Chhattisgarh Assessment 2014
Two Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, including a Deputy Commandant, were killed and 12 security personnel were injured in a landmine blast triggered by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres in Sukma District of Chhattisgarh on February 9, 2014. The incident took place in the morning in a forest near Bodhrajpadar village within the Bhejji Police Station limits. Constable Rajiv Rawat, of 219 Battalion, CRPF, and Deputy Commandant Nihil Alam, were killed. A joint squad of the CRPF, its specialised unit Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA) and District Police personnel had been engaged in an anti-Maoist operation in the region over the preceding few days.
Just the previous evening, on February 8, three Maoists had been killed in a gunbattle with a joint team of the Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra Police, during combing operations in the Badekakler Forest in the Farsegarh Police Station limits in Bijapur District. Bodies of the three Maoists and a muzzle-loading gun, a tiffin bomb, Maoist literature and some items of daily use were later found on the spot. The dead were identified as Naveen Mandavi (38), his wife Mase Telam (27) and Sannu Udde (23). Mandavi was the ‘section commander’ in ‘Military Platoon II’ of the CPI-Maoist in the area.
While these two incidents give the superficial impression of an even contest for dominance between the Security Forces (SFs) and the Maoists, the reality is different and unpleasant. On October 25, 2013, Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami had pulled up the CRPF and Border Security Force (BSF) for the "purely defensive strategy" adopted by the SFs in the State. He is believed to have expressed his displeasure with the Chhattisgarh administration and Central Forces over the "lull" in action, despite the Centre asking them to step up anti-Naxal operations, especially after the May 25, 2013, Darbha attack on a convoy of Congress Party leaders and supporters. Goswami had also conveyed that CoBRA teams needed to be deployed extensively, with result-oriented tasks.
A review of the major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) documented by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) confirms Goswami's assessment. Through 2013, a total of eight major incidents were recorded in Chhattisgarh. Of these, the SFs suffered principal losses in as many as five, and in one incident there were two fatalities on each side. Only in one incident did the Maoists suffer heavily. That operation, however, was planned and executed by the Greyhounds of Andhra Pradesh just inside the Chhattisgarh border. The only incident where the SFs deployed in Chhattisgarh took the initiative was a botched operation that ended with the killing of at least seven villagers, one SF trooper and one Maoist.
Unsurprisingly, Chhattisgarh has succeeded in avoiding the dubious distinction of recording the highest fatalities in Left Wing Extremism related incidents in a State - an unfortunate position it has often held in the past, and has only marginally edged out by Jharkhand in 2012 and 2013: fatalities in Jharkhand stood at 170 and 162, respectively, in these two years, as against 147 and 148 in Chhattisgarh. There has been little significant change in the security situation in Chhattisgarh in terms of fatalities and incidents between 2012 and 2013.
LWE/ CPI-Maoist Violence in Chhattisgarh: 2009-2014*
According to partial data compiled by SATP, in 2013, fatalities in LWE related incidents have been reported from 10 out of 27 Districts in the State: Sukma (56), Bijapur (36), Bastar (14), Narayanpur (6), Dantewada (5), Kanker (5), Kondagaon (2), Rajnandgaon (2), Raigarh (1) and Dhamtari (1). A total of 128 fatalities were recorded by the SATP database. In 2012, fatalities were reported from 11 Districts.
A range of other parameters also remain more or less comparable over 2012 and 2013. However, one significant indicator – the number of attacks on the Police - rose sharply from 77 to 102. Another two significant indicators - arms training camps held and Jan Adalats (‘People’s Courts’, kangaroo courts organized by the Maoists) organized – report a decline from 26 to 14, and 14 to seven, respectively.
Other Parameters of LWE/CPI-Maoist Violence in Chhattisgarh: 2011-2013
Beyond crude data, the Maoist attack on the Congress Party convoy in Darbha Valley (Bastar District) on May 25, 2013, which led to the killing of controversial Salwa judum leader Mahendra Karma and other Congress leaders, including former Union Minister V. C . Shukla, Pradesh (State) Congress Committee chief Nandkumar Patel and Patel's son, more dramatically expose the levels of security preparedness in Chhattisgarh.
While Chhattisgarh continues to tie itself in knots, the reasons behind the mess are not difficult to find. With the arrest of eight persons between January 15 and 17, 2014, from different places in Raipur and Kanker District, Chhattisgarh Police claimed to have uncovered a "massive urban network" of the CPI-Maoist, which clearly demonstrates a shocking nexus between businessmen, Maoists and politicians. Niraj Chopra, a Public Works Department (PWD) contractor based in Kanker and his businessman uncle Dharmendra Chopra, who resides in his palatial bungalow in Raipur, were the alleged lynchpins of the 'urban network'. Dharmendra Chopra was the last to be arrested among the eight, on January 17, 2014, near Raipur Airport, apparently while trying to escape in the vehicle of Kanker Member of Parliament (MP) Sohan Potai of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The other six arrested persons were Santosh Dhurva, Chetram Darro, Baliram Usendi, Phool Singh, Sukhnath Nareti and Ravi Kadiyam. Hailing from Bhanupratappur in tribal Kanker District, the arrested persons allegedly worked under Prabhakar, the CPI-Maoist 'divisional committee' member of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC). The Police allege that the arrested group was providing all kinds of logistical support to the Maoists, including supplies of consumables, laptops, mobiles phones, transportation arms and ammunition, and were also delivering millions of rupees to other States to fund the purchase of weapons and allegedly “fixing deals” between mining companies and Maoist leaders. They also acted as couriers for the Maoists and facilitated their stay in urban concentrations within Chhattisgarh.
Media reports indicate that Dharmendra Chopra was closely connected with Prabhakar and Gopanna, both senior Maoists, since he first met them in the late 1990s. He bought and carried mobile phones, tablets and medicines for them, arranged vehicles, and received payments on occasion. Chopra also claimed to having close links with political leaders Sohan Potai, Vikram Usendi and Mohan Mandavi. Interestingly, he also maintained that these leaders knew that he had contacts with senior Maoists. He further asserted that he had funded the election campaigns of these leaders, and 'managed things' for them. All three are elected leaders from Kanker District. Potai is a BJP MP, Usendi a BJP Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), and Mandavi a Congress MLA. Mandavi was a Minister in the Ajit Jogi Government, while Usendi was a Minister during Raman Singh’s second tenure as Chief Minister.
Dharmendra Chopra also claimed to have helped two mining companies - Jayaswal Neco and Godawari Power and Ispat Ltd - to negotiate deals with the Maoists. Both have leases in Kanker, where Maoists have declared a 'ban' on mining. Chopra claimed that Neco had made him their contractor to facilitate a deal and asserted that he had introduced the company's officials to Maoists. He also maintained that Godawari’s contractor Manik Chand Jain provided him a 30 per cent share of profits for his services. While Godawari Power refused to comment on Chopra's claims, Jayaswal Neco insisted that the company gave the contract based on his reputation, unaware about his 'other activities'. His political associates have made comparable claims.
Among the other arrested persons, Phool Singh and Sukhnath Nareti were wanted in eight cases of attempt to murder and murder, while Niraj was running extortion activities. During interrogation, Baliram Usendi admitted that he was the village 'sarpanch' of his native place, Metabodli. A few months earlier, the 'sarpanch' of Metabodli village was allegedly murdered by the Maoists during the proceedings of a so-called "people's court", after which Baliram was elected unopposed to the post.
In a new trend of sorts, the Maoists took responsibility for the killing of two journalists - Nemichand Jain (February 12, 2013) and Sai Reddy (December 6, 2013) - in the Bastar Division, on the grounds that they were working for the Police. Journalists in Bastar have made strong protests against these killings and organised a protest march through the Maoist dominated Abujhmarh Forest area on January 26, 2014, though on a lesser scale than was earlier expected. The killings exposed the conditions under which journalists work in the Bastar area, sandwiched between the demands of the Maoists and SFs. What makes things more difficult is that Bastar journalists generally receive inadequate or no salaries, and are required to 'raise money' from private parties, not only for their own sustenance, but also towards advertising revenues for their publications, forcing them into compromises that put them at inordinate risk.
One bright spot in this dismal picture was the relatively peaceful conduct of Assembly Elections albeit under unprecedented security arrangements. Significantly, the voter turnout was unexpectedly high, at 75.53 per cent in phase one in the Maoist-dominated areas, and 78.5 per cent in phase two across the rest of the State, yielding an average participation of over 77 per cent across the State. One constituency (Kurud) saw an incredible 88 per cent vote. However, there is reason to believe that such a high voter turnout would not have been possible without the Maoists' tacit instruction for voters to cast their ballots in favour of certain candidates.
There are also indications of growing popular discontent against Left Extremists (LWE). In one case, residents of some 500 villages in the Maoist-hit Jashpur District, bordering Jharkhand in north Chhattisgarh, took a collective decision to help the Police in anti-Naxal operations. The villagers said they were fed up with the activities of the Peoples’ Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a breakaway faction of the CPI-Maoist, mainly active in Jharkhand.
While at least 30 battalions of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) personnel are presently deployed in Chhattisgarh, the Centre has decided to deploy an additional six battalions for specialised tasks in the anti-Maoist operations grid in Chhattisgarh. Chhattisgarh has a Police population ratio of 174 per 100,000 population (as on December 31, 2012), substantially higher than the national average of 138, but significantly below the required strength, in view of the scale of the ongoing Maoist insurgency. In the absence of reliable data, the impact of the Counter-terrorism and Jungle Warfare College, Kanker, on the operational efficiency of the Chhattisgarh Police can only be guessed.
The CPI-Maoist's overall strength across the country has clearly weakened, a fact explicitly acknowledged by the Maoist leadership. However, there is little sign of any dramatic deterioration of capacities and capabilities in Chhattisgarh. The surrender of senior Maoist leader G.V.K. Prasad Rao aka Gudsa Usendi in Andhra Pradesh may provide some succor to the Police, as he was active in Chhattisgarh, though the real impact of this move is yet to register on the ground.
On the other hand, the Maoists released one abducted Special Police Force (SPO) turned constable, Oyami Podiyami, who used to be in the gang of the dreaded Koya Commando Kartam Surya (who was killed by Maoists on February 9, 2012), after Podiyami had been interrogated for several days. He was released before the villagers who promised that they would ensure that he won't leave the village and would never join Police. The Maoists reportedly told the abducted SPO that they had changed their policy of killing villagers. It is yet to be seen what impact this will have on civilian fatalities in Chhattisgarh. It is, however, unlikely that the Maoists will stop targeting perceived threats, including those thought (rightly or otherwise) to be 'police informers' or 'collaborators'. Nevertheless, the decision not to target civilians can be expected to have some impact on the operational environment in the State, even as it suggests a growing measure of inner confidence among the Maoists.