In the early hours of September 19, 2011, a group of about 15 to 20 Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres dragged Narayana Duan (33), a forest guard, from his house at Jaipur village, located in the foothills of Gandhamardan hill under the Boden Police Station in Bargarh District, and killed him nearby. A letter left by the Maoists claimed that Duan was a ‘Police informer’, and was ‘punished’ as such. It was the first killing of a Government employee by the Maoists in the District.
Earlier, in the night of August 14, a group of nearly 60 armed Maoists dragged a local Biju Janata Dal (BJD, the ruling party in the State) leader, Raj Kishore Panda, from his residence in Telenpali village under Khaparakhol Block (administrative division) in Bolangir District, and shot him dead, again claiming he was a ‘Police informer’. Panda was the block nominee of the BJD Lok Sabha [Lower House of Parliament] Member Kalikesh Narayan Singhdeo, for supervising developmental works in the area. This was the first incident of civilian killing by Maoists in the District, though a Maoist fatality had been recorded earlier, on June 21, 2011, in the District.
On July 27, the Maoists killed a contractor, identified as Ajit Patnaik, in Kalahandi District, registering the first civilian killing in this District.
In addition to these three Districts, neighbouring Nuapada has also witnessed increased Maoist activities, with the killing of nine Policemen and three civilians in the current year, and one civilian each in 2010 and 2009. The nine Policemen, including an Assistant Superintendent of Police, belonging to the Gariyaband Police District in Chhattisgarh, were killed in a landmine blast triggered by the Maoists, 15 kilometres from Chhattisgarh border in the Sunabeda Forest in Nuapada District. They had crossed the border following reports of Maoist movement in the area.
According to SATP data, little Maoist activities were visible in these Districts prior to 2011. Only four fatalities (two civilians and two Maoists) were recorded in the six years (2005-2010) preceding, while as many as 16 fatalities [six civilian, nine Security Force (SF) personnel and one Maoist] have been witnessed in 2011. Further, at least six Maoists have been arrested in the current year in these Districts, as against none in the preceding six years.
Indeed, at the Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security held in New Delhi on February 1, 2011, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had requested the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to include Bargarh and three nearby Districts – Kalahandi, Nuapada, and Bolangir – in the western parts of the State under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme, in addition to the existing 15 Maoist affected Districts [Gajapati, Ganjam, Keonjhar, Koraput, Malkangiri, Mayurbhanj, Nabarangpur, Rayagada, Sambalpur, Sundargarh, Nayagarh, Kandhamal, Deogarh, Jajpur and Dhenkanal]. Further, Chief Minister Patnaik called upon the MHA, in June, 2011, to substantially increase financial assistance for security related infrastructure, and also to deploy an additional four Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) battalions for the State to contain and prevent Left Wing Extremism (LWE) violence.
Increased Maoist activity in these four hitherto marginally affected Districts has, consequently, not come as a surprise. A Standing Committee of the Odisha Legislative Assembly on Home Department, which was established to recommend the creation of a Security Battalion to guard 16 jails in the CPI-Maoist-affected areas and eight other highly sensitive prisons, stated in its March, 2011 report, that the Maoist were trying to open up new fronts along the Odisha-Chhattishgarh border by expanding their activities in Districts like Nuapada, Kalahandi, Bolangir, Bargarh and Nabarangpur. Nabarangpur District, just south of Kalahandi and north of Koraput, is another District where Maoist activities were noticed just a year ago.
Despite intelligence reports suggesting intensification of Maoist activities in these Districts, the state failed to initiate adequate proactive and preventive responses, even as Maoist consolidation deepened, taking advantage of the nominal SF presence in the area.
The newly affected Districts in Odisha provide a unique strategic advantage to the Maoists, as they fill a big gap between the Maoist strong-holds in the Koraput-Malkangiri Districts of Odisha and the Bastar region in Chhattisgarh, on one end, and strong-holds in Jharkhand and West Bengal, at the other end. This ‘corridor’ includes Sambalpur, Sundargarh and Keonjhar Districts, where the Maoist influence has been on record since January 23, 2003, with the killing of Kadar Singh, former sarpanch (head of village level local self-Government) of Tampargarh in Meghapal village of the Jujumura tehsil (revenue unit) in the Sambalpur District. As a result of this further consolidation, a Maoist company from Abujhmadh in Chhattisgarh can move freely through Koraput-Nabarangpur to the depth of the Saranda forest in Jharkhand, moving across Kalahandi, Nuapada, Bolangir, Bargarh, Sambalpur and Sundargarh Districts. Such freedom of movement can create an extraordinary challenge for the anti-Maoist operations by the SFs. On October 8, 2011, for instance, the SFs engaged the Maoists in an hour-long gunbattle in the Sambalpur District, forcing the rebels to retreat and neutralising their camp at the Gaigot-Kuleijharan Hills near Gusriabahal village. There were, however, no Maoist fatalities, and such withdrawals are, at best, temporary.
In order to intensify their activities in the area, the Maoists have set up a ‘Bargarh-Mahasamund Divisional Committee’, to cover Odisha’s Bargarh District and Chhattisgarh’s Mahasamund District. According to sources, Sitanadi, Udanti and Gariba are the three principal units under the Mainpur Division [Chhattisgarh], which have been operating in the border Districts of Nuapada, Bargarh and Bolangir for the past two years.
Though SFs have intensified combing operations in Nabarangpur, especially in the areas bordering Chhattisgarh, the Maoists continue to consolidate their base in the District. Sources indicate that rebels from Chhattisgarh are keen on pushing deeper into Nabarangpur as it would give them access to other Districts of the State, including Kalahandi and Bolangir.
In addition to the strategic drive for the corridor between the Abujmaadh and Saranda forests, consolidation across the new Districts appears to have been catalyzed by some pressure exerted on the Maoists in other areas as a result of counter-insurgency operations by Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. On February 3, 2011, Odisha Chief Minister Patnaik disclosed, “During the last three months alone, the SFs have conducted as many as 214 special operations and have achieved considerable success. As many as 91 Maoists have been arrested, 24 Maoists have died in Police action and 54 weapons have been recovered.” Though the Counter insurgency operations were suspended as part of the effort to secure the release of the Collector of Malkangiri, R. Vineel Krishna, who was abducted by the Maoists on February 16, 2011, the Odisha Government took the decision to resume operation on April 27, 2011, after intelligence inputs indicated that the Maoists were regrouping and planning major operations in the State. Since then, four SF personnel and three Maoists have been killed in the State outside in their existing ‘corridor’. 41 Maoists have been arrested and another 27 have surrendered in the State outside in the ‘corridor’ area, just between April 27, 2011 and October 16, 2011 reflecting the pressure on the Maoists.
Significantly, the ‘military chief’ of the Maoists in the Andhra Odisha Border (AOB) area, Pratapareddy Ramachandra Reddy alias Anjaneyulu, was replaced in the last week of July 2011 by Gajarla Ashok alias Ranganna alias Janardhan alias Aitu, previously in-charge of the South Bastar Division in the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC), to revive Maoist strength in the AOB area and lift the morale of cadres, as Anjaneyulu was seen to be progressively failing.
Both Odisha and Chhattisgarh had agreed, on June 8, 2011, on the need to undertake joint operations in view of the new front opened up by the extremists in areas adjoining both States. A senior Odisha Police official, cited in the media, noted,
We did not feel this need earlier as Odisha’s border with Chhattisgarh did not witness much Maoist activities… So far we had engaged all our resources in other areas, including Malkangiri and Rayagada Districts bordering Andhra Pradesh, where the rebels had been wreaking havoc for years. But now that the Maoists have started creating trouble on the State’s western side, we have started deploying Central and state forces to contain them. We have already deployed forces in strategic areas. More deployment is on the cards.
After the Gariyaband incident, the Central Government allocated five extra battalions of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) to be deployed on both sides of the Chhattisgarh-Odisha border. Given Odisha’s poor Police population ratio (at 108 per 100,000), such Central deployments can have only limited impact. The State has demanded another four battalions, of which two were to be deployed in the four newly afflicted Districts, but this is yet to be accepted by the Centre. At present, seven CRPF battalions and five BSF battalions have been deployed in Maoist-hit areas of the State, in support of 50 units of specially-trained Special Operation Group (SOG) of the State Police, to combat the Maoists. On July 29, 2011, the State Government announced its decision to strengthen the SOG by raising another 35 units (each unit comprises some 30 personnel).
While limited pressure has been exerted on the Maoists, there is little reason to believe that their rampage is being successfully contained. Despite losses, the rebels continue to expand their areas of influence and violence. Odisha’s tentative steps, including joint operations with Forces from neighbouring States, have failed to neutralize Maoist advances into wider areas, and the operational challenges for the SFs can only grow, as contiguous areas are brought into an expanding corridor of rebel influence and activity.