Bihar Assessment 2008
The surrender appeared abject. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar made little attempt to hide his despair in the Chief Minister’s Conference of Internal Security in New Delhi on December 20, when he said, "What used to be a minor problem in the State has now taken the shape of full-blown terrorism that the State alone cannot tackle. We need help from the Central Government." The statement reflects, at once, the tremendous anxiety over the encircling threat of Left Wing Extremism (LWE) as well as the incapacity of many afflicted States to respond effectively.
Insurgency related fatalities in Bihar: 2006-07
Source: Data 2006: Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Provisional Data 2007:
Institute for Conflict Management (ICM)
Year 2007 witnessed a rise in overall fatalities in LWE-related incidents in Bihar. According to provisional data, 49 fatalities were recorded in 2007, as compared to 51 fatalities in 2006. Whereas fatalities among the Maoist ranks remained at comparable low levels, there was a sharp dip in civilian fatalities (down from 40 to 23), with a corresponding and alarming rise in security forces (SF) ranks, registering more than a four-fold increase – at 21, up from five in 2006. The dominance of the Maoists in the State was demonstrated in the proliferation of ‘swarming attacks’ – coordinated assaults by large numbers of Maoist cadres and ‘people’s militia’, principally on Police and SF posts, camps and establishments. Of the 42 swarming attacks conducted by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) through out the country in 2007, 12 took place in Bihar alone. Significantly, there were just nine swarming attacks by the Maoists across the country, in 2006, of which only one was located in Bihar.
Interestingly, at the beginning 2007, Bihar was being projected as a ‘success story’. The State witnessed a decline in LWE-related activities from an alarming 323 incidents in 2004 to 186 in 2005 and to a further 107 in 2006. The related fatalities had also nosedived from 171 to 96 to 51 during the corresponding period. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), ‘LWE violence’ was reported from 69 Police Stations in the State in 2006, a noticeable decrease from a total of 80 Police Stations in the preceding year. The achievement was largely ascribed, by both the State Government and the MHA, to the neutralisation of several Maoist cadres, mostly through arrests. In fact, 441 extremists including 10 zonal commanders and 30 area commanders of the CPI-Maoist were arrested in 2006, and another 16 had surrendered to the Police.
It is now evident, however, that the dip in violence was not the consequence of the ‘neutralisation’ of Maoist cadres. Indeed, the numbers in 2007 with regard to arrests appears even more impressive than the preceding record. According to Bihar Police data (released on December 20), 553 extremists were arrested in 2007. In addition, 160 firearms including SLRs and stenguns, 2,916 detonators, 35 ‘can bombs’, 4,800 live cartridges, and 2,476 kilograms of explosive materials were also recovered during the year. Nevertheless, violence escalated across the State, particularly targeting SFs, the Government machinery and the political establishment. The reality is that the decline in violence over the preceding years was a tactical decision on the part of the Maoists, and certainly not the consequence of any dramatic operational successes or visible augmentation of the capacities of the state’s instrumentalities.
The sheer and endemic lack of human development, crumbling administrative machinery and decaying infrastructure have facilitated the spread of LWE across Bihar. The Maoist dominance is well documented and officially confirmed. According to a March 2007 Bihar Police document, 30 of the State’s 38 Districts are currently affected by Maoist activities. Nine of these have been designated 'hyper-sensitive'. A further nine Districts fall into the 'sensitive' category, while the remaining 12 Districts are categorised 'less sensitive'. According to the Institute for Conflict Management’s database, Maoist activities – though not necessarily Maoist violence – in 2006 and 2007 (till December 20), was reported from 32 Districts. While Maoist influence has been most visible over the southern and central Districts, the northern Districts, sharing border with Nepal, have also been witnessing increasing mobilisation as well as the actual orchestration of attacks, indicating a comprehensive expansion of the Maoist strength across the State’s geographical spread. Six Districts, including four sharing Bihar’s southern boundary with Jharkhand (Rohtas, Gaya, Aurangabad and Jamui), have been designated as ‘worst affected’ by Maoist violence by the MHA. Even capital Patna has not remained immune to Maoist activities, and at least eight Maoists, including senior ‘commander’ Bhaskarji and Tushar Kant Bhattacharya, were arrested in four different incidents in 2007.
Bihar remains a critical centre for the Maoist strategic outreach. In spite of significant arrests, the at least 2,500 strong cadre of the CPI-Maoist has found it easy to retain its strongholds in the State. Unconfirmed reports have indicated that the outfit is successfully canvassing among the State’s rural populations to ‘contribute’ one child per family to augment the outfit’s strength. Following a meeting of the Maoists’ Central Military Commission (CMC) in February 2007 in the Bihmbandh wildlife sanctuary in Bihar, the group has shifted an unspecified number of arms fabrication units to Bihar.
The CPI-Maoist is also reportedly benefiting from its linkages with the Maoists in Nepal. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, in his speech at the Chief Minister’s Conference on Internal Security on December 20, called for efforts to engage the Nepalese government in a dialogue to tide over the problem. The Chief Minister’s concerns have also been corroborated by the Central Para-military Forces (CPMFs), with sources within the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) claiming that CPI-Maoist activities in the Districts of Sitamarhi, Sheohar, East & West Champaran and Muzzafarpur are aided by their nexus with their Nepali counterparts. Nevertheless, links between the CPI-Maoist and their counterparts in Nepal remain largely unsubstantiated in terms of actual operational cooperation.
The Maoists in Bihar have, however, demonstrated their capacity to repeatedly impose a total shut down on the State. On at least three occasions in 2007, Maoist sponsored bandhs (general strikes) paralysed life across the State. Road and rail traffic were disrupted on December 12, during a bandh called to protest the death sentence awarded to five CPI-Maoist cadres in connection with the November 3, 2005 killing of three Policemen at Gaura village in the Banka District. Previously, on November 18 and 19, a 48-hour long bandh protesting the violence in neighbouring West Bengal’s Nandigram, affected vehicular movement across rural Bihar. Again on September 23, a bandh call, in protest against the arrest of senior CPI-Maoist leader Tushar Kant Bhattacharya, disrupted civilian life across the State. In addition, cases of periodic shut-down of markets and schools for either non-payment of extortion amount or refusal to abide by Maoist diktats are commonplace. In the last week of September, a rural market in the southern Aurangabad District remained shut for over a week for violating a Maoist call for a shutdown. A few months earlier, the Maoists shut down a school in the same District for over six weeks for failing to meet an extortion demand before the construction of the new school building commenced.
In a number of the northern Districts, the CPI-Maoist runs Jan Adalats (People’s Courts) administering a crude and swift retributive ‘justice’. In one such case, on July 1, two alleged ‘Police informers’ were beaten to death following a Jan Adalat ruling at Sisahani village in East Champaran District.
Maoist activities have impacted adversely on several development projects across the State. According to a December 2007 report by the Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON), 23 of the 57 road building projects in the Arwal, Gaya, Aurangabad and Jehanabad Districts have been abandoned by the contractors due to Maoist extortion demands. In the Month of November, the CPI-Maoist demanded INR 220 million from the Hyderabad-based Engineering and Construction Inc., which is engaged in road building in the Rohtas District, leading to a temporary suspension of the project.
Pitted against such challenges, the effectiveness of the SF operations has been severely undermined by endemic capacity deficits. Bihar has an abysmal Police-population ratio of 60.49 per 100,000 (as against a national average of 142), though Police density (Policemen per 100 square kilometre area) at 57.94 is higher than the all India average of 48.89. A staggering 19,624 vacancies 27 per cent of the total sanctioned posts at 71,497) exist in the Police Department, the highest among LWE affected States in the country. As a result, Bihar remains perennially dependant on the meagre CPMF deployment for its counter-insurgency operations. At present, 30 companies of CRPF personnel are deployed in the State, and this ‘inadequate deployment’ has become the permanent and convenient alibi to explain away high-profile Maoist attacks. For example coordinated attack on the local Police station, block headquarters and two branches of banks at Riga of north Bihar’s Sitamarhi District on the March 31, 2007, was blamed on the diversion of CPMF companies to the election-bound State of Uttar Pradesh.
What is ignored in such ‘justifications’ is the utter neglect of capacity creation within the State Police apparatus, and the refusal of the State’s political leadership to face up to its own responsibilities. The waste, underutilisation and diversion of available funds for Police modernisation has been a bane in States affected by LWE. According to the MHA, Bihar spent INR 603 million in 2004-05 and INR 531 million in 2005-06 on fortification and augmentation of weaponry for Police Stations in the LWE affected Districts. A further INR 338 million had been released (till November 15, 2006) in the 2006-07 financial year. Regrettably, the impact of this significant expenditure reflected poorly on the actual working conditions of the State Police. A May 2006 report by the Bihar Police Association indicated that over 300 Police Stations, 92 Police pickets and over hundred town outposts located in extremist-hit Districts were without boundary walls and minimum infrastructures. Similarly, the ambitious INR 1.5 billion jail modernisation programme is yet to be implemented. The Bihar Government is yet to provide bullet-proof vehicles, high-frequency wireless sets, night-vision devices and anti-landmine vehicles to Police personnel in the LWE affected Districts. Similarly, the number of personnel to have completed the "anti-extremist tactics course" designed to fight LWE remains miniscule. The quality of arms available with Police personnel is yet to achieve a level of satisfactory sophistication, compared to those available with the Maoist cadres. As a result, the law-enforces have much reason to be fearful of the extremists – and their vulnerability has repeatedly been demonstrated through swarming attacks that have overrun Police Stations and Posts. On one occasion, on April 24, 2007, the Manikpur Police Station in the Lakhisarai District was shut down for over a week after Police personnel deserted their posts, fearing Maoist attack.
In July 2007, the Bihar Government unveiled a ‘three-pronged strategy’ to deal with the LWE problem comprising the simultaneous mounting of an offensive against the extremists, the strengthening of intelligence networks and undertaking development schemes as an ‘anti-dote’ against the rampaging Maoists. Since April 2006, in a bid to tide over its dependence on the CPMFs and to fill up the void of trained personnel, the Government has raised the 5,000-strong State Auxiliary Police (SAP), comprising retired Army personnel, and has deployed them in sensitive Districts. The SAP, widely considered the brainchild of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, has since expanded to include another 11,500 personnel. However, the results of these initiatives are yet to make any impact on Maoist activities in the State.
Nitish Kumar’s plea of helplessness cannot absolve him of the sins of political lethargy and administrative collapse that have contributed immensely to the Maoist capacities in the State over the years. Chronic neglect of internal security and policing issues has allowed the armed extremists to establish a sway over wide areas of the State and to gradually envelop so called ‘safe zones’. The Centre can, of course, provide some ‘emergency relief’ in terms of CPMFs and resources, to fight the worst of the current manifestations of Maoist violence. If a permanent solution is to be secured, however, it is the State Government that will have to acknowledge its obligations, build capacities, and create the situation in which the rule of law and administrative and security dominance of the state and its agencies can be restored.