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Bastar: Shrinking 'Heartland'Deepak Kumar Nayak Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
On November 22, 2016, a Sub-Inspector (SI) of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was killed and a head constable was injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion in the forest areas of Sukma District. The incident took place when two personnel of a patrolling team of the CRPF's 74th Battalion, which was out on an area domination operation between Burkapal Police camp and Chintalnar, inadvertently stepped on a pressure IED concealed beneath the ground by cadres of the CPI-Maoist.
In a similar incident, two CRPF personnel sustained injuries when they stepped on a pressure IED on November 21, 2016, half a kilometre away from the CRPF camp at Narsapuram in Sukma District.
On November 19, 2016, at least five Maoists were killed by the SFs in the jungles of Tuspal and Becha Kilam villages in the Abujhmaad area under the Chhote Dongar Police Station of Narayanpur District. Commenting on the operation, Superintendent of Police (SP) Abhishek Meena, disclosed, "The counter-insurgency operation led to the decimation of Military Company No. six of CPI-Maoist and killing of at least half a dozen Naxals [Left Wing Extremists (LWEs)]. However, we could recover bodies of five Maoists along with their weapons." SFs recovered three 12 bore guns, one .315 rifle, and articles of daily use from the spot.
On November 16, 2016, six Maoists were killed in an encounter with SFs near the Bugum-Perma forest in Dantewada District. Special Director General of Police, Anti-Naxal Operations, D.M. Awasthi disclosed that the bodies of six slain Maoists were recovered, while many more may have been injured or even killed. "Of these six, three are men, all of them wore uniform and the weapons recovered include three .303 rifles, two 12 bore guns and one single barrel weapon among other items.'' Two Naxals were arrested from the encounter site.
Incidentally, these three Districts - Sukma, Dantewada and Narayanpur - along with Bijapur, Bastar, Kanker and Kondagaon, form the Bastar Division of Chhattisgarh, which continues to remain the nucleus of Maoist-violence in Chhattisgarh in particular, and the country at large. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the Bastar Division has already recorded 190 fatalities in Maoist-related violence in 2016 (data till November 27). These include 124 Maoists, 33 civilians and 33 SF personnel. Total Maoist-linked fatalities in the State stand at 195 - 125 Maoists, 35 civilians and an equal number of SFs. Thus, of a total of 195 Maoist-linked fatalities in the State in 2016, the Bastar Division alone accounts for 190, i.e. 97.43 per cent.
Unsurprisingly, all 16 major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) that have occurred in Chhattisgarh during the current year were reported from Bastar Division. In these incidents, three civilians, 10 SF personnel and 56 Maoists have been killed.
Spread over a geographical area over 40,000 square kilometres, the Bastar Division is afflicted by low standard human development indicators, as well as widespread absence and worsening access to healthcare, education, drinking water, sanitation and food, creating an alarming humanitarian situation. These conditions clearly suit the Maoists. According to the "District Development and Diversity Index Report for India and Major States," a joint survey conducted by the US-India Policy Institute (USIPI) and the Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy (CRDDP), New Delhi, released on January 29, 2015, among the 599 Districts across India covered by the survey, all the Districts of the Bastar Division were ranked towards the bottom . The seven Districts of the Bastar Division were also among the 35 worst Naxal-affected Districts identified by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) across the country.
An overview of fatalities over the last seven years shows that the Division has recorded 1,106 Maoist-linked fatalities, including 438 Maoist, 426 SF personnel and 242 civilians. Thus, of a total of 1,167 fatalities, including 456 Maoists, 432 SF personnel and 279 civilians, recorded in the State, since 2010, the Bastar Division alone accounted for 94.77 per cent. It is pertinent to recall here that Chhattisgarh alone contributes to 32.91 per cent of the total of Maoist-linked fatalities across the country over the corresponding period.
Current trends do, however, indicate that SFs have made considerable gains against the Maoists in the Division and in the State at large. According to the SATP database, between 2010 and 2015, a total of 314 Maoists were killed in the Division, as against 393 SF personnel, a ratio of 1:1.25 in favour of the rebels. Remarkable SF consolidation in the current year is evident in the ratio of 1:3.75 against the Maoists. Significantly, the Maoists are facing a challenging time across India, and particularly, the onslaught against them in their final bastion, in Bastar has registered dramatic gains. The marginal increase in civilian fatalities is, however, a cause for concern, as Maoists target alleged 'police informers', collaborators, and those who have left their ranks with increasing frequency in desperate measures to stem the fragmentation of their organisation.
Moreover, sustained SF pressure has resulted in at least 821 Maoist surrenders in the Bastar Division. Overall surrenders in the State stand at 944 since the beginning of 2016. Hitting further at the Maoist cadre strength, SFs in the Bastar Division have arrested 330 rebels in the current year. The number of arrests in Chhattisgarh stands at 343.
Further weakening Maoist capacities, the Police have seized 45 automatic weapons, among a large cache of other weapons and explosives, from the Naxals during various anti-Naxal operations during the past two years, in the restive Bastar region, Inspector General of Police (IGP, Bastar), S.R.P. Kalluri disclosed on November 14, 2016. Significantly, according to the UMHA, during the same period 1,971 arms were recovered from Left Wing Extremists from various parts of the country (data till October 31, 2016).
The recent battering of the Maoists in their own 'capital' is, without doubt, extraordinary, but the Maoists continue to experiment with new plans to find spaces for survival. The State Intelligence Bureau (SIB), on October 26, 2016, disclosed that CPI-Maoist is reportedly working on a plan to create a new 'guerrilla zone' along the Chhattisgarh-Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh (MP) border region as an "extension" of its current stronghold in Bastar. The proposed new 'guerrilla zone', will be nestled in the Satpura Hills range, spreading over eight Districts in the three States of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and MP. It is said that this will facilitate the expansion of the CPI-Maoist base north and east of Bastar. According to the SIB, of the eight Districts, Maoists have already established bases in Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh, Balaghat in MP and Gadchiroli in Maharashtra. The extremists are on their way to expand to other border Districts of Kawardha and Mungeli in Chhattisgarh, Mandla and Dindori in MP and Gondia in Maharashtra. The new 'guerrilla zone' would function under the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC), the most powerful entity within the CPI-Maoist operational setup.
Despite reverses inflicted on them, to believe that the Maoists are a spent force and will be ready for talks would be ill-advised. On October 23, 2016, the Chhattisgarh Government announced that they were open for dialogue with the Naxals. Reiterating Chief Minister Raman Singh's statement on peace talk with Naxals if they shun violence and arms, State's Home Minister Ramsewak Paikra, stated, "Government's doors for talks with Naxals are always open provided that the dialogue must be under the purview of democracy and constitution." The Maoists have not even acknowledged these overtures.
The battle against the Maoists in the Bastar Division is far from over. Despite mounting SF successes in this region, the Division continues to be the core of the surviving Maoist movement, and it is here that the decisive battle against the rebels would be won or lost.