Protesting against the killing of Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) politburo member Mallojula Koteswara Rao alias Kishanji (on November 24, 2011, in West Bengal), around 150 Maoists in the Gadchiroli District of Maharashtra State, set ablaze the Vairagadh gram panchayat (village level local self-government institution) office on November 29.
During the attack, the Maoists took control of the stage at the local drama festival, the famous Jharipatti Theatre and raised slogans hailing Kishanji, and appealed to the people to observe the 'Bharat Bandh' (all India shut down strike) scheduled for December 4 and 5, 2011. On November 27, 2011, the Maoists had set ablaze another two gram panchayat office – at Malewada and Khobramenda – in the District. The Maoists also triggered a blast and partly destroyed the gram panchayat building at Mispri in Gondia District in the night of December 2, and set ablaze another gram panchayat at Piparkhari in Deori tehsil (revenue unit) in the District on December 3.
Maharashtra has recorded a rise in Maoist violence in 2011, with 92 incidents recorded by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, as against 51 incidents recorded in 2010. This gives Maharashtra the dubious distinction of being one of just two States – the other being Jharkhand – which have bucked the overall trend of declining Maoist violence across India in 2011, as compared to 2010. According to partial data compiled by the SATP, 34 civilians, 10 Security Force (SF) personnel and 25 Maoists were killed in 2011, as compared to 22 civilians, 15 SF personnel and three Maoists being killed in 2010.
Incidents of killing were reported from three Districts – Gadchiroli (67), Gondia (one) and Nagpur (one) – in the State in 2011, while fatalities had been reported from two Districts – Gadchiroli (39) and Bhandara (one) – in 2010. The distinctive feature of killings in Maharashtra in 2011 was the dramatic rise in both civilian and insurgent fatalities. There had been an abrupt spike in SF fatalities in Maharashtra in 2009, but these losses have diminished sharply since, largely as a result of avoidance of confrontation with the Maoists. The high casualty figure among Maoists in 2011, as compared to an insignificant three in 2010, would, on first sight, suggest a dramatic augmentation of operations. Unfortunately, the figure fails to inspire confidence; of the 25 Maoist fatalities claimed by the Police, only two bodies were recovered. This is in line with the experience in 2009, when a similarly high 23 Maoist fatalities had been claimed, but just three bodies were recovered.
In addition to the incidents of killing, the Maoists opened fire at Police Stations on two occasions – Phulbodi Gatta Police Station in Dhanora tehsil on December 24, 2011, and Laheri Police Station, under Bhamragarh Division in the District on February 5, 2011, both in the Gadchiroli District. No such incident of attack on a Police Station had been recorded in 2010.
Maharashtra also witnessed at least six incidents of explosion in 2011, as against four in 2010. 10 incidents of arson were reported in 2011 as against five in 2010. Further, five incidents of abduction were reported in 2011 as against one in 2010. The number of Maoist attacks involving more than 50 cadres and militia stood at four in 2011, as against to two in 2010. Similarly, nine incidents of Maoists targeting economic assets were reported in 2010, increasing to 16 in 2011, according to SATP data. Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) data, however, records only three incidents of Maoists targeting economic assets in 2011 [as on November 14], as against 10 in 2010, 12 in 2009 and 10 in 2008.
A total of 92 Maoist-related incidents, including incidents of killing, were reported from 11 Districts [Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Gondia, Mumbai Suburban, Nagpur, Nandurbar, Nashik, Pune, Thane, Wardha, and Yavatmal] in Maharashtra, through 2011, as compared to a total of 51 such incidents reported from seven Districts [Amravati, Bhandara, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Gondia, Mumbai City and Nagpur] in 2010. According to MHA data, as on November 14, the State had witnessed 92 incidents in the current year. Replying to a question regarding Maoist activity in the State, the MHA informed the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament), on December 13, 2011, that the Maoists were active in Gadchiroli, Gondia and Chandrapur Districts and had plans to expand their movement to Nagpur, Wardha, Bhandara, Mumbai, Nasik, Pune and Yavatmal Districts. On another occasion replying to a question in Lok Sabha on November 22, 2011, the MHA had stated that, while Maoist activities were reported from seven Districts in the State in 2011, the figure was four for both 2010 and 2009, and six in 2008. On October 15, 2011, Maharashtra Home Minister R. R. Patil had claimed, "It [Naxalism or Left Wing Extremism] is [alive] only in Gadchiroli and Gondia [Districts]." He added that Naxalism had been curbed in Nanded, Chandrapur and Yavatmal Districts.
The year 2011 also witnessed five major incidents (each resulting in three or more fatalities) during the period. These included:
August 20: One Havaldar (Head Constable) of the State Police and two troopers of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) were killed when Maoist cadres fired at a patrol party in Makadchuha village in Gadchiroli District. One woman Maoist dalam (squad) commander of the Chatgaon dalam identified as Raneeta alias Ramko Hichami (35) was also killed in retaliatory firing.
July 17: A group of CPI-Maoist cadres reportedly killed three persons, including a Sarpanch (village head) in Korchi Taluka (revenue sub-division) in Gadchiroli District. The victims were identified as Motiram Katenge (50), Sarpanch of Dabri village, Sudhakar Koreti (40) and Paharsinh Kumre (55), were killed in Bijepar village, and their bodies were dumped in the neighbouring Mohgaon Tola village.
May 19: Two Special Police Officers (SPOs) and one constable were killed in an exchange of fire between C-60 [the Maharashtra Police counter-insurgency commando unit] teams and the Maoists in Gadchiroli District. Two C-60 teams on a search operation from Tadgao post in Gadchiroli were attacked by Maoists. Rahul Sheth, Gadchiroli Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) Operations, stated, "Around eight to 10 Naxals were killed. But their colleagues took away their bodies with them... the Naxals ran away with all their weapons."
May 5: A landmine blast triggered by CPI-Maoist cadres killed six persons of a family, including a five-year-old boy, on the Gadchiroli-Rajnandgaon Road near Tavitola village in the Dhanora Police Station limits in Gadchiroli District. The Naxalites (Left Wing Extremists) are learnt to have followed up the blast with constant firing on the victims.
April 19: Superintendent of Police (SP) Viresh Prabhu confirmed the death of a top CPI-Maoist leader Nagesh alias Shankar Tukka Pungati (38), 'commander-in-chief' of the North Gadchiroli-Gondia Division, along with two other Maoist cadres, on the basis of Maoist pamphlets recovered from Malewada Village in Kurkheda Taluk in Gadchiroli District in Maharashtra. Nagesh was killed along with two other Maoist cadres in a fierce encounter in the forests of Khobramendha near Malewada village under the Wadsa Division of Gadchiroli District.
In the wake of increased CPI-Maoist activities in the State and surrounding areas, the Maharashtra Government has upgraded the rank of the Anti-Naxal Operations (ANO) chief to better counter the rebel threat. The upgradation - from the existing Deputy Inspector General of Police to Additional Director General of Police - was announced on May 23, 2011.
Earlier, on February 1, 2011, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, made an urgent plea for central assistance for its ongoing modernization of the Police Force, in view of the State's rapid urbanization and the insurgent and terrorist threats the State was facing. Speaking at the Conference of Chief Ministers on Internal Security in New Delhi, Chavan noted, while detailing his State's security plans, that Maharashtra had added 14,395 Policemen and 1,109 officers to its Police Force in 2010, besides an additional 2,355 personnel in the Naxal-affected Gadchiroli District and its surroundings. He said that the proposed 'Alpha Hawks Academy' coming up at Nagpur, to be operational some time in 2012, would impart specialized training to the Police in anti-Naxal operations and jungle warfare. Chavan sought central funding to the tune of INR 220 million to complete and commission the Academy.
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, Maharashtra had a Police Population ratio of 164 per 100,000, as on December 31, 2010, as against an all India average of 133. As on October 14, 2011, four CRPF, one Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) and one C-60 commando battalion had been posted, along with 3,000 District Police Force, in the Naxal-affected areas of the State.
The SFs managed to arrest 56 LWE cadres in 2011, as against 57 in 2010. The significant arrests in 2011 included Anjali Sontakke alias Angela alias Kavita alias Sunita Patil alias Iskara alias Rama, the alleged Golden Corridor Committee (GCC) ‘secretary’ of the CPI-Maoist, from Thane District on April 25. Anjali is the wife of Deepak Teltumbde, ‘secretary’ of the CPI-Maoist State Committee for North Gadchiroli, Gondia and Balaghat Division. On April 26, Sushma Ramteke alias Shraddah Gurav alias Arti (27), another top woman cadre of the GCC was arrested from a rented apartment in Talaopali area in Thane District. Mayuri Bhagat alias Jenny (23), Jyothi Chorghe (19) and Anuradha Sonule (23) were arrested from Pune on April 27, 2011; Siddharth Bhosale alias Jeeva (24), an aide to Sonule, was arrested from Chandawa area in Nashik District in the night of April 28. The arrest of these six cadres exposed the ‘Golden Corridor Committee’ which had been formed by the Maoists to target students and labourers in the industrial areas – such as Pune, Mumbai, Thane and Nashik – Gujarat and Maharashtra.
A shift in the Maoist strategy, increasingly targeting urban areas, had also been noticed. Revelations by 15 Maoists arrested by Maharashtra’s Anti-terrorism Squad (ATS) in Thane and Pune between April 25 and May 12, 2011, indicated a strong effort to push forward the objectives of the Maoist ‘Urban Perspective’ document.
During an operation in April 2011, security agencies recovered crucial Maoist documents, along with a ‘pan-Vidarbha plan’ for the vistar or expansion of the Maoist influence across Maharashtra’s vast and most backward region. The Maoists are said to have formed a V-dalam to extend the movement across Vidarbha in the State’s east, bordering Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. The Vidarbha region comprises 11 Districts – Amravati, Akola, Bhandara, Buldhana, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Gondiya, Nagpur, Wardha, Washim and Yavatmal. Media reports indicated that the resurgence of the LWE movement in Gondia was the result of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC) taking over the reins of both Gadchiroli and Gondia.
The Maoists have also stepped up targeting of their former cadres, who have deserted or surrendered. 22 rebels surrendered in 2011, as against 10 in 2010, eight in 2009 and one in 2008. The rebels eliminated Mangal Singh Korchami alias Diwakar, former ‘commander’ of the Tippagarh dalam and ‘secretary’ of the North Gadchiroli Division of the DKSZC in Nagpur on April 19. Police sources indicate that Diwakar wanted to start a separate outfit. Again, in the night of September 20, 2011, the Maoists abducted and later shot dead Ranu alias Kiran Pusali (30) and his wife Jaswanda alias Devli (25), former cadres of the outfit, who laid down their arms on May 17, 2010, in the Dhanora tehsil.
In an effort to boost the strength of the SFs, the Gadchiroli Police received five new mine-proof vehicles (MPVs) with improved features for effective anti-Naxalite operations, on September 4, 2011. Further, to beef up Security arrangements in the Vidarbha region, the Centre agreed to bear the expenses of a helicopter to be deployed for surveillance and rescue operations. The helicopter was to be stationed in Nagpur and its expenses would be borne by the Union Government.
At a review meeting with officials from the Maoist-affected Gadchiroli and Gondia Districts in Mumbai on November 15, 2011, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram expressed concern over the increasing civilian casualties in Naxalite violence in Gadchiroli, and observed that these demonstrated Maoist dominance in the area. He asked the Gadchiroli Police to step up area domination to curb Maoist violence against civilians. Chidambaram also expressed unhappiness over the slow progress in the construction of infrastructure facilities for the Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMF). He also announced at the meeting that fund allocation for the Integrated Action Plan for Naxal-affected Districts from the next financial year would be done for Administrative Blocks as units, not Districts.
Maharashtra had registered a decline in Maoist violence in 2010, as compared to 2009, largely as a result of the avoidance of confrontation by the SFs. A further loss of momentum in SF operations has now resulted in an increase in Maoist activities and influence in the State – though this remains below the 2009 level. This can give no measure of satisfaction to the Administration, or to State Forces, and an operational escalation will become inevitable in the proximate future.
(The writer Deepak Kumar Nayak is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)