On October 3, 2011, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres killed a civilian, identified as Mahendra Bawankar, in the Kothi village of Gadchiroli District, on suspicion of being a Police informer. Bawankar had been abducted the previous night by a group of 10 to 15 Maoists from the village.
Earlier, on September 20, the Maoist cadres abducted Ranu alias Kiran Pusali (30) and his wife Jaswanda alias Devli (25), both former Maoists, from a relative's house in village Jhari in Dhanora tehsil (revenue unit) in Gadchiroli District and shot them dead on a hillock near the village, presuming them to have turned Police informers. Ranu, a native of Nelgunda village in Bhamragad tehsil, had surrendered to the Police on May 17, 2010, while Jaswanda of Bhimpur village in Dhanora tehsil, had left the CPI-Maoist on August 18, 2010.
Elsewhere in the District, the Maoists abducted and subsequently shot dead one Borra Vidpi (40) of Gopnar village and threw his body on Hedra Road in Bhamragad tehsil. Vidpi was also branded a Police informer.
31 civilians have already been killed by the Maoists in Maharashtra in 2011 till October 9, a figure that exceeds the total civilian killings (22) in the whole of 2010. This is by far the highest number of civilian fatalities in the State in a year since 2005.
There was a spike in SF fatalities in Maharashtra in 2009, but such 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, but fails to inspire confidence; of the 25 Maoist fatalities claimed by the Police, only two bodies have been recovered. Even in 2009, with 23 Maoist fatalities claimed, just three bodies were recovered.
Some of the major incidents of civilian killings during the period include:
July 17, 2011: 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 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 5, 2011: A landmine blast triggered by CPI-Maoist cadres killed six persons of a family, including a five-year-old boy, on 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.
October 8, 2010: Four civilians including two schoolchildren were killed in the outskirts of the Sawargaon village in Gadchiroli District along the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border when a hand grenade, hurled during an encounter between the Maoists and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel, landed in a school compound. Twelve children were critically wounded in the crossfire. The encounter had started after a jeep carrying ITBP personnel was blown up by the Maoists in the Sawargaon forest, killing three personnel instantly. It was not clear who hurled the grenade.
May 16, 2006: In a landmine explosion triggered by the CPI-Maoist cadres, 12 members of a marriage group were killed between Halebada and Patha villages in the Gadchiroli District.
There has been a continuous rise in the number of civilians killed since 2008. The Maoists objective is apparently to prevent the local population from cooperating with the Police. A significant proportion of all the civilians killed have been branded as Police informers by the Maoists.
In a letter written to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan in July, 2011, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram expressed concern at the worsening Naxalite situation in the State. Earlier, on December 16, 2010, Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil, speaking in the State Assembly, noted that a 'large number' of armed Naxalites were active in Gadchiroli District and were 'waging a war' against the state power. The steady worsening of the situation in Gadchiroli is compounded by the steady leaching of the Maoist influence into the neighbouring Chandrapur, Bhandara and Gondiya Districts, and further into Nagpur and Wardha. The Naxalites have also made their presence felt far into the Western extremities of the State, in Mumbai, Nandurbar, Nashik, Pune and Thane, where a number of Maoists have been arrested.
Earlier, in 2010, intelligence agencies had cautioned the State Government that considerable increase in the activities and influence of the Maoists had been detected in large parts of Gadchiroli and small pockets of Gondia, and that young tribals were being enlisted and trained at camps organised in the District through May and August 2010.
A 'pan-Vidarbha plan' for the vistar or spread of the Maoist influence across Maharashtra's expansive and most backward region, was also discovered when security agencies recovered crucial Maoist documents during an operation in April 2011. The Maoists are said to have formed a V-dalam (squad) to extend the movement across Vidarbha in the State's east, bordering Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. The Vidarbha region comprises of 11 Districts, Amravati, Akola, Bhandara, Buldana, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Gondiya, Nagpur, Wardha, Washim and Yavatmal. A shift in the strategy of the Maoists, increasingly targeting urban areas, has also been noticed. Revelations was made by 15 Maoists arrested by the 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.
There is, however, little to suggest that the State's counter-insurgency efforts are keeping pace, though the number of encounters has increased from four through 2010, to 10 so far in 2011.
Of these ten encounters in 2011, the SFs suffered (9) losses in five incidents, while no SF casualty was reported in five. In two of the five incidents in which SFs' suffered losses, two Maoists were also killed. A woman Maoist dalam (squad) 'commander' Raneeta alias Ramko Hichami was killed On August 20, 2011. Further, a team of the C-60 Battalion, [the crack unit set up to fight Naxals in the forests of Gadchiroli District in Maharashtra, raised from local adivasi youth], exchanged fire with a CPI-Maoist 'platoon' led by 'commander' Dinesh near Msanjhurwa and Lalzhari villages under the Duggipar Police Station in Gondia District on September 22, 2011. Though the SFs failed to inflict any fatalities on the Maoists, they recovered 10 kilograms of explosives and 13 detonators, along with some communications equipment and Maoist literature, in what the Police claimed was the biggest operation in the State in years. With no signs of any major operations in Gadchiroli, the epicentre of Maoist violence in the State, this limited operation in the adjoining Gondia District appears to be something of an eye wash.
Maharashtra had a Police Population ratio of 166 per 100,000, as on December 31, 2009, as against an all India average of 129. Ten State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) battalions have been deployed in Gadchiroli. Five battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), including one of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), have also been deployed in Gadchiroli to boost the Police strength.
With little pressure from the SFs, the Maoists have also avoided an escalation, quietly continuing with the tasks of political mobilisation, recruitment, training and wide intimidation of civilian populations, punctuated by demonstrative killings of those deemed to be 'Police informers' or others perceived as hostile to their objectives. These campaigns are progressively drying up information flows from affected areas, even as they make the future tasks of the SFs much harder to tackle. Significantly, wherever the SFs expose themselves, the Maoists have not been shy of engagement. Thus, on August 20, 2011, a 70-member Police patrol party, which was approaching Makadchuha in Gadchiroli District from its northern tip, were suddenly fired on from corn fields. The SF team, reinforced by CoBRA commandos after the gunbattle broke out, were taken totally by surprise. Two CoBRA personnel and a woman Maoist cadre were killed.
The grave dangers of a Maoist consolidation across wider areas is being systematically downplayed, even ignored, by the Government and SFs in Maharashtra, even as the usual twaddle about development as a solution is served out regularly. The reality of the developmental marginalization and neglect of the Vidarbha region, and, indeed, of the expansion of the Maoists into the highly developed Western region of the State, is consistently disregarded in all this. A rapidly expanding and systematically consolidated Maoist movement can only present far graver challenges in 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)