INDIA: COUNTER-OFFENSIVE AMIDST LOSSES IN CHHATTISGARH – ANALYSIS
By Fakir Mohan Pradhan*
Continuing the momentum after the December 1, 2014, Kasalpar [Sukma] attack on Security Forces (SFs), in which 14 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, including two officers, were killed, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres killed at least seven civilians in six incidents, and 10 SF personnel in nine incidents, while losing just three cadres in two incidents, as of February 25, 2015, in Chhattisgarh. Interestingly, there has not been a single major incident [resulting in a total of three or more casualties] in this period, indicating that the Maoists are going about their business steadily, without drawing much attention to themselves. On January 1, 2015, Maoists killed a top surrendered Maoist, Korsa Jagaram aka Shivaji, in Kottapal village, Bijapur District. Shivaji, a native of Silger in Sukma, was a member of the West Bastar Division Committee of the CPI-Maoist and carried a reward of INR 900,000 before his surrender. He was recruited as a Gopniya Sainik (secret informer) by the Bijapur Police after his surrender.
Due to his involvement in several prominent attacks on the security forces and proximity to top Maoists, he was a major intelligence source for the Police. “His death is a major loss for us,” an unnamed officer conceded. Further, in what appeared to be a planted intelligence trap, the Maoists ambushed a joint party of the District Police and Border Security Force (BSF) near the Bande area of Kanker District on February 2, 2015, killing Bande Station House Officer (SHO) Avinash Sharma and Gopniya Sainik (secret agent) Sonu Ram Gawde, while injuring another six SF personnel — three each from the Police and BSF. While all the personnel were on motorcycles, at least Sharma and Gawde were in formals rather than fatigues, indicating that they were not expecting an armed engagement at all. The incident assumed significance as Kanker had not reported the death of any SF personnel in Maoist attacks through 2014.
According to partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal, Chhattisgarh regained the dubious distinction of recording the highest fatalities in LWE-related violence in India in 2014, with a total of 113 killed, including 25 civilians 55 SF personnel and 33 Maoists. In 2013, 128 fatalities had been recorded in the State, including 48 civilians 45 SF personnel and 35 Maoists. The trends indicate a decrease in civilian and an increase in SF fatalities, with Maoist casualties decreasing only marginally in 2014, as against 2013. Data released by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) confirms, to be uploaded in SATP] these trends, recording 146 total fatalities, including 52 civilians 59 SF personnel and 35 Maoists, in 2014; in comparison to 149 fatalities, including 67 civilians 44 SF personnel and 38 Maoists, in 2013.
Significantly, the number of SF personnel killed in Chhattisgarh is disproportionately high, in comparison to other Maoist-affected States. According to SATP data, in 2014 Chhattisgarh alone accounted for 55 SF fatalities, out of a total of 87 in all States. In 2013, Chhattisgarh accounted for a much lower 45 out of 111 SF fatalities in all States, with Jharkhand and Bihar accounting for 26 and 25 fatalities, respectively. The SF to Maoist fatality ratio is also exceptionally adverse and worsening, at 1.7:1 in 2014, as against 1.29:1 in 2013. It is clear that Chhattisgarh remains the nerve centre of Maoist movement and functions as the locus of their ‘tactical counter offensive’ campaigns. District-level fatalities data further indicates that almost all fatalities in Chhattisgarh have been restricted to the Bastar Division – comprising Sukma, Bijapur, Dantewada, Bastar, Kondagaon, Narayanpur and Kanker Districts. The only exception is Rajnandgaon District (two fatalities), which shares its border with Gadchiroli in Maharashtra.
Two troopers of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) – Constable Gulab Yadav and Constable Narottam Das – were killed and another 12 were injured when Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres blew up a mini-bus carrying personnel near Nandai on the Imamganj – Dumaria route in Gaya District on February 24, 2015. The unit also came under fire from the Maoists after the improvised explosive device (IED) blast. According to Police sources, there was ‘heavy force mobilization’ in the area in the wake of an encounter in the vicinity a day earlier. The site of the explosion was part of an area believed to be safe, with regular traffic flows, and was not, prima facie in the ‘vulnerable’ category, which is why the COBRA unit took the liberty of travelling in a mini bus. A measure of complacency may also have crept in because of the decline in Maoist violence in the State in 2014.
According to the partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Bihar recorded 17 fatalities in Left Wing Extremism (LWE) related incidents in 2014, including seven civilians, seven Security Force (SF) personnel and three Maoists; these numbers represented a sharp drop from the 48 fatalities in 2013, including 21 civilians, 25 SF personnel and two Maoists. Indeed, on January 9, 2015, Bihar Police claimed that it had successfully contained LWE in the State, with the arrest of a number of Maoists and the recovery of explosives. According to figures released by Bihar Police Headquarters, though there were 105 incidents of Maoist violence in 2014, as against 103 in 2013, only 20 civilians were killed in 2014, against 36 in 2013.
The number of Police killed also saw a sharp drop, to six in 2014, from 25 in 2013. [Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) data indicates that the number of civilians killed by Maoists in 2014 in Bihar was 26]. Maoists were also able to drastically reduce their own casualties in the State over 2013 and 2014, suggesting that the decline in Maoist violence may not entirely have been enforced by state, and could represent a choice by the Maoists to observe strategic silence. The February 24, 2015, explosion in Gaya is a reminder that Maoist strike capabilities are intact. Bihar recorded one major incident (resulting in three or more fatalities) in 2014, in comparison to five such incidents in 2013. Three SFs were killed and another eight were injured under the Dhibra Police Station limits in Aurangabad District on April 7, 2014, while diffusing an IED. The Maoists engaged in six encounters, 11 arson incidents, three attacks involving their Peoples Militia, and three recorded incidents of abduction in 2014.
Crucially, as in 2013, Gaya, Aurangabad and Jamui saw the maximum number of violent incidents. The Maoists were also involved in several act of violence during the 16th Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) election. On March 27, 2014, for instance, about 100 Maoist cadres blew up two mobile towers, exploding powerful bombs at Manjhauli and Dumaria Bazar villages of Gaya District, ahead of then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Ministerial Candidate Narendra Modi’s election rallies. Further on April 5, 2014, the Maoists ordered the closure of Janata Dal-United and BJP election offices at the Dumaria Block Headquarters in Gaya District. However, despite these actions, threats, and calls for election boycott, the voter turn-out in Bihar during the 2014 Lok Sabha election, at 56.28 per cent, was 11.82 per cent higher than the 2009 elections (44.46 per cent). Huge amounts of arms and ammunition were recovered from 10 Districts of the State in 2014, particularly from Rohtas and Munger. East Champaran (21), Munger (25), Patna (6) and Muzaffarpur (31) recorded the maximum number of arrests, 83, out of a total of 164 arrests in the State in 2014, as compared to 110 in 2013.
Among those arrested in 2014 were Azad Paswan, ‘secretary’ of the Sone Vindhyanchal Zonal Committee; Sunil Kumar aka Shambhuji aka Lambuji, a member of the ‘special area committee’; five ‘commanders’, one ‘central zonal area commander’, two ‘zonal commanders,’ two ‘sub-zonal commanders’ and five ‘area commanders.’ Maoist-related incidents (both violent and non-violent) were reported from 21 Districts, out of a total of 38 Districts in Bihar. On the basis of underground and over ground activities, three Districts – Aurangabad, Gaya, and Jamui – were categorized as highly affected in 2014; another three – Rohtas, Muzaffarpur and Munger – were moderately affected; while fifteen Districts – East Champaran, Patna, Arwal, Banka, Nawada, Kaimur, Lakhisarai, Jehanabad, Sheohar, Buxar, Vaishali, Saran, Khagaria, Bhojpur, Begusarai – remained marginally affected.
Under pressure of a rapidly changing situation, the Maoists claimed to have introduced ‘structural changes’ in their organization, introducing a ‘new committee’ with a focus on the Jharkhand-Bihar region, dismantling the existing Bihar-Jharkhand Special Area Committee (BJSAC). The newly constituted East Bihar Eastern Jharkhand Special Area Committee (EBEJSAC) will include Dumka, Godda, Pakur and Jamtara under Santhal Pargana Division of Jharkhand; and Bhagalpur, Banka, Jamui, Lakhisarai and Monghyr in Bihar. This was part of the strategy adopted during the ‘fourth central committee meeting’ held in 2013.
Woman naxal killed in face-off with police in Sukma
Raipur, Mar 3 (PTI) A woman Naxal was shot dead in a gun-battle with security forces in Chhattisgarh’s insurgency-hit Sukma district, police said today. “The rebel– who is yet to be identified– was killed in an exchange of fire between a joint team of security personnel and ultras in the restive Gadiras police station limits late last night,” Sukma Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) Santosh Singh told PTI.
NSD strengthens ties with people of remote hamlets
No Naxal movement in this part of the State, says IG (West Zone) The Naxal Special Division (NSD), which consists of two teams in Coimbatore and the Nilgiris districts, has been successful in building cordial relationship with people in tribal villages and hamlets bordering Kerala. Inspector General of Police (West Zone) K. Shankar said that the teams have met the primary target of building ties with the villagers. The teams are operational from February 1 following the attacks on a forest office and a few other places at Palakkad district, Kerala, in December 2014. The dedicated teams were formed in addition to the combing operations by the special wings of the police and tightening vigil at the border by the local police.
During the last one month, the teams have visited each village at least a couple of times and interacted with the residents there, creating awareness on government schemes, enquiring about their needs, and also requesting them to share information with the police on movement of strangers in their area. Stating that there is no Naxal movement in this part of the State, Mr. Shankar added that the police have also targeted recruitment of 75 Home Guards in bordering hamlets in Ooty and around 30 in similar areas in Coimbatore district, by the end of March. Efforts were also underway to identify and induct more youth in bordering areas as Home Guards and for honorary positions as ‘friends of police’ or ‘community police’.
It is learnt that involving youth in these activities would give them confidence that they too were part of the system (active policing). The NSD personnel in Coimbatore are also trying to identify places such as blue metal manufacturing units that use explosives. Stating that though such hazardous units were at a safe distance from the border, efforts are underway to identify those located at secluded places. The unit owners will be advised to keep the hazardous materials in a safe and secure place in the premises and also to have alarm systems.
Hunt on for top Maoist
The Bhadrachalam sub-division police have stepped up vigil along the porous border with Chhattisgarh following some inputs about the possible movement of a top Maoist leader in the areas close to the inter-State border. Acting on the unconfirmed reports that a top Maoist leader of the cadre of special zonal committee secretary of the Dandakaranya region was moving along with his ailing wife for the latter’s treatment, the sub-division police kept a close watch on the hospitals in the mandals bordering Chhattisgarh. The higher ups have reportedly asked the local police in the mandals sharing border with the trouble-torn areas of Chhattisgarh to keep a watch on the clinics of RMPs in the remote areas in the division.
There are unconfirmed reports that Maoist leader Ramanna, who is in charge of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, is likely to surrender along with his wife. A Warangal report quoting top police officials said they have no information on rumours that Ramanna was surrendering before the police. Referring to the reports that the naxal leader was on his way out from the party and approached the police, Superintendent of Police A. K. Jha said he does not have any such information. He said those aspiring to surrender may approach any officer from SI to DIG depending on the trust levels. When contacted Warangal Range DIG B. Malla Reddy denied any such developments. He said there are no such developments four Telangana districts. Within the police department, different wings would be dealing with issues and SIB is under no obligation to reveal information unless it thinks needed, he added. Adilabad Superintendent of Police Tarun Joshi denied knowledge of surrender of any extremist in the district.
Police recover huge cache of arms from Maoist hideout in Jharkhand
Bokaro, Mar 03 (ANI): Police in Jharkhand recovered huge cache of arms and ammunition from a Maoist hideout in the region. Acting on a tip off police and paramilitary forces raided the Maoist hideout in Morpa forest region in which they blew off rebels’ bunker and recovered arms and ammunition along with their belongings
Explosives found in Bokaro district
Bokaro district police on Monday discovered arms and ammunition which allegedly belong to Maoists and their splinter groups during a raid conducted in Luggu Hill forest under Gomia block. The raids are still on as police have information of Maoist movement in the area. North Chotanagpur IG, Tadasha Mishra rewarded the police team with cash reward of Rs 50,000 for successful raid.
Top Red leaders in Luggu:
Bokaro police have information about the members of the central, zonal and regional committees of Maoist outfits having descended into the jungles of Luggu, Jhumra and Parasnath to hold a meeting with Red cadres of the region to discuss their future course of action. Acting on a tip off, police conducted raids here late on Sunday. The rebels fled from the spot during raids leaving behind a huge haul of arms and ammunition. Following the recovery of arms, police lodged an FIR against 11 Maoist leaders, which included a woman early on Monday.
3 Maoists nabbed in Cachar
SILCHAR: Acting on a tip-off, police and CRPF personnel arrested three activists of CPI (Maoists) in a joint operation on Sunday. Naren Orang (28), Arjun Orang (20) and Barsing Teron (18) were nabbed from Cachar’s Roopacherra Tea Estate. SP (Cachar) Diganta Bora said there were reports that some senior Maoist leaders were staying in the Roopacherra locality for the last few days. On the basis of the report, a team of 90 policemen and CRPF personnel belonging to 147 Battalion cordoned off the area and rounded up the Maoists. A number of incriminating documents, publicity materials, money receipts and a sum of Rs 40,000 were recovered from them. Bora said while Naren and Arjun are activists of CPI (Maoist) publicity wing, Barsing is an armed cadre of the outfit.
The SP added that while Naren and Arjun are residents of the Roopacherra locality, Teron is an inhabitant of Kaligaon village near Bokajan in Karbi Anglong district of Assam. He has been staying there for the last two months. “They are active in the tea belt of the Barak Valley for quite sometime. Besides spreading the ideology of the outfit, they were engaged in recruiting youths of the tea community. Last week, they organized a documentary show on Maoist ideology and activities of the outfit on the campus of Roopacherra LP School,” the SP said. The three of them are being interrogated at Silchar police station. The development has rung the alarm bells about Maoists in this valley bordering Bangladesh, a source said. On May 9, 2013, Andhra Pradesh Police, in cooperation with their Assam counterpart, had arrested CPI (Maoist) central committee member and a key leader of the northeast chapter of the outfit, Anukul Chandra Naskar alias PareshDa (65), from Silchar. Naskar is a native of Balia village in West Bengal’s South-24 Paraganas district.
E Champaran police arrest PLGA activist
Motihari: Santosh Sah alias Manikant, area commander, People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) of CPI (Maoist), was arrested on Monday during a combing operation launched by the CRPF in riverine areas of river Gandak near Gobindganj in East Champaran district. Srikarma Bhutia, commandant, 153 battalion of CRPF, Motihari, said acting on a tip-off, the CRPF personnel nabbed the extremist operating in diara areas for sometime to strengthen the banned organization with the help of some Maoists of Muzaffarpur, Gopalganj, Siwan and Sheohar. Sah was wanted by the police since 2005 in the murder case of an assistant commander of CRPF at Kadma under Madhuban police station (PS), Madhuban bank loot case and a bank dacoity case in Sitamarhi. He is being quizzed by police.
East Champaran and Gopalganj police with CRPF personnel have launched a joint drive against Maoists in the Gandak diara area near Gobindganj and Gopalganj since last month and have destroyed their several hideouts. Extremists are expanding their base in the area to operate in East and West Champaran, Gopalganj and Muzaffarpur districts. Several top extremists of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have taken shelter in the diara area, according to police..