Chhattisgarh Assessment 2010
On January 2, 2010, the Chhattisgarh Police announced a ‘new’ strategy to combat the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) menace by packing small areas with adequate Security Force (SF) personnel to force the Maoists to flee and develop it later. The State Director General of Police (DGP) Vishwa Ranjan said: "We have started a new form of joint operation in Rajnandgaon and northern Bastar. The objective is to pack a small area with adequate force, so that Naxals [Left Wing Extremists] are forced to flee the area. Once they have retreated we will develop the area. When that area has developed will move to another geographical area and develop it."
The ‘new strategy’ displays a degree of ignorance, of Maoist intent, strategy and tactics, of the country’s and particularly of Chhattisgarh’s developmental profile, and of the quality and potential of governance in India and in the State, that is nothing short of astonishing. Even as articulated, the objective of the ‘strategy’ is no more than to force the Maoists to ‘flee’ the ‘small’ target areas saturated with Force. The DGP, however, fails to explain where the extremists would flee – presumably simply to other parts of the State, or across porous borders into contiguous territories in neighbouring States. This may not be particularly difficult, especially if the areas targeted are suitably ‘small’ in terms of Force availability – but it is far from clear what this ‘strategy’ could achieve. Holding territory is no part of current Maoist strategy and, confronted with overwhelming – or even adequate – Force, they would quickly withdraw to create new foci of violence that would demand a diversion of Force. Assuming – quite unrealistically – that the DGP is able to hold the course in his ‘small area’ and is also magically (it would take nothing less than magic) able to ‘develop’ these areas, are we to understand that when he ‘moves to another geographical area’, the Maoists will be so daunted by the ‘development’ that they will abandon all hope of mobilisation there? The Maoists are, today, successfully targeting the underbelly – and every system has one – of the most affluent States in India. Are we to believe that the miracle of development in the DGP’s ‘small area’ will have wiped every last tear from every last eye, leaving no conceivable room for extremist recruitment, or that the Maoists will not be able to redirect their existing forces from the neighbourhood, once the DGP and his men have ‘move on’ to ‘another geographical area’? Crucially, what is Chhattisgarh’s current record of ‘development’ in areas where the Maoists have no significant presence of activity? If the state lacks the capacity, the competence and the integrity to develop these areas, how and by what agency is the marvellous transformation of the DGP’s ‘small area’ to be secured? It is not clear, moreover, how (and whether) this strategy is to be reconciled with the Centre’s oft-announced objective of launching ‘coordinated and comprehensive’ operations across the five worst affected States in the country.
The likelihood, of course, is that this is just another grand pronouncement in the succession of flip-flops the State has spun out as an excuse for its ‘strategy’ against LWE. It s useful, in this sequence, to recall that, on February 12, 2009, Chief Minister Raman Singh was offering talks to the Maoists. Three months later, on May 9, his Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar ruled out negotiations with the LWEs. On October 4, the Chief Minister himself retracted and said that his Government would neutralise the Maoists and announced that ‘fresh operations’ against them would commence on November 1, 2009. Through the year, there have been several and contradictory declarations at different levels in the State hierarchy, alternately threatening dire actions against the Maoists, or seeking ‘peaceful resolution’ through negotiations, or varying ‘political’ and ‘developmental’ solutions. Through 2009, moreover, operations have secured uncertain gains, while the Maoists have inflicted dramatic costs on the State, even as they have systematically augmented their capacities and presence across its territories.
After a significant fall in the number of fatalities (168) in the year 2008 as compared to the preceding year (350), Chhattisgarh witnessed a spurt in killings once again, with 345 fatalities in 2009, including , 137 extremists, 121 Security Forces (SFs) and 87 civilians, according to the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) Database. With this performance, Chhattisgarh retained the ‘distinction’ of being the worst Maoist-affected State in the country For the fourth consecutive year. Fatalities in all three categories – civilians, SFs and extremists – nearly or more than doubled between 2008 and 2009.
Chhattisgarh: LWE insurgency related fatalities- 2005-2009 (SATP)
Source: ICM Database
Chhattisgarh: LWE insurgency related fatalities- 2001-2008 (MHA)
Source: Annual Report 2004-2005 & 2008-2009, Ministry of Home Affairs(MHA), Government of India.
If official data is taken into account, the situation may be worse. According to data released by the Chhattisgarh Police, 235 persons fell victim to CPI-Maoist violence between January 1 and November 30, 2009. They include 99 Policemen, two undercover Policemen, 21 Special Police Officers (SPOs), 11 Government officials, and 102 ordinary citizens. The number of Maoists killed was not indicated.
ICM data, based on open source reportage, meanwhile, recorded a total of just 160 incidents involving Maoists in 2009. 97 of these were incidents of killing, including 32 major incidents (three or more fatalities). The 40,000-square kilometres of Bastar region, comprising of the Districts of Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Dhamtari and Kanker, remained the most violent theatres, accounting for 258 fatalities in a total of 75 incidents of killing. While Dantewada, with 145 fatalities, witnessed the highest number of killings among the Maoists (82) and SF personnel (46), Bijapur (78 fatalities) recorded largest number civilians killed (31).
The ICM Database indicates increasing Maoist action against civilians, though this is still to approach the peak of 189 civilian fatalities in 2006, largely the consequence of the disastrous Salwa Judum experiment. Nevertheless, the figure had gradually declined to 35 in 2008, to spurt up to at least 87 in 2009. One of the principal reasons for this is that the Maoists are increasingly convinced that civilians are acting as Police informers. Brutal killings are intended to discourage such ‘cooperation’ with the State, even as they intimidate large populations into greater compliance with Maoist diktats. Despite sustained civilian targeting by the Maoists, however, DGP Vishwa Ranjan contended, "Police are getting good support from the local population in the drive against insurgents as the people are with Maoists only because of fear, not because of the heart." Notably, on September 4, bodies of four villagers killed by CPI-Maoist cadres were recovered from a forest in the Aaded village of Bijapur District. The Superintendent of Police, Avinash Mohanty, had then stated, "Police had arrested two top Maoists from this area two months ago. The rebels suspected that the four were responsible for tipping the Police off, which led to the arrests."
Meanwhile, DGP Vishwa Ranjan, quoting a Union Home Ministry report, revealed that, among the worst Naxal-infested States, the maximum number of Maoists was killed in Chhattisgarh. The lowest number of Naxal-related incidents over the past year was also recorded in this State. The DGP disclosed that 107 Naxalites were killed during 217 encounters that took place between SF personnel and Naxalites in various parts of the State in 2009. He also said: "The figure could be much more as the Police officially take down the number on the basis of dead bodies found. Since the extremists carry away the dead bodies, Police suspect that the number will be more. Even the Naxal literatures underline heavy casualties in Chhattisgarh."
In the most successful offensive, on September 18-19, a joint force of the Combined Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) and the Chhattisgarh Police, in an Operation that lasted 48 hours, killed at least 24 CPI-Maoist cadres in the Dantewada District. An Assistant Commandant of the CoBRA Force, Manoranjan Singh, had been killed in the attack launched by the SFs in the night of September 17. On September 19, SF personnel recovered the bodies of five of their missing comrades, including Assistant Commandant Rakesh Chaurasia.
The Police also arrested at least 99 Maoists, including two ‘commanders’, in a total of 20 incidents of arrest, according to the ICM-SATP Database. DGP Vishwa Ranjan disclosed that 177 active Naxalite cadres and 445 Sangham members (village-level supporters) were arrested in 2009.
DGP Vishwa Ranjan claimed, "Without an urban base, the Maoists can’t operate an underground movement in the forests. They rely on logistics support from their urban network. They (the Maoists) can’t survive without an urban base. Police in Chhattisgarh have cracked down hard on rebels’ urban network throughout 2009, and the Maoists have now been put under severe Police pressure in the State."
Despite these apparent setbacks, the Maoists sustained their operations – some of them devastating – against the State machinery. The extremists killed 137 SF personnel in landmine explosions, ambushes and gun battles. In the most gruesome attack, in three interlinked incidents at Madanwada, Khoregaon and Sitagaon under the Manpur Police Station in the Rajnandgaon District on July 12, the Maoists killed a total of 29 Policemen, including Superintendent of Police, Vinod Choubey – the highest ranking officer to be killed by the Maoists in the State till date. On August 11, challenging the SFs’ firepower, the Maoists engaged in a 20-hour long encounter in the Dantewada District. Though six CPI-Maoist cadres were killed and there were no casualties among the SFs, the sheer protraction of the encounter suggests that, despite the Police Forces recovering huge caches of arms and ammunition on at least eight occasions, the Maoists retain the ‘military capability’ to challenge state Forces. In one incident of recovery, five tons of explosives and ammunition, including 17,500 rounds of rifle ammunition and 1,550 other rounds, were recovered by the Police from a truck during a search operation at a check post on the Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand border in Jashpur District, on March 17,2009.
Continuing Maoist successes undermined SF morale. On July 15, 2009, 29 Policemen were suspended for refusing Jungle Warfare training. Again, on August 14, 15 Policemen were suspended in Chhattisgarh after they refused to take part in anti-Maoist operations. On August 26, 13 Police constables, who had completed a specialised training course at the Counter-Insurgency Training and Jungle Warfare College (CTJWC) at Kanker in Bastar, were dismissed for their refusal to join counter-insurgency operations.
Maoist operations continued to target the State’s economy, with at least 13 incidents of attack on economic establishments (Government, Public and Private) reported in 2009, while the Maoists called for a bandh (general shut down) on at least two occasions. "Under Narayanpur District around 77 concrete buildings were either damaged or demolished," H. R. Gourela, Deputy Commissioner of the Scheduled Tribe Welfare and Development Department of Narayanpur District, disclosed on October 9, 2009. Further, on November 7, Education Department officials stated that, over the preceding two years, the Maoists had set ablaze 80 school buildings in the Dantewada and Bijapur Districts. Police said they have recovered leaflets from Maoist dominated areas in recent months in which the insurgents said they were targeting school and hospital buildings in the Bastar region as these provided shelter to SF personnel during anti-Maoist operations.
Endemic Maoist extortion continued through 2009. Explaining the contours of the Maoist extortion racket, Chhattisgarh DGP stated, "The Maoists annually extort up to INR 2,000 crore (INR 20 billion) across India, mostly targeting iron and coal mining companies, infrastructure project contractors and tendu patta (leaves of the Diospyros Melonoxylon plant) businessmen. This is a 'guesstimate' based on cash books and other vital papers recovered by Police from Maoists in recent months." In a dramatic incident of loot and extortion, the Naxalites stopped the construction work on the four-lane road between Nagpur (Maharashtra) and Durg (Chhattisgarh) on the National Highway (NH) No. 6 near Rajnandgaon District in Chhattisgarh, demanding a ’levy’ from the construction company, Ashoka Buildcons, in November 2009. It was for the first time the insurgents targeted the road construction work on the NH.
On May 23, Mahesh Gagda, a Member of the State Legislative Assembly from the Maoist-affected Bijapur constituency had alleged, "Maoists are forcibly picking up boys and girls from their houses and schools in the interiors to use them as shields in the war against (Security) Forces… Kids in Bijapur are carrying arms, even AK-47s." Earlier on January 14, the Chhattisgarh Police had claimed that CPI-Maoist cadres were recruiting minor girls as part of a stepped-up drive to get members for the Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangh, the women's wing of the CPI-Maoist. The DGP had then stated: "Some 30 percent or 15,000 of a total of 50,000 armed rebels, are female insurgents who actively participate in carrying out major strikes against civilians and Police Forces." According to an October 15-16 report, the Police claimed that the forested Bastar region was home to nearly 10,000 Maoist insurgents, who had access to rocket launchers and mortars apart from smaller firearms.
Despite widespread Maoist violence, around 51 per cent of the electorate in Chhattisgarh exercised their franchise in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) elections on April 16. Of the 11 Lok Sabha constituencies in Chhattisgarh. Durg, Korba and Raigarh recorded the highest average of 55 per cent each, followed by Bilaspur (53, Rajnandgaon (52), Mahasamund (51) and Jangir (50). Bastar recorded a 46 per cent turnout, while Surguja recorded the lowest, at 45 per cent. Only 47 per cent of votes were polled in capital Raipur.
Several initiatives to ‘beef up’ anti-Maoist measures were announced through 2009. On January 10, 2009, an Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) was established to tackle the Maoist insurgency during any emergency. The SF setup in Chhattisgarh was also strengthened with the deployment of two CoBRA battalions. The State is also in the process of setting up anti-terrorist control rooms in 18 Districts, to deal with possible Maoist attacks. In February 2008, a Unified Command Structure (UCS) to coordinate the activities of the State and Central Para Military Forces (CPMFs) was put in place in Chhattisgarh under the leadership of the Chief Minister. Coordination between Chhattisgarh and neighbouring States affected by LWE activities – such as Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra – has increased, impacting on the free movement of Maoists across State borders. According to a March 21 report, Police identified 33 villages on the Andhra Pradesh-Chhattisgarh border as being highly Maoist-affected. A decision was taken in a co-ordination meeting of the Superintendent of Police of the Maoist affected Districts of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh at Kothagudem in the Khammam District of Andhra Pradesh, to focus on these ‘sensitive’ border villages. While, 20 of the villages were identified in Khammam District in Andhra Pradesh, 13 were located in the Dantewada and Bijapur Districts of Chhattisgarh.
The Chhattisgarh Government is also considering a proposal to divide the State into three administrative zones for transfer and posting purposes, and to make three-year postings in each of these mandatory for all officers and employees. This proposal is intended to take care of the resistance among Police and administrative officers to being transferred to Maoist-affected areas.
The State Government allocated INR 9.41 billion, a hike of 22 per cent from the 2008 allocation, for Police modernization. On February 9, 2009, Chief Minister Raman Singh, after presenting the budget in the State Legislative Assembly, declared that his Government was "committed to combat Maoist or Naxalite violence. The steep budgetary hike of 22 per cent for the Police is made with special focus on security related infrastructure needs in the worst affected Districts of Bijapur and Dantewada." The State Government claimed that Police strength at each outpost would go up to 27, as against the earlier figure of just eight, and at Police Stations the number would touch 65, as against the existing provision of 32. On October 19, in a bid to strengthen the intelligence network in insurgency-affected regions, the Chhattisgarh Government decided to enlist Gram Chowkidars (village guards) as informers. The Gram Chowkidars in each village would be given a register in which they would be required to note details of outsiders visiting the village, and of various incidents in the region, including theft and fraud. The Chowkidars would be required to submit the register to the nearest Police Station on a weekly basis.
On April 25, 2009, the Chhattisgarh Government had announced the extension of the ban on the CPI-Maoist and six of its front organisations for another year under Sub-section 1 of section 3 of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005. In a notification issued by the Home Department, the ban on the CPI-Maoist and its six affiliates – the Dandakaranya Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Sangh, Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangh, Krantikari Adivasi Balak Sangh, Krantikari Kisan Committee, Mahila Mukti Manch and Janathana Sarkar – was extended till April 12, 2010. The CPI-Maoist was first banned in the State in April 2006.
These initiatives, however, no more than scratch at the surface of the problem. Given existing numerical and qualitative Force capacities in the State, the existing scenario remains worrisome. On November 21, 2009, Chief Minister Raman Singh had conceded that the Chhattisgarh Police was not prepared to face the Maoist guerrilla war. Nevertheless, a major offensive codenamed Operation Green Hunt has been initiated against the Maoists in Chhattisgarh. State Police and Central Paramilitary Forces have fitfully engaged in joint operations as well, and various public pronouncements suggest that these are to intensify over time. Regrettably, as has been noted earlier, "when no coherent objectives are defined, the outcome is irrelevant". Current capacities and ‘strategies’ in Chhattisgarh provide little grounds for optimism in the protracted and bloody contestation with the Maoists.