By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On March 11, 2017, at least 12 personnel of the 219th battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed and another four injured when Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres ambushed a road opening party in the dense forests near Kottacheru village under Bhejji Police Station in the Sukma District of Chhattisgarh. Commenting on the attack, acting CRPF Director General (DG), Sudeep Lakhtakia stated, “The troops were part of the road clearing party that has been securing an under-construction road between Bhejji and Kottacheru. They were ambushed by Naxals [Left Wing Extremists, LWEs] who set off multiple hidden IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) on the ground and opened fire.
The squad effectively retaliated before twelve made the supreme sacrifice.” However, no casualty among the Maoists was reported. Meanwhile, the Maoists looted six INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) assault rifles, four AK-47 assault rifles, a light machine gun, at least 1,587 rounds of ammunition, an Under-Barrel Grenade Launcher (UBGL), a 51mm mortar, and two radio sets from the slain personnel.
On March 8, 2017, four Maoists were killed in an encounter with personnel of the 205th battalion of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) of the CRPF in the forest area of Baskatwa under Gurpa Police Station in the Gaya District of Bihar. Acting on a tip-off of a meeting of top Maoist leaders in the area, the Security Forces (SFs) launched an operation. On seeing SFs, the rebels opened fire, leading to an encounter in which the four Maoists were killed. SFs recovered the rebels’ bodies along with their arms, including two INSAS rifles, one Self Loading Rifle (SLR) and one AK-47. The slain Maoists were identified as Anil aka Deepak, ‘zonal commander’ of the ‘Magadh area committee’, Rajesh Ravidas, a ‘sub-zonal commander’; Nepali Yadav and Uttam.
On February 1, 2017, the Maoists triggered a landmine explosion near Mungarbhumi in the Koraput District of Odisha, killing eight Police personnel and injuring another five. The explosion targeted a Police van carrying 13 Police personnel, on its way to the Police Training College in Angul District.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 92 persons have been killed in Left Wing Extremism-linked violence across the country in 2017 thus far (data till March 13, 2017). These included 23 civilians, 27 SF personnel and 42 LWEs. During the corresponding period of 2016, such fatalities stood at 111 (27 civilians, 19 SF personnel and 65 LWEs). There is thus a marginal improvement in terms of overall fatalities and, more importantly, civilian deaths. However, the dwindling ratio of SFs to LWEs killed is definitely worrisome. SFs have secured a kill ratio of just 1:1.55 during the current year, thus far, as against 1:3.55 during the corresponding period of 2016, and 1:3.7 through 2016.
There were a total of 433 fatalities in 2016 (123 civilians, 66 SF personnel, 244 LWEs) in LWE-linked violence across India, as against 251 fatalities (93 civilians, 57 SF personnel, 101 LWEs) in 2015. After recording a decline in overall fatalities for two consecutive years, overall fatalities saw a steep increase through 2016, and were the highest recorded since 2011 when 602 fatalities were recorded.
Maoist activities [LINK: MAP] were reported from 104 Districts in 13 States in 2016, and have already been recorded from 64 Districts in 14 States in 2017.
These numbers, however, appear to be significant underestimates. According to data provided by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), at least 500 deaths (213 civilians, 65 SF personnel, 222 LWEs) were reported from across the country in 2016, as against 319 deaths (171 civilians, 59 SF personnel, 89 LWEs) in 2015 in LWE-linked violence. There were another 79 fatalities (32 civilians, 14 SF personnel, 33 LWEs) during the first two months of 2017. During the corresponding period of 2016, there were 99 fatalities (39 civilians, 10 SF personnel, 50 LWEs).
According to UMHA, at least 106 Districts in 10 States were Maoist affected. The UMHA assessment notes,
The States of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Bihar are considered severely affected. The States of West Bengal, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are considered partially affected. The States of UP [Uttar Pradesh] and MP [Madhya Pradesh] are considered slightly affected. There is major improvement in Andhra Pradesh, which was considered severely affected earlier. The CPI (Maoist) are making forays into Southern States of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and planning to link up the Western Ghats to the Eastern Ghats through these states. The CPI (Maoist) are planning to expand their area of activities and carve out a base for themselves in the tri-junction of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. They are attempting incursions into Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, which has serious long-term strategic implications.
The significant increase in number of civilians killed (UMHA data) – 24.56 percent – in 2016 as against fatalities in this category in 2015 gives cause for concern. The primary reason for this steep rise is the growing belief among the Maoists that more and more civilians are acting as ‘police informers’, and that SFs are mostly dependent on local information in their anti-Maoist operations. The continuous losses the rebels have suffered at the hands of SFs underline and reinforce their belief.
In the most successful operations ever conducted by the SFs against the CPI-Maoist, since its formation in September 2004, SFs killed at least 30 Maoists in two successive encounters in the Bejingi Forest area, between Ramgarh and Panasput, in the Malkangiri District of Odisha on October 24 and 27, 2016. The slain Maoists included Bakuri Venkata Ramana Murthy aka Ganesh aka Prasad aka Ramireddy, ‘official spokesman’ of the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) and ‘secretary’ of the ‘east division unit’ of the party; and Chemella Krishnaiah aka Bhaskar aka Daya, ‘secretary’ of the Koraput-Srikakulam ‘joint division’ of the AOBSZC.
Indeed, CPI-Maoist’s ‘East Division secretary’, Pratap Reddy aka Ramchandra Reddy aka Appa Rao aka Chalapathi, in an interview published on July 21, 2016, stated, “I must add that in the conspiracy to eliminate the Maoists party, the ruling classes and the State Government have been exploiting people in the tribal areas by converting them as police informer and agents. Such people are being given arms by the police and a special police officer (SPO) network created. It is such elements that we are eliminating.”
Not surprisingly, most of the civilians killed were branded as ‘police informers’. According to UMHA data, 123 of the 213 civilians killed, i.e. 57.74 per cent, in 2016 were of alleged ‘police informers’. In 2015, the proportion of supposed ‘police informers’ killed stood at 55.55 per cent. This proportion has been increasing steadily since 2013, when it was 40.07 per cent, rising to 40.99 per cent in 2014. Significantly, SFs have always denied that targeted civilians were ‘police informers’ and have argued that Maoists are killing civilians to infuse fear among them and, in turn, secure their support at a time when they are facing increasing setbacks.
Indeed, through 2016, SFs continued to strengthen their position in their fight against LWEs. According to UMHA data, the kill ratio in 2016 stood at 1:3.41 in favour of SFs, more than double the ratio in 2015 (1:1.50). At its worst, the ratio had dropped to 1:0.59 in 2007. The number of encounters with Police has also increased from 247 in 2015 to 328 in 2016, clearly indicating more engagement of the SFs’ on the ground. On the other hand, during the same period, the number of attacks on SFs carried out by the Maoists came down from 118 in 2015 to 111 in 2016. Similarly, incidents of snatching of arms came down from 18 in 2015 to just three in 2016. SFs recovered 800 arms in 2016 in addition to 724 in 2015. 1,840 Maoists were arrested through 2016, in addition to 1,668 arrests in 2015. Mounting SF pressure has also resulted in significant surge in the number of Maoist surrenders, which increased from 570 in 2015 to 1,442 in 2016.
Further, while the Maoists held 41 ‘Jan Adalats’ (‘People’s Courts’, kangaroo courts organized by the rebels) in 2015, the number fell considerably in 2016, to 21. The number of ‘jan adalats’ has been continuously declining since 2014, indicating diminishing control over areas in which such kangaroo courts could be organized.
Acknowledging their diminishing influence, CPI-Maoist ‘East Division secretary’, Pratap Reddy, in his July 21, 2016, interview, admitted,
The multi-pronged attacks by the state government through its security forces as well as own mistakes has led to the Maoists being in the situation now… we have faced setbacks… I would like to remind you that the party has faced difficult times in the past and regained its strength and lost glory… These hard times are only temporary… I can confidently say that the party will overcome this situation…
The recent surge in successful major attacks against SFs is a clear demonstration of the Maoist commitment to such ‘pledges’. Though the respective State Governments and the Union Government have adopted several measures during last many years to contain this menace, they have failed to address several other challenges. Most importantly, though the Central Government has deployed more than “100 Battalions of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and a number of CoBRA Teams in LWE affected States” as “the strategy of the Government is aimed at addressing security vacuum in LWE affected areas” it has so far failed to take along the respective State Governments in enhancing their Police strength and quality. According to the latest data made available by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), none of the Maoist-affected States has been able to achieve its sanctioned Police strength. For instance, Chhattisgarh, the worst LWE-affected state has a police-population-ratio (policemen per hundred thousand population) of 214.92, against the sanctioned strength of 255.39. At the bottom end among Maoist affected States, Bihar has a ratio of 90.68, as against a sanction of a low 119.17. Similarly, the Police-area-ratio (policemen per 100 square kilometers area) is abysmal. However, among the Maoist affected states, Bihar has the best Police-area ratio at 99.61 (though much lower than the sanctioned strength of 130.92), while Andhra Pradesh has the worst ratio, at 30.95 (against the sanctioned strength of 36.93). More disturbingly, there is an acute shortage at the level of Police leadership as none of these States have a sanctioned strength of IPS (Indian Police Service) officers in position. Chhattisgarh has the lowest deficit – 12.62 per cent – among IPS ranks, while Odisha has the worst – 42.02 per cent. The national average in all these categories is itself dismal.
Indeed, past experience has shown that major insurgencies in India, prominently including Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Tripura, have been successfully defeated with the help of strong State Police Forces. It is, consequently, imperative that existing deficits be urgently addressed – both in terms of quality and the quantity – so that SFs can further intensify their operations on the ground, irrespective of the occasional reverses they have suffered. It is necessary, moreover, that SFs learn from and avoid the repetitive mistakes that have characterized the most significant of their misfortunes, as each major rebel success bolsters the sapping morale of the Maoists, and creates potential for new recruitment and resurgence.
* Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management