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Chhattisgarh: Dwindling MaoistsMrinal Kanta Das Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
At least two unidentified CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an intelligence based operation on the bank of the Indravati River in Bastar District on July 13, 2016, according to Bastar Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) Vijay Pande. However, the Police could not recover any bodies. The joint Police team of the Special Task Force (STF) and District Reserve Guard (DRG) also destroyed a boat belonging to the Maoists which was hidden near the river.
Three days earlier, on July 10, 2016, four Maoists were killed in an encounter with the Police in Chhattisgarh's Bijapur District. Giving details about the incident, S.R.P. Kalluri, IGP, Bastar Range, noted, "An encounter took place near Tumnar village of Bijapur District late last night. The spot of the encounter is around five kilometers from Bijapur. Four dead bodies of Maoists have been recovered so far from the spot. The number of Maoists killed is likely to go up." One 9 mm pistol was also recovered from the encounter spot. Two out of the four dead Maoists were identified as Ukesh, the Local Guerrilla Squad (LGS) 'commander' in the Gangaloor area, and Raju, the 'section commander' of the CPI-Maoist's Company No.2.
Earlier, on June 28, 2016, three Maoists were killed in an encounter with SF personnel at Badesatti village near Bandem under Gadiras Police Station limits in Sukma District. 'Tiffin bombs' [IED's packed into Tiffin boxes] and other Maoist-related items were found from the spot.
These are not isolated incidents. Rather they reflect the growing consolidation of the SFs against the Maoists over a period of time. It is crucial to note here that SF personnel have achieved considerable success against the Maoists in Chhattisgarh, particularly since October 2015. These incidents only carry forward the past momentum.
The Maoists are facing a challenging time across all theatres of conflict in India, but the pressure on them in their own backyard - Chhattisgarh - is the most significant SF gain.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, 118 people including 26 civilians, 22 SF personnel and 70 Maoists, have been killed in Chhattisgarh in 2016 (till July 17), in comparison to 67 persons, including 16 civilians, 33 SF personnel and 18 Maoists, killed in the corresponding period of 2015.
As reflected from the data, the first half of 2016 has recorded the lowest number of SF deaths and the maximum number of Maoist casualty in five and a half years. The neutralization of the Maoists in 2016 has seen a staggering growth of 388.88 per cent growth against the 2015 figure.
Significantly, this success comes on two fronts: firstly, the SFs neutralised more Maoists at a ratio never seen in the last five and half years; more importantly the lowest SF fatalities have been recorded since 2011. What is disturbing, however, here is that civilian killings by the Maoists have seen a spike, registering their highest numbers in 2016, with the exception of 2013.
SF personnel also arrested 257 Maoists in 2016, till July 17, as against 221 arrests through 2015. Moreover, the surrender of 596 Maoists thus far in 2016 in comparison to 279 in 2015 will also go a long way in demoralizing and weakening the ultras.
Crucially, in the worst case scenario for the Maoists, the local support that they enjoyed in what have for long been their 'heartland' areas, is also dwindling. Between March and May 2016, locals in Sukma District decided to oppose Maoist atrocities. Armed with bows and arrows and other traditional weapons, youth in the area have been patrolling the peripheral areas of their villages throughout the night to ban the entry of Maoists. The practice started in Kumakoleng and Nama villages under the Kumakoleng gram panchayat (village level local self government institution). Aayta Karma, a resident of Nama village stated, "We were disturbed with the Maoists' act of obstructing development which had resulted in lack of power supply and no proper road connectivity in our villages. In the name of police informers, innocent villagers have been killed."
Despite these reverses, rebel violence continues. On July 4, 2016 for instance, an Assistant Constable of Chhattisgarh Police, identified as Tirupati, was killed by Maoists in Bijapur District while he was returning to the Police camp after having a meal at home. On the same day an Assistant Constable, identified as Madkam Ganga, was picked up from a bus on the Jagargunda-Dornapal road in Sukma District by around 40 Maoists. The whereabouts of the Assistant Constable are not known.
Apart from killings, the Maoists have also been involved in other patterns of violence, including Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blasts. In 2016, 27 such explosions have been orchestrated, adding to 33 in 2015. Commenting on the growing number of IED blasts, a senior Police officer on March 24, 2016, observed that the Maoists had revised their strategy, choosing IED attacks over guerrilla warfare to target SF personnel. The official added "Maoists have upgraded their insurgency level by moving over to guerrilla warfare from blast attack nearly 5-6 years ago. They seem to have scaled down their insurgency level now by reverting back to the primary level of insurgency in which Security Forces are targeted with IED attacks."
In a disturbing turn of events, several local body representatives and workers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have resigned in Bijapur District in the recent past, allegedly due to threats and pressure from the Maoists. G. Venkat, Bijapur District President of BJP, stated on July 14, 2016, "I have received 27 resignations of local body representatives and party workers from various blocks of Bijapur District in the last one month. Some said they were resigning due to personal reasons while others claimed that the unstable situation in the region forced them to submit resignations. However, we know the resignations are due to pressure and threats from Maoists." The series of resignations followed the killing of Ramsay Majji, a BJP Zilla Panchayat(District level local self government institution) member, by Maoists on June 10, 2016, near Sangampalli village in Bijapur District. Bijapur Superintendent of Police (SP) K.L. Dhruv confirmed that the resignations were due to Maoist threats.
Occasional errors by the SFs persist, despite major gains over the years. In a bizarre incident on May 18, 2016, a "suspected" Maoist, identified as Markam Deva, who came to surrender at a Police Station in Bijapur District, fled with sophisticated weapons. Deva expressed his wish to surrender at the Basaguda Police Station and fled moments after being interrogated by officials. Bijapur SP K.L. Dhruv disclosed that, "During the break in the interrogation that we usually do for any rebel ahead of their surrender process, Deva, who claimed himself as a Maoist, fled from the thanacarrying one AK-47, 90 live cartridges, one Under Barrel Grenade Launcher (UBGL) and around 10 grenades," There were at least 50 Policemen in the Police Station when the 23-year-old man escaped.
Chhattisgarh has witnessed 11 major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) in 2016 (till July 17) in which 10 SF personnel and 38 Maoists have been killed in comparison to nine major incidents in which 19 SF personnel and 16 Maoists were killed in 2015. The major incidents of 2016 in Chhattisgarh are as under:
July 16: At least four CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an encounter with SF personnel in the forests of the Bijapur District.
July 10: Four suspected CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an encounter with the Police in the Bijapur District.
June 28: Three CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an encounter with SF personnel in the Sukma District.
: Three CPI-Maoist cadres, including a 'Commander', were killed while planting a bomb in the Koyalibeda area in Kanker District of Chhattisgarh during the Dandakaranya bandh (shut down strike) called by the CPI-Maoist.
: Seven troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed in a landmine explosion triggered by the CPI-Maoist cadres in Dantewada District. A vehicle carrying personnel of CRPF's 230th battalion belonging to the Ghusaras CRPF camp in Dantewada, were returning after leave for Holi, was blown up near the Malewara market on the Dantewada-Sukma Road.
: Three CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an encounter with the SF personnel in Narayanpur District of Chhattisgarh.
: Three troopers of CoBRA were killed and at least 15 were injured in an encounter with CPI-Maoist cadres in Sukma District.
: At least eight members of the CPI-Maoist Venkatapuram 'area committee' were killed in an encounter with SF personnel along the Telangana-Chhattisgarh border in Sukma District.
: Three Maoists were killed in an encounter with SF personnel at Sendra village in Bijapur District.
: Three CPI-Maoist cadres, who were allegedly involved in the Jiram Valley attack on Congress leaders in Bastar District on May 25, 2013, were killed in an encounter with SF personnel at Metapal village in Dantewada District.
: Four CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an encounter with the DRG of Bijapur District.
Further, in an indication towards a dangerous turn of events, CRPF Director General (DG) K. Durga Prasad while commenting on March 31, 2016, on the killing of seven CRPF troopers in Dantewada District on , observed, "A surprise movement was under way and it was being done in a secret way. I don't know how the news got leaked [to Maoists]. The way the incident happened, it is clear that someone gave specific inputs [to Maoists]. We will investigate to find out what went wrong."
SFs have made tremendous advances in their campaigns against the Maoists over the last nine months, despite some setbacks. Sustaining the tempo, augmenting capacities and intelligence flows, and consolidating the major gains of the recent past will be key to ensuring that the Maoists are not able to regroup and revive their movement.