified category) in 309 incidents of killing.
Between March 6, 2000 and September 25, 2022, Jharkhand recorded a total of 2,167 fatalities (807 civilians, 541 SF personnel, 764 Maoists, and 55 Not Specified) in 1,027 incidents of killing, Chhattisgarh recorded a total of 3,517 fatalities (944 civilians, 1,182 SF personnel, 1,367 Maoists, and 24 Not Specified) in 1,464 incidents of killing, and Bihar recorded 1,185 fatalities (496 civilians, 271 SF personnel, 330 Maoists, and 88 Not Specified) in 460 incidents of killing. The ‘Terror Axis region’ accounted for 11.34 per cent of the total fatalities in these three States, since March 6, 2000.
Further, this region accounted for 12.55 per cent of total civilian fatalities recorded in these three States (282 out of 2,247 fatalities) since March 6, 2000. In 2022, however, the region has recorded no civilian fatality, thus far. The last fatality in this category in the ‘Terror Axis region’ was recorded on November 13, 2021, when four persons of a family, including two women, were hung to death by Maoist cadres, who also blew up their houses in Manubar village under the Dumaria Police Station limits of Gaya District of Bihar.
This region also accounted for 11.08 per cent of total SF fatalities recorded in these three States (221 out of 1,994 fatalities) since March 6, 2000. In 2022, however, the region has not recorded any fatality, thus far. The last fatality in this category in the ‘Terror Axis region’ was recorded on September 28, 2021, when a Deputy Commandant of Jharkhand Jaguars (JJ) was killed in an exchange of fire between the SFs and the LWEs during a combing operation in the Saliya Forest area in the Latehar District of Jharkhand. A cadre of the Jharkhand Jan Mukti Parishad (JJMP), a CPI-Maoist splinter group, was also killed in the encounter.
This region accounted for 10.44 per cent of total LWE fatalities recorded in these three States (257 out of 2,461 fatalities), since March 6, 2000. In the most recent incident, on March 26, 2022, three cadres of the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), a CPI-Maoist splinter group, were shot dead by SFs in a forest area under the Manika Police Station in Latehar District, Jharkhand. The three bodies were recovered during a search operation following the gunfight.
Significantly, the overall SF:Maoist kill ratio in the ‘Terror Axis region’, since March 6, 2000, remains in favour of the SFs at 1:1.21. When the states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar in are taken into consideration in their entirety, the ratio also favours the SFs at 1:1.23.
According to the SATP database, SFs have already arrested 25 Maoists in 2022 (until September 25, 2022) in the ‘Terror Axis region’, in addition to 43 in 2021. 1,131 Maoists have been arrested in the region since March 6, 2000. Moreover, at least one Maoist surrendered in 2022, in addition to three in 2021. 76 Maoists have reportedly surrendered in the region since March 6, 2000. The total number of arrests in the three State is 9,386 since March 6, 2000, as against 4,662 surrendered.
This numeric data of incidents is probably a gross underestimate, as non-reportage of incidents due to fear or inaccessibility of the region is likely in several of cases.
Not surprisingly, all the six Districts within which the ‘Terror Axis region’ falls [Aurangabad, Gaya, and Munger of Bihar; Balrampur of Chhattisgarh; and Garhwa and Latehar of Jharkhand] are among the 70 Districts in 10 States across the country covered under the ‘Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme’ that funds focused operations against LWEs. Moreover, both Gaya in Bihar and Latehar in Jharkhand, are listed among the ‘25 Most (LWE) Affected Districts’ in eight States of the country, while, Aurangabad was classified as a ‘District of Concern’, by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on June 19, 2021.
In a Press Information Bureau (PIB) press release on September 21, 2022, UHM Amit Shah, while stating that the UMHA had reached the final stage of a decisive battle against LWE across the country, asserted that the Ministry would continue the Zero Tolerance Policy against LWE and Terrorism, and the fight would be further intensified. He disclosed, further,
In the year 2022, security forces have achieved unprecedented success in Operation Octopus, Operation Double Bull, Operation Chakrabandha in the fight against Left Wing Extremists. 7 Maoists were killed and 436 arrested/surrendered in Chhattisgarh/ 4 Maoists killed in Jharkhand and 120 arrested/surrendered. 36 Maoists arrested/surrendered in Bihar.
Significantly, according to a June 15, 2022, report, the CRPF launched an operation code-named Double Bull, from February 8 to February 25, in Bihar and Jharkhand, that saw 14 encounters over 18 days in Lohardaga and Latehar, which resulted in the recovery of 28 weapons, 2,000 rounds of ammunition, 196 detonators and 16 Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), while one Maoist was killed and 14 were arrested, including Balram Oraon, ‘zonal commander’ of CPI-Maoist, who carried a reward of INR 1 million on his head. Other than Oraon the prominent Maoists arrested included, ‘sub zonal commander’ Dashrath Singh Kherwar, ‘area commander’ Markesh Nagesia, Shaileshwar Varao, Mukesh Korwa, Viren Korwa, Shailendra Nagesia, Sanjay Nagesia, Sheela Kherwar, and Lalita Devi, all carried rewards on their heads. In addition, on June 13, 2022, three Maoists — Baleshwar Koda, Nageshwar Koda and Arjun Koda —surrendered before the SFs in the Jamui District of Bihar. The Maoists were active along the Bhimabandh tri-junction of Bihar. While Baleshwar, facing 72 criminal cases in Jamui and Lakhisarai Districts, carried a reward of INR 50,000, Nageshwar had a bounty of INR 100,000 on his head, and Arjun, INR 25,000.
According to a September 7, 2022, report, since the launch of Operation Octopus on September 4, 2022, at least one Chinese cylinder-type grenade, 35 Chinese grenades and three Chinese cone grenades, along with a large cache of arms and ammunition, had been seized.
In a tweet on September 21, 2022, Kuldiep Singh, Director-General (DG), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), disclosing details of Operation Thunderstorm, stated,
A total of 14 Naxalites are killed under Operation Thunderstorm in 2022. 7 Naxalites have been killed in Chhattisgarh, 4 in Jharkhand and 3 in Madhya Pradesh. In total, 578 Maoists have surrendered or been arrested.
DG CRPF, Singh, further stated that Bihar was free of LWE now and SFs had made inroads into areas in Jharkhand that were once inaccessible due to the presence of Maoists, after considerable success in 2022 in Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh through three special operations – ‘Operation Octopus’, ‘Operation Thunderstorm’ and ‘Operation Bulbul’ – launched in April this year. DG CRPF Singh observed,
Barring stray elements or extortionists, we can say that Bihar is completely free of Naxals. In Jharkhand too, we reached the top of the Budha Pahar area for the first time on September 5. This was an area under the control of the Maoists so far, we have established a security camp there and road construction has also started. In Chakrabandha in Bihar, an area of 8×7 km had been cleared of Maoist presence and in the Budha Pahar area, around 4×3 km had been cleared. A helicopter landed in Budha Pahar for the first time in September.
Indeed, on September 19, 2022, for the first time after the elimination of Naxalites, MI helicopters landed at the SF camp that had been established on Budha Pahar. 20 Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) have been established in Jharkhand, of which 11 had come up only in the preceding six months. Jharkhand Police spokesman Amol Vishnukant Homkar stated supply of logistics and other goods to the soldiers by helicopter and other means could now be sustained and, with the help of SFs, roads, hospitals and other necessary infrastructure would be built for the common people in the area.
The decisive victory in the ongoing fight against LWEs depends on the substantial security and developmental consolidation against the residual Maoist operational capacities which remain in some affected regions across the country. Further operational pressure by the SFs, coupled with intensive focus on developmental and administrative outreach, can set free the remaining affected areas, just as the inaccessible areas of Buddha Pahad, Chakrabandha and Bhimabandh have been released from the clutches of the rebels.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management