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Maoists: Back in Business

10 July, 2013

Just over a month later, on July 2, 2013, the Maoists have killed Amarjit Balihar, the Pakur District Superintendent of Police (SP) and five other Policemen in an ambush in the Kathikund Forest area of Dumka District, bordering Pakur. The SP was returning from a meeting with Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Priya Dubey in Dumka District when his vehicle was attacked by Maoists. The Maoists first triggered a landmine blast and then started firing indiscriminately on the convoy from higher ground. Another three Policemen suffered serious injuries. The Maoists escaped with two AK-47s, four INSAS rifles, two pistols and more than 600 rounds of ammunition.

The attack took place at a time when some 3,000 Security Force (SF) personnel belonging to the Jharkhand Police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were carrying out operations against the Maoists in the jungles of Palamu District. These operations commenced on June 25, 2013, and it is unsurprising that the Maoists have exploited underprepared SFs in another area. In recent times, whenever the SFs have focused on areas of Maoist strength, the Maoists have retaliated by extending their violence to other areas, in keeping with their tactical decision to "step up" their tactical counter-offensive (TCO) "in new areas so as to divert a section of the enemy forces from attacking our guerrilla bases and organs of political power." Thus, when SFs focused their operations on Latehar, Gumla and Garwah Districts in north-western Jharkhand, the Maoists struck in the Saranda Forest areas in south Jharkhand, forcing the SFs to divert troops to execute operation Anaconda II. As Force deployment has remained stretched in traditional Maoist strongholds, gaping holes have emerged in the security net in the Santhal Pargana areas of Northeast Jharkhand.

Jharkhand has about 20 battalions of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), 18 of the CRPF and two Sashastra Seema Bal, SSB; however, none of these were deployed in Dumka and Pakur Districts, which are thought to be marginally affected by Maoist activities. After the Dumka attack, two companies of CAPFs have been sent to the area. It may be noted that Jharkhand's Police Population ratio (Policemen per 100,000 population) was 178 during 2012, well above the national average of 138, though substantially below the level needed to deal with the State's complex problems of law and order administration and security. Only a small fraction of the available State Police Force is deployed for counter-insurgency operations.

Shocked reactions to the fatal attack on the Pakur SP have emphasised the very low level of past Maoist activity in the area. In the wake of the attack, Additional Director General of Police B.B. Pradhan observed, "Now Pakur and Dumka have also been officially declared as Maoist-hit Districts taking the total number of such Districts to 20 out of the total 24 in the State." This suggests that Pakur and Dumka were not previously included among Districts in the Maoist-affected category. It is significant, however, that the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) Scheme of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) lists 21 Districts of Jharkhand, and includes both Dumka and Pakur. Indeed, Deogarh District (a constituent District of the Santhal Pargana area that includes both Dumka and Pakur), is also on the SRE list. In fact, on June 25, 2013, the State Intelligence Department had issued an alert about the movement of Maoists in Santhal Pargana and also underlined the possibility of a major offensive against the SFs.

Clearly, then, Pakur and Dumka were not outside the realm of potential Maoist violence. Indeed, since 2010, at least two civilians and one SF trooper have been killed in Dumka; and two civilians, including a nun, have been killed in Pakur. More significantly, other patterns of Maoist violence and intimidation, including arson, extortion, etc., are far from unusual.

K. Vijay Kumar, the former Director General, CRPF, and presently, Advisor to the UMHA on anti-Naxal operations, has chosen to describe the July 2 killings in Dumka as an "opportunistic ambush" by the Maoists, aimed at making their presence felt after suffering "steady attrition". For one thing, it may be noted that the 'opportunity' was not presented to the Maoists, but was, in fact, the result of careful planning and of the efficient mounting and deployment of resources.

More significantly, Vijay Kumar's assessment appears to militate against his own Ministry's. On July 2, 2013, UMHA circulated a note to Members of its Consultative Committee, noting that despite a decline in violence levels, the "the core armed capabilities of the CPI (Maoist) have not suffered any significant damage". The note further emphasised that the CPI-Maoist was working "assiduously to extend its area of influence in eastern Chhattisgarh and Western Odisha... The outfit focused on organization consolidation, besides upgrading its military tactics". Similar and widely contrasting assessments have repeatedly undermined the credibility of official pronouncements on various aspects and dimensions of the Maoist challenge, and the purported 'strategy and tactics' of response.

Official sources have sought reassurance in the dramatic decline in total fatalities and other indices of Maoist violence over the past years, from a peak 1,180 fatalities in 2010, to a comparable low of 367 in 2012. Further, and rightly, it has been emphasised that the Maoists have lost significant leadership cadres over the past five years. What is missed out in such assessments, however, is the fact that much of the decline in violence is a consequence, first, of the abrupt termination of a bulk of offensive SF operations against the Maoists after the April 2010 massacre of 76 SF personnel at Chintalnar in Chhattisgarh, and a ceding of much of the Maoist "core areas" to the rebels; and, second, of a Maoist decision to focus on political consolidation in their areas of strength, after a demonstrable failure of their experiment to "extend the people's war throughout the country", which was initiated after the formations of the CPI-Maoist in 2004. It is useful to emphasise, also, that the overwhelming proportion of the loss of Maoist leadership occurred outside the Maoist "core areas", and was the result of narrowly targeted, intelligence led operations, engineered principally by the Special Intelligence Branch of the Andhra Pradesh Police. Very few leadership losses have been inflicted by the much-vaunted, but blundering, "massive and coordinate operations" to "clear, hold and develop" areas of Maoist dominance, which were launched by the UMHA.

Whatever little reassurance could be derived from the absolute decline in levels of Maoist violence should now be abandoned. Total fatalities in 2013 already stand at 259 (till July 7), as against 367 for the whole of 2012. More significantly, the combined civilian and SF fatalities, at 166, are nearly twice the Maoist total of 93. The SF to Maoist fatality ratio is a poor 1:1.4.

Worse, closer analysis of incidents demonstrates that an increasing number of attacks are initiated by the Maoists, rather than by the SFs, clearly showing where the initiative lies. A review of major incidents indicates that Jharkhand remains the most active theater of Maoist violence with seven major incidents recorded in the State. Maoists targeted the SFs in three of these incidents, while the SFs took the fight into the Maoist camp in two incidents. Maoists targeted civilians in one major incident. The seventh incident involved an attack by a Maoist breakaway faction, the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), on the Maoists.

24 SF personnel have been killed by the Maoists in Jharkhand in six incidents, out of which just one incident was initiated by the SFs. Moreover, out of a 20 Maoists claimed to have been killed in seven encounters during SF-initiated operations, at least 12 bodies have not been recovered. On June 13, 2013, Jharkhand Director General of Police (DGP) Rajiv Kumar claimed that encounters in the State had increased in the first five months of the year, with 31 encounters in 2013, as against 22 in 2012, and 27 in 2011, in the corresponding period, though there was a slight drop in total Left Wing Extremist (LWE)-linked incidents in this period.

In Chhattisgarh, anti-Maoist operations have yet demonstrate any dramatic improvement in efficiency. With 26 SF personnel and 23 Maoists killed in 2013 (till July 7), the SF-Maoist fatality ratio is adverse. Out of 23 'Maoists' killed, at least seven are widely believed to be villagers killed in a single botched operation. Nine were killed in another incident which was planned and executed by the Greyhounds of Andhra Pradesh. The remaining seven Maoists were killed in 11 encounters. According to partial data compiled by SATP, however, out of a total of 27 encounters, SFs clearly took the initiative in at least 17. Out of 26 SF personnel killed, nine SFs were killed in SF-initiated encounters.

In Bihar, anti-Maoist operations have taken a back-seat, with the State Chief Minister insisting that 'development' and not the use force, was the 'solution' to the 'Maoist problem'. The Maoists have not lost a single cadre in the State in 2013, though they have killed 10 SF personnel, seven of them in a single major attack. The Maoists also attacked the Dhanbad-Patna Intercity Express train, killing two SF personnel and one civilian.

Maharashtra has engineered a success, by comparison, with four out of five major incidents initiated by the SFs, and inflicting heavy casualties on the Maoists, with at least 23 dead. The SFs lost just one trooper in these encounters, and total SF fatalities in the State in 2013 are a low three. The Maoists have failed to initiate even a single major attack on SFs this year. They have, however, targeted civilians in one major incident, killing three persons, including the Vice President of Lloyds, a sub contractor and a Police patil, in protest against a proposal to start mining in Surajagad and Damkodvadavi hills in Gatta, Gadchiroli District.

In Odisha, while the Maoists have extended their network in the Nuapada, Balangir and Bargarh Districts, their activities have been eroded in other areas of the State, particularly as a result of the split in the party, with the Sabyasachi Panda group that dominated Ganjam, Kandhamal, Gajapti and Rayagada Districts, breaking away, to form the Odisha Maobadi Party (OMP). A bulk of current violence is concentrated in the Malkangiri District. Even the Koraput District, where the Maoists had a vice-like grip, has seen a waning of their influence, as more than 2,400 supporters of the Narayanpatna-based Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), a CPI-Maoist front organization, have surrendered to the Police since the beginning of the current year.

The current escalation in Maoist violence, and the patterns of engagement with state Forces suggest progressive consolidation on the part of the former, even as the state fails to forge and sustain a coherent strategy of response. It is also apparent that the lessons of past successes against the Maoists are yet to be learned, and an overwhelming and ill-advised dependence on CAPFs and on clumsy, often counter-productive, 'area domination' exercises persists, to the abiding neglect of State Police and intelligence capacities and capabilities. Under the circumstances, the Maoists will continue to retain, and, indeed, build, their capacity to deliver shock after shock to the system.

(The writer Mrinal Kanta Das is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management)

(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not RDI IBNS)

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