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Maoists: Fighting amidst LossesAjit Kumar Singh Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management
On July 24, 2016, CPI-Maoist cadres killed three civilians in the Barkol Forest range of Latehar District in Jharkhand. A pamphlet recovered from the spot alleged that the victims were 'Police informers'. According to reports, after the surrender of one Maoist cadre Rampreet Yadav (date not specified), the Maoists had been suspecting his two sons Shravan Yadav (32) and Hiralal Yadav (20), along with Shivlal Yadav (22), to be working as 'Police informers'. On July 24, the Maoists learned about Shravan and Hiralal's presence in the Barkol area. A team of Maoists went to their homes and took them into the Barkol Forest and gunned them down. The Maoists also went to Shivlal Yadav's house on the same day, and strangulated him with a rope.
On July 18, 2016, 10 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel belonging to the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) were killed and five were injured in a CPI-Maoist orchestrated Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast and encounter in the Chakarbanda-Dumarinala Forests of Aurangabad District in Bihar. Three Maoists were also killed in the encounter. It was the worst attack targeting the SFs reported since March 11, 2014, when 15 SF personnel were killed in a CPI-Maoist ambush in Sukma District of south Chhattisgarh; one civilian, Vikram Nishad, had also died in the crossfire, while three others were injured.
According to data released by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) at least 259 persons, including 123 civilians, 38 SF personnel and 98 Naxalites-[Left-Wing Extremists (LWEs)], were killed in LWE-linked violence across India in 2016 (data till June 30, 2016). Since July 1, 2016, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), another 50 persons, including 15 civilians, 13 SF personnel and 22 Naxalites have been killed, taking the total death toll in such violence during the current year to 309 - 138 civilians, 51 SF personnel and 120 LWEs.
During the corresponding period of 2015, according to the combined figure of UMHA and SATP, at least 200 persons, including 90 civilians, 53 SF personnel and 57Naxalites were killed. [At least 160 persons, including 80 civilians, 40 SF personnel and 40 LWEs, were killed upto June 30, 2015. Between July 1, 2015, and August 5, 2015, another 40 persons, including 10 civilians, 13 SF personnel and 17 Naxaliteswere killed].
According to the SATP database, killings were reported from 35 Districts in seven States in 2016, as against 30 Districts in seven States in 2015.
UMHA data indicates that there has been marginal increase in number of Maoist-related incidents. As against 591 such incidents recorded in 2015 (till ), there were 605 incidents in 2016 (till ).
The significant increase in number of civilians killed - 53.33 percent - is worrisome. 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 the SFs are mostly dependent on local information in their anti-Maoist operations. The continuous losses the rebels have suffered at the hand of SFs underline and reinforce their belief. 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 more setbacks.
Significantly, the kill ratio in 2016 has significantly improved at 1:2.35 in favour of SF, far better than the already healthy ratio in the corresponding period of 2015, at 1:1.07. At its worst, the ratio had dropped to 1:0.59 in 2007. The number of encounters with Police has also increased from 101 in 2015 to 187 in 2016 (till in both years). On the other hand, during the same period, the number of attacks on SFs carried out by the Maoists has come down from 80 in 2015 to 69 in 2016. Similarly, incidents of snatching of arms came down from 14 in 2015 to just three in 2016. SFs have recovered 436 arms in 2016 as against 330 in 2015. SFs have also arrested 1,006 Maoists till June 30, 2016, in addition to 717 arrests during the corresponding period of 2015. Through 2015, the SFs had arrested 1,668 Maoists. Mounting SF pressure has also resulted in the surrender of 804 Maoists in 2016 (till ). During the corresponding period of 2015, at least 220 Maoists had surrendered. At least 570 Maoist cadres had surrendered through 2015.
In another indication of the Maoists losing influence, the rebels were able to hold only nine Jan Adalats (people's courts) during the first six months of 2016, as against 22 such incidents during the corresponding period of 2015. The number of Jan Adalatsheld by Maoists stood at 40 through 2015. The Maoists held 97 such 'courts' in year 2011, the highest number of such incidents since 2008.
The decline registered in LWE violence is due to several factors, the primary among which has been successful intelligence-based operations launched by SFs over the past years, which have helped neutralize top cadres among the rebels. According to the SATP database, between 2010 and 2016 (till August 5), at least 724 Maoist leadership elements have been neutralized (92 killed, 409 arrested, 220 surrendered). According to UMHA data, the total number of LWE cadres arrested between 2010 and 2015 stood at 11,608. During the same period at least 633 LWE cadres surrendered.
The area of LWE influence also continued to shrink. The number of LWE-affected Districts in 2015 stood at 106 in 10 States, down from 161 Districts in 16 States in 2014. A maximum 232 Districts were declared Maoist-affected in 2007. There has been a continuous decline in the number since, with an exception in 2011, when the number increased to 203 Districts in 20 States, from 196 in 20 States recorded in 2010.
Significantly, while giving an interview in the interiors of the Andhra Odisha Border (AOB) region on the eve of their "Martyr's Week", Maoist 'Central Committee' member Ramachandra Reddy aka Pratap Reddy aka Chalpath admitted that the Naxalmovement had received serious setbacks in recent times in the form of encounter deaths and surrenders of leaders. However, he expressed confidence that the 'people's movement' has not been suppressed and it would bounce back. The "Martyr's Week" is a week-long commemoration observed by the Maoists between July 28 and August 3 every year in the memory of their founder leader Charu Majumdar, who died in Police custody on July 28, 1972.
According to UMHA's Annual Report for 2015-16, submitted to the Parliament in March 2016, "Left Wing Extremism (LWE) remains an area of concern for internal security of the country. CPI (Maoist) continues to be the most potent among the various LWE outfits in the country and accounts for more than 80 per cent of total LWE violence incidents and resultant deaths."
The Maoists though have lost much of their prowess. However, they still have the wherewithal to inflict major losses upon SFs and to carry out random attacks against civilians. On July 30, 2014, the Government had informed Parliament "As per available reports, the estimated armed cadre strength of the Left Wing Extremist groups is around 8,500. However, their support base is in larger number." No subsequent official estimate of strength is available, though the numbers are likely to have diminished significantly, although their residual capacities remain sufficient to inflict substantial, albeit episodic, damage.
Indeed, K. Vijay Kumar, former CRPF chief and current Advisor on Internal Security to UMHA observed, in the aftermath of the Bihar (July 18) attack, "The remaining 10 per cent [of Maoists] are capable of launching an attack. The loss will not impede security operations against them. There is an urgent need to improve governance and policing at the local level."
In terms of SF operations, it must be underlined that, though the Maoists' presence remains in 106 Districts in 10 States, violence is primarily concentrated in just two States: Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. According to SATP data, out of a total of 264 Maoist-related fatalities recorded in the first seven months of 2016, at least 176, i.e. 66.66 per cent, have been reported from these two States alone [Chhattisgarh, 122; Jharkhand, 54]. In fact this has been the story since 2005. Overall Maoist related fatalities across India since 2005 stands 7,148; of these, 3,876, i.e. 54.22 per cent, were reported from Chhattisgarh (2,444) and Jharkhand (1,432).
The primary focus of security operations will remain focused on Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, but the attack in Bihar underlines the need for continuing vigilance in all other States, where the Maoists do retain residual capabilities. Moreover, it is premature to celebrate an imminent victory over the Maoists and lapse into complacence. Regrettably, for reasons displaying a tremendous lack of comprehension, both of the challenge and of the nature of administration in the States, the Centre has been cutting back on expenditure for critical programmes that it had underwritten in the past, on the argument that the States' share in central revenues has increased significantly (10 per cent). Thus, the Centre has either scrapped, or has not allocated funds in the current year, for the Security Related Expenditure Scheme (SRE), the Special Infrastructure Scheme (SIS), Construction/Strengthening of fortified Police Stations, the Skill Development Scheme in 34 LWE affected Districts, and the Additional Central Assistance (ACA) to LWE affected Districts, crippling crucial projects for which State funding has often been lacking.
The Maoists have demonstrated tremendous staying power in the past, and any pattern of political neglect will restore spaces for their revival once again. The SFs have repeatedly done their job, and continue to secure successes despite deficits and deficiencies. It is in the broader context of administrative lacunae, political outreach and public welfare that the greatest obstacles to an enduring solution persist. Many of the Maoist afflicted States remain poorly governed, with large populations in poverty and distress - an environment that provides ample opportunities for at least marginal Maoist recruitment, even in the face of continuing SF pressure.