Maharashtra Assessment 2015
On January 22, 2015, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres burnt around 14 vehicles of an Andhra Pradesh-based private company engaged in road construction on the Gharanji-Pustola stretch in Dhanora tehsil (revenue unit) of Gadchiroli District of Maharashtra. The Maoists also roughed up a few labourers during the attack. Eight tractors, two trucks, one road roller, two JCB machines, a pickup van and two motorcycles belonging to the workers were among the vehicles which were set on fire.
On the same day, a senior woman CPI-Maoist ‘deputy commander’, identified as Punai Devsingh Naitam (24) aka Aruna, was arrested by the Gadchiroli District Police from Kangadi village on Gadchiroli-Rajnandgaon border in an intelligence-based operation. Aruna carried a reward of INR 600,000.
After the dramatic consolidation of gains by the Maharashtra Police in 2013 against the Maoists, the State retained the advantage against the ultras in 2014, despite a major setback on May 11, 2014. An operational lapse resulted in seven Security Force (SF) personnel being killed in a landmine blast by Maoists near Murmuri village in Chamorshi tehsil (revenue unit) of Gadchiroli District on May 11. Nevertheless, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Maharashtra recorded a total of 30 fatalities – nine civilians, 11 SF personnel and 10 Maoists – in Maoist-related violence in 2014, as against 45 fatalities – 10 civilians, seven SF personnel and 28 Maoists – in 2013. A superficial examination of the data would suggest that the Maoists are staging a recovery in the State, with casualties suffered by the extremists decreasing almost two thirds from 28 to 10, and casualties suffered by the SF personnel increasing from seven to 11. However, a deeper look at the situation points to the waning Maoist strength in the Maharashtra.
The number of civilian fatalities and the number of incidents in which these fatalities occurred in 2014 remain comparable across 2013-2014 [eight incidents and nine fatalities in 2014; eight incidents and 10 fatalities in 2013]. A single incident accounted for seven SF fatalities out of the total 11 through 2014; while Maoists also lost seven cadres in a single incident out of the total of 10 through the year. This suggests that both the SFs and the Maoists are avoiding engagement in general, and focusing on targeted attacks where a position of advantage clearly accrues.
More significantly, Maoist losses have mounted dramatically in terms of quality of arrests and surrenders and fatalities. Among the most important arrests was ‘deputy commander’ Punai Devsingh Naitam aka Aruna. Further, Jethuram Dhurwa aka Raju, 'commander' of Aundhi Local Organisational Squad (LOS), who carried a bounty of INR 1.6 million announced by the Chhattisgarh Government, was arrested by the Gadchiroli Police during an anti-Naxal [Left Wing Extremism (LWE)] operation along the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border on September 15, 2014. Five top CPI-Maoist cadres were arrested during a three-day operation from October 21 to October 23, 2014. They included 'commander' Dunga Yesu Bapu Teka (30), with a reward of INR 1.2 million; 'section commander' Manas Sonare Sainu Tarami (21) with a reward of INR 800,000; local supplier Raju Vishnu Naitam with a reward of INR 200,000; 'commander' Vasant Rejiram Pathiram Wadde (21) with a reward of INR 200,000; and woman Maoist cadre Rupi Suman Gawade (16), alleged to be a local 'committee member', and also carrying a bounty of INR 200,000.
A former CPI-Maoist 'commander', identified as Gopi Niriasai Darbari Madavi, with a bounty of INR 1.2 million on his head, surrendered before the Police in Gadchiroli District on November 11, 2014. Madavi belonged to the Korchi dalam (squad) in Gadchiroli District and was involved in as many as 18 encounters in and around the District.
The total number of arrests and surrenders, however, decreased from 22 and 32, respectively, in 2013, to 12 and 21, respectively, in 2014. However, on a qualitative scale, the result remained good, as a number of leadership cadres were neutralized.
Two Maoists killed in an encounter on August 12, 2014, in Khobramenda Forest in the Kurkheda Block in Gadchiroli District were identified as Krishna Thakur alias Raju (35) and Sonu Katenge alias Dasrath (25). While Dasrath was a ‘deputy section commander’; Raju, known for his aggressive guerrilla warfare skills, was a former activist of Chandrapur-based Deshbhakti Yuva Manch.
Further, the number of major incidents (each resulting in three or more fatalities) in 2014 was restricted to just two, as compared to seven in 2013. Of the two, in one incident [Chamorshi attack May 11, 2014], SFs suffered seven fatalities; while in the other, on February 18, the Maoists suffered seven fatalities.
Geographically, all fatalities, indeed, all Maoist violence, remained confined to just one District - Gadchiroli, through 2014. In 2013, while most fatalities occurred in Gadchiroli, a single fatality was also reported from Gondia District.
Other patterns of Maoist violence also indicated a decline in 2014. There were a total of nine incidents of exchange-of-fire that took place between the SFs and the Maoists in the State in 2014, as against 12 in 2013, and 22 in 2012. Of these nine incidents in 2014, the Maoists initiated the attack in six, while SFs initiated the attack in three. Further, the Maoists engineered two incidents of landmine blasts in 2014, the same number as the previous year. There was just one incident of arson in 2014 - on April 21, a group of over 50 Maoists set ablaze vehicles deployed for construction work on Dechlipetha-Jimalgatta road near Dechlipetha village in Jimalgatta subdivision of Gadchiroli District - in comparison to four such incidents in 2013 [all in Gadchiroli District].
The diminishing strength of Maoists was further evidenced in the fact that they failed to enforce any bandh (shut down strike) in the State throughout 2014, where as they had imposed four bandh calls in 2013, and six such in 2012. There were no cases of abduction by Maoists in 2014, while one such case was recorded in 2013, and seven in 2012. Gadchiroli experienced a comparatively peaceful Lok Sabha election on April 10, 2014, barring two incidents of firing in which one Policeman was killed and five were injured. Even the State Assembly election conducted in October 2014 had mostly passed peacefully, with Gadchiroli and Gondia recording a 67.3 per cent and 68.27 per cent voter turnout, respectively.
Though violent Maoist activities remained confined to just Gadchiroli District, the arrest of Maoist operatives Arun Bhelke and his wife Kanchan Nanaware, both natives of Chandrapur, by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) from a slum in Pune on September 2, 2014, indicated that the Maoists remained hopeful of spreading their network into Maharashtra's cities. The couple changed their location frequently, used different names while interacting with different persons, and developed contacts with youth from backward classes and minorities at 20 locations in Pune, including “Mass Movement”, an organisation mainly comprising Dalit youth from the Kasewadi slums. Police disclosed that Bhelke was trying to indoctrinate these youth in the Maoist ideology. Further, cracking down on the Maoists' urban network, investigating agencies probing Delhi University Assistant Professor G.N. Saibaba, who was arrested by Maharashtra Police on May 9, 2014, for alleged CPI-Maoist links, reportedly extracted some e-mails and information from his computer that suggest he had recruited at least one more student from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), described as "Goswami" in Saibaba's correspondence, as a "professional revolutionary" to work in Chhattisgarh. Saibaba’s bail plea was rejected by the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court, though the Court granted bail to former journalist and Human Rights activist Prashant Rahi, a co-accused in the same case.
The Maharashtra Government's new Naxal (LWE) surrender policy (cleared by the Cabinet on August 20, 2014) improves on the model surrender policy suggested by the Union Government. The policy substantially augmented financial benefits and the rehabilitation package offered to surrendered Maoists, with two to three fold increases across board. The central leadership would now receive INR 1.6 million to 2 million on surrender, while fringe supporters at the village level, such as members of the gram raksha dal (GRD), are being offered INR 150,000.
To boost the morale of the SFs in fighting against the Maoists, the Maharashtra Government decided to give promotions to Policemen doing outstanding work in CPI-Maoist affected Gadchiroli, Bhandara, Gondia and Chandrapur Districts.
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, Maharashtra’s Police-population ratio, at 170 per 100,000 [as on December 31, 2013], is significantly higher than the national average of 141. This, however, is still substantially lower than the 220/100,000 ratio regarded as desirable for 'peacetime policing'. With the additional challenge of the Maoist insurgency, the Maharashtra Police requires significantly greater numbers, as well as a substantially larger allocation of other resources. Despite limitations, however, the Police had done a remarkable job in its campaign against Maoists, and had developed an excellent intelligence network to mount narrowly targeted operations.
Meanwhile, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel deployed in Maharashtra are being replaced with Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) units earlier deployed in the Bastar area of Chhattisgarh. The CRPF personnel relieved from Maharashtra would be moved to Bastar. This is being done to ensure better coordination between forces across State borders and maintain a single command chain in any given area in the Maoist-affected zones. ITBP personnel were already present in Rajnandgaon District in Chhattisgarh, which is contiguous to Gadchiroli District, while Bastar will have contiguous areas under CRPF.
In an effort to improve communication for better coordination among the SFs, a senior Police officer posted in Gadchiroli disclosed, on November 16, 2014, 37 mobile towers are to be installed in Gadchiroli, 17 in Gondia and six in Chandrapur District, by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL), over the succeeding 12 months. This initiative was approved by the Union Cabinet on August 20, 2014, under a scheme for the extension of mobile telephonic services to 2,199 locations affected by LWE in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
Further, the State Government has decided to allocate INR 640 million to four LWE-affected Districts in the Vidarbha region to fast-track their development. Under the Integrated Action Plan (IAP) to develop tribal and backward Districts in LWE-hit areas, the Centre will provide a total of INR 1,200 million for 2014-15, to be distributed equally among the four Districts of the backward Vidarbha region. In addition, a report on January 13, 2015, suggested that the State Government intended to give a big push to infrastructure development in Naxalite affected Districts and would also provide additional benefits to civil contractors and employees working there. The State Government has lined up INR 39.42 billion worth of projects in the LWE affected areas to improve connectivity.
A successful anti-Maoist campaign mounted by the Maharashtra Police has considerably weakened the rebels in the State. A lot of this success is ascribed to targeted intelligence-based operations. This intelligence network, however, is at risk of being compromised, with reports of shabby treatment of informers trickling in. An alleged Police informer, Vijay Prakash Gupta alias Pappu Gupta, claimed that he was used by the Police, but had subsequently been abandoned to fight threats from the Maoists on his own. The Police have strongly refuted his allegations, though the May 11, 2014, Murmuri IED attack is being seen as a “big failure” of Police intelligence.
The Maoists have, in the past, demonstrated tremendous capacities of resilience and resurgence. The state's successes in Maharashtra cannot give cause for any complacency on the part of intelligence and enforcement agencies, particularly as the Maoists retain significant operational capabilities in contiguous areas across State boundaries.