29 Maoists dead in fierce Chhattisgarh operation | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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29 Maoists dead in fierce Chhattisgarh operation

Apr 17, 2024 06:55 AM IST

The encounter comes days before the Left Wing Extremism-hit constituencies in south Chhattisgarh go to the polls in the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections.

Twenty-nine Maoists were killed in a fierce encounter with joint forces of the state police and the Border Security Force (BSF) in Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district, officials said on Tuesday, in what is the most significant single-incident blow to the rebels in eight years, and the biggest ever in the state.

Security personnel during an encounter with Maoists in Kanker district on April 16.(PTI)
Security personnel during an encounter with Maoists in Kanker district on April 16.(PTI)

Three security personnel were also injured in the exchange of fire, with at least one jawan suffering bullet injuries. They have all been declared “out of immediate danger” and airlifted to Raipur for further medical treatment, the officials added.There was also speculation that senior Maoist leader Shankar Rao was among those killed.

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The encounter comes days before the Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-hit constituencies in south Chhattisgarh go to the polls in the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections, with Bastar voting on April 19, and Kanker set to cast its ballot in the second phase on April 26.

Read Here: Chhattisgarh Police announce 5 lakh reward for intel on Naxals

With dense forests that present operational challenges, low road connectivity that makes accessing remote areas and gathering intelligence cumbersome, and heavily armed insurgents who use guerrilla tactics to attack and evade, LWE has been a four-decade-long security challenge in Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and western Maharashtra.

It is rare, given these challenges, for such a high casualty figure for the Maoists in a single operation, and experts said this signifies a critical strengthening in the security apparatus in affected states, and a consequent weakening of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

“There are several aspects that need to coexist for such a high figure of casualties. It means that the intelligence was absolutely exact, the forces had the capacity to move quickly, and all strategies were in place,” a senior police officer familiar with the region said, asking not to be named.

Also Read | ‘India will be completely Naxal-free’: Amit Shah after 29 Naxals killed in Chhattisgarh

He added that over the past eight years, there have only been two encounters that are comparable — in 2016 when 31 Maoists were killed on the Andhra-Odisha border in Malkangiri, and in November 2021, when 27 Maoists were killed in Gadchiroli.

The encounter also underlines a clear uptick in the aggression from security forces in Chhattisgarh in 2024, with 79 Maoists killed in the year already, much higher than the 22 killed in all of 2023. With the latest incident, 55 Maoists have been killed since February 25 alone – 13 were killed in an encounter in Bijapur district on April in another big incident that highlighted the ground gained by security forces.

Senior Chhattisgarh police officials said that the gunbattle that lasted over four hours took place between armed Maoists and a joint team of the Chhattisgarh Police’s District Reserve Guard and BSF on Tuesday afternoon. Personnel of central paramilitary forces are stationed in each of Bastar’s seven districts — while the Central Reserve Police Force operates in Bastar, Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur districts, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police is stationed in Kondagaon and Narayanpur, and BSF operates in Kanker.

A police statement issued by the office of the P Sunder Raj, inspector general of police (Bastar), said that a joint search team of the Kanker DRF and BSF were launched for a “search operation” in the Chottebetiya police station limits. The area is close to the Maharashtra border, and is in the vicinity of Abhujhmaad — 4,000 square kilometres of forest that is yet unmapped by the government, and considered the last bastion of the Maoists, where their most senior cadre hold up.

Police officers said that firing broke out at around 1.30pm near the Binagunda-Koragutta jungles, and lasted intermittently till around 5pm. “After the encounter, the area was searched and 29 Maoist bodies along with a huge cache of AK-47 rifles, INSAS/SLR/Carbine/.303 rifles and huge quantities of arms and ammunitions were recovered from the spot,” the Chhattisgarh Police said in a statement. It added that the bodies haven’t been identified thus far, and that process will begin once all the personnel have safely reached their camps.

In a separate statement, BSF said that the operation was launched on specific intelligence. “While the operation was still under progress, the BSF team came under fire from CPI Maoist cadres, and BSF troops effectively retaliated against them,” the central agency’s statement said.

One senior BSF official said that, on Monday, they received two separate bits of human intelligence on the gathering of senior cadre of the North Bastar division of the CPI(Maoist) in the area, and teams left for the location late on Monday night. “A team of 185 personnel reached the jungles at around 1.30pm,” the officer added.

A separate officer aware of the developments in the encounter said that the team initially found little sign of the rebels. “The signs suggested that the Maoists were there earlier, but had moved. We followed a trail which led us to them in a slightly elevated spot in the jungle. Our officials cordoned off the area and when the rebels realised that they were surrounded, they opened fire on our team at around 1.30pm. The initial firing between forces and Naxals lasted for almost an hour. And then there was a lull,” the officer said.

The gunfight happened within a small stretch of around 300sq m in the jungle, the officer added.

Between 1.30pm and 4.30pm, there were at least three separate rounds of exchange of fire between the two sides that lasted between 40 minutes to an hour. “The number of Maoists could have been around 40-50. One of our boys said he counted around 20 Naxals firing towards him. Another said he counted 35. One of the jawans said he saw some young girls carrying arms fleeing into the jungle towards the end of the encounter. We are waiting for them to return and will be stitching the sequence of events,” the official said adding that the rebels appeared to be well trained.

BSF sub-inspector Ramesh Chandra sustained injuries in the initial firing. “He was hit by sniper bullet when he accidentally exposed his leg from behind the tree which he was taking cover. The rebels were trained and engaged the forces in heavy fire for hours,” the second officer said.

“The team replied with full force, and most of the Maoists were killed in this first wave,” the officer added, asking not to be named.

Read Here: Three more Maoists killed by security forces in Chhattisgarh

Once the encounter started, the state police sent reinforcements from the Pakhanajur police station, 30km away, effectively forming a cordon in the direction the Maoists wanted to use to escape, a police officer aware of the operation said. “The west side was cordoned off this way, and to the north is a stream which is difficult to navigate. They got boxed in, and the Maoists therefore faced significant losses,” the officer added.

A home ministry official, who asked not to be named, said, “At least five inputs were shared with the forces about the gathering of these Maoists. Of these five inputs, at least two had the correct location of the camps where active operations were underway. It seemed this was a permanent camp of the Naxals.”

Security experts said that the encounter was further evidence of both increased aggressiveness, and an uptick in operational efficiency. “In the last seven years we have established several security camps in forward areas of Maoists which are giving us operational benefits. The troops have to move less to reach their targets, giving Maoists little time to navigate their way out, catching them unawares. This is a game-changer,” said DM Awasthi, former Chhattisgarh director general of police.

Another senior intelligence officer who has spent over a decade in the area said that there were clear signs that Maoist heft was dissipating. “The successful encounters are extremely telling, because it means you have not only operational and strategic advantages, but that human intelligence is getting better and more precise. Even more significantly, the Maoists have not responded in force despite one setback after another shows an element of dissipation. Most big Maoist attacks in the past, Bhejji and Burkapal in 2017 for instance where over 30 police personnel were killed, took place in March or April when they run their TCOC (Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign). But they have been either unwilling or unable to respond,” the officer said.

Union home minister Amit Shah congratulated security forces for the encounter. “I congratulate all the security personnel who made this operation successful with their bravery and wish for the speedy recovery of the brave policemen who have been injured,” Shah wrote on X, adding that the “offensive policy” of the government and the efforts of security forces have confined Naxalism to a small area today.

“Naxalism is the biggest enemy of development, peace and bright future of youth. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi ji, we are determined to free the country from the menace of Naxalism... Soon Chhattisgarh and the entire country will be completely Naxal-free,” he added.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) congratulated the security forces on the encounter, and said that this concerted effort would mean Bastar would be “Maoist-free” within a few years. “We are working according to the promises made by Prime Minister Modi who has said that Chhattisgarh will be Maoist free in a few years. This is a great success for our forces,” said Ajay Chandrakar, former minister and chief spokesperson of the state BJP.

The Congress also backed the security forces, and said that the encounter was a significant success.

“We will support any move by the administration to eradicate Maoism,” Sushil Anand Shukla, chief spokesperson for the Congress in Chhattisgarh. One Congress leader, who did not want to be named, however, expressed concern at the encounters taking place so close to the elections. “These encounters may affect the voting percentage in Kanker and Bastar. There could be some fear to come out a vote, because on the one hand, Maoists have called for a boycott, and on the other, these encounters will bring an element of danger. This could affect Congress’s chances because the BJP’s voter base in the urban district headquarters will be unaffected, and likely enthused by these successes,” this leader said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    author-default-90x90

    State Correspondent for Chhattisgarh. Reports Maoism, Politics, Mining and important developments from the state. Covered all sorts of extremism in Central India. Reported from Madhya Pradesh for eight years.

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    author-default-90x90

    Prawesh Lama covers crime, policing, and issues of security in Delhi. Raised in Darjeeling, educated in Mumbai, he also looks at special features on social welfare in the National Capital.

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