Maoists have been forced to back out from 41 districts over the last three years and have a presence in just about 182 districts, home ministry statistics put out on Tuesday have revealed.
In 2008, every third district, 223, on an average was under the shadow of the Maoists. Home minister P Chidambaram had put this figure in public domain in August 2009, making it clear that the Maoist challenge was tough and very real.
On Tuesday, minister of state Jitendra Singh put out statistics in the Lok Sabha that indicated the change in trend.Maoists have been on an expansion spree since 2003-04. Except 110-odd districts from where violence is reported, most of the others are in the early stages of what the Maoists call "revolutionary mobilisation". This is when the cadres try to create a basic network.
A ministry official said a public outreach campaign by the government — focusing on Maoist atrocities on innocent villagers — helped show their "real face". So did the swift action by the police in states such as Haryana when Maoists tried to use industrial unrest to build their support-base.
Ajai Sahni at the Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management said the Maoists had overstepped and expanded to better-off states and urban centres such as Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Haryana. Policing and intelligence penetration in these states is better and detected them.
But this is where the good news ends.
Sahni emphasised the other side of the shrinking geographical spread was the Naxal move to focus on areas of their dominance such as the Red Corridor, a string of adjoining districts in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal.
This would mean that when security forces go on an offensive in Naxal strongholds, they will find them better-prepared.