Maoist violence on the decline in Chhattisgarh
There has been a significant decline in gunbattles between security forces and Maoists in Left-wing insurgency-hit Chhattisgarh over the last few years, according to the state police data. The number of gunbattles came down to 84 last year compared to 121 in 2019, 166 in 2018, 198 in 2017, and 211 in 2016 even as officials cautioned against reading too much into the data.
Multiple officials said the decrease could also be because of less engagement of security forces in core areas with Maoists and defensive counter-insurgency strategy. “...tactically Maoists are also not engaging the police until they are in a very dominant position. There was hardly any engagement between the Maoists and the forces in 2019...,” said an official on condition of anonymity.
A second official said the Maoists adopted a wait-and-watch strategy to understand the new government that was voted to power in the state in 2018. “Many Maoist leaders were of the opinion that a soft pro-tribal government has come in the state and they should not do anything to annoy it....but the killing of Bharatiya Janata Party lawmaker Bhima Mandavi [in 2019] led to change in the stance,” said the official posted in Maoist-hit Bastar region.
A third officer said the Maoists also face a fund crunch because of the 2016 demonetisation of high-value currency notes and the Covid-19 pandemic. “....[They] thus want road construction and other activities to continue in lieu of levy...there is marked decrease in arson. Maoists are mainly depending on low-intensity conflict....biding time to consolidate themselves.”
A decrease in infrastructure projects in South Bastar and more focus of the government on the social sector has also led to a marked decrease in Maoist funds.
Intelligence officials believe key Maoist leader Ramanna’s death due to illness has also left a vacuum in their top leadership. “Connectivity of senior leadership with the middle rung has become a major issue due to the strategic locations of security forces’ camps...[this has resulted] in less execution of big ambushes and brought down the violence graph. ...the opening of around 10 new camps at the strategic locations has also helped the government in reducing Maoist violence,” said a fourth official.
The official added the Maoists seem confused as dedicated and disciplined people in their ranks have remarkably decreased. He added Maoists have killed many of their own on suspicion of being police informers. “Many middle-level cadres are surrendering due to fatigue and understanding of the misdirected fight.”
In 2020, 215 Maoists surrendered compared to 315 in 2019, 465 in 2018, and 366 in 2017. “If surrenders decreased, it clearly suggests that Maoists have increased their hold in the core area,” said a fifth official.
Jan Militia of the Maoists is also replacing their main force in many areas. “Jan Militia lacks planning experience and tactics...the militia is relying more on small...attacks.”
A sixth official acknowledged they have not been very aggressive in the last two years and the Maoists have focussed on recruitment during this time.
“If troops are deployed as planned, it will lead to a marked decrease in Maoist violence...”
There has also been a decrease in civilian killing in 2019 (47) and 2020 (36). But over two months of 2021, 12 civilians have been killed. “...Everyone knows in the state that senior officers on the field are reluctant to send forces for anti-Naxal operations because they are afraid of political fallout.”
Only 28 Maoist were killed in 2020 compared to 79 in 2019. “This shows that the Maoist themselves are not engaging with security forces. This could be for two reasons – forces are not entering their areas and lack of planning among the Maoists due to the pandemic.”
Inspector general (Bastar range) Sunderaj P said they have improved the intelligence network and the public support for the Maoists has also gone down. He rejected the suggestion that they have been defensive and added police have raided over 140 hideouts and recovered arms and ammunition.
“In 2020, we opened 14 new operational base camps in Bastar range...that have opened up few critical roads along... We are strongly marching forward in our mission to bring an end to the Left-wing insurgency...”
Intelligence officials cited interrogation of surrendered Maoists and said they are more focused on the newly formed Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh zone. This is another reason for the decline in violence, they added.
“Violence has gone down but still an area the size of a country like Israel remains under Maoist dominance in Chhattisgarh. Bastar is bigger than Kerala in size and around half of Bastar is still under direct Maoist control or they have significant presence there. Of course security forces have made some progress but we are hearing unconfirmed reports that Maoists have banned education for children above the age of 10 and many of them have now started working for Maoists,” said Shubhranshu Chaudhary, a peace activist working in Bastar region.