India Maoist Assessment: 2012
The trajectory of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) movement across India demonstrates conflicting trends which give, at once, great relief to the state and to affected populations across wide areas, even as assessments of the Maoist threat allow little scope for any measure of complacence.
There has, over the years 2010-2011, been an abrupt geographical and operational contraction of the movement, resulting in a dramatic drop in fatalities, declining incidents of Maoist violence, and a retraction from a number of areas, principally in regions where the Maoists sought to make new inroads in the execution of their decision to “extend the people’s war throughout the country”. There has, nevertheless, been a troubling extension in some new areas, most prominently in India’s troubled Northeast, where a multiplicity of ethnicity-based insurgencies have collapsed, creating new spaces for radical expansion by the Maoists.
In 2008, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) had indicated that a total of 223 Districts across 20 States were variously affected by the Maoist movement. By 2011, this assessment had dropped to just 182 Districts (as on October 31, 2011) in 20 States – though a breakdown of the intensity of the movement in these Districts is not available. Partial data compiled from the open source by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) confirms these broad trends, with total affected Districts dropping from 194 in 2008 to just 141 in 2011. Significantly, SATP enumerates just 48 of these Districts in the Highly Affected category in 2011, down from 58 in 2008; another 47 and 46 Districts, respectively, were listed in the moderately and marginally affected categories in 2011, as against 54 and 83 Districts in these categories in 2008.
State-wise Distribution of Maoist-affected Districts - 2008 and 2011
Significantly, all the Red Corridor States have recorded a decline in the number of affected Districts, even as reverses have been registered in several of the newer ‘extension’ areas. Andhra Pradesh – which was already significantly on the mend in 2008 – has seen the most dramatic recovery, with affected Districts down from 22 (23. All data in brackets from SATP) to 11 (12). SATP data indicates that just two – Khammam and Vishakapatnam – of 12 affected Districts in the State are currently in the ‘highly affected’ category. Uttarakhand has seen a drop from 12 (9) affected District to just four (0).
There is troubling news from the Northeast, with Assam registering a rise from four (0) to 10 (11) affected Districts; Arunachal Pradesh has one (two) new entrant; and Tripura maintains two (0) Districts affected by Maoist activities. Nagaland also records one affected District in 2011 on SATP data, though UMHA data records no Maoist activities in the State.
Far afield from their traditional areas of dominance, the Maoists have also registered noticeable activities in Punjab, with nine (0) affected Districts, up from eight (0); and Delhi, with seven (two) affected Districts, up from three (0).
Harayana, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Gujarat, again, lying outside traditional areas of Maoist activity, have registered a decline in the numbers of Districts affected. Intelligence sources indicate that the Maoists are exerting particular efforts to set up bases on the tri-junction of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Fatalities data also reflects remarkable shifts. From a peak of 1,005 Maoist-related fatalities in 2010 according to MHA data (1,180 according to SATP), total fatalities in 2011 had dropped sharply to 606 (602). The most dramatic decline was recorded in West Bengal, which had emerged, abruptly, as the State with the highest number of incidents and fatalities in 2010, according to SATP data, with killings dropping from 258 (425) in 2010 to just 41 (53) in 2011. The spike in fatalities in West Bengal in 2009-10 was, of course, the consequence of the pre-election scenario, with an alliance of opportunity forming between the Trinamool Congress and the Maoists in a range of widespread populist mass mobilisations, backed by Maoist violence, intended to unseat the entrenched Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M) Government that had ruled the State for the 34 years, before it was routed in the elections of April-May 2011. With the installation of the TC Government in Kolkata, a ceasefire – part of the pre-election deal between the Maoists and the TC – brought violence down to a trickle, though a upward trend was again visible towards the end of the year, as the unprincipled deal between the TC and the Maoists collapsed, as expected, with TC cadres and leaders increasingly targeted by the rebels. Significantly, West Bengal recorded just three Maoist-linked fatalities in 2007, 26 in 2008, and 158 in 2009.
MHA data indicates that Chhattisgarh has consistently remained the worst affected State, in terms of fatalities, over the past years – though SATP data suggests that this position of pre-eminence was briefly relinquished to West Bengal in 2010. Chhattisgarh recorded 202 (176) fatalities in 2011, down from 343 (327) in 2010. 2011 also recorded 182 fatalities in Jharkhand; 64 in Bihar, 54 in Maharashtra, and 53 in Odisha.
SF fatalities in Maoist-related violence dropped from 285 (277) in 2010 to 142 (128) in 2011; while civilian fatalities fell from 720 (626) to 464 (275) over the same period.
The number of major incidents (involving three or more fatalities) also registered a significant decline, from 60 such incidents in 2010, to 47 in 2011. Of the latter, four incidents in 2011 saw double-digit fatalities, as against 11 in 2010. Incidents which saw double-digit fatalities in 2011 included:
December 3-4: 11 persons, including 10 Policemen, were killed when CPI-Maoist cadres attacked the convoy of Member of Parliament and former Jharkhand Speaker Inder Singh Namdhari, in Latehar District in Jharkhand. Namdhari, however, escaped unhurt. The Maoists looted 10 weapons, 2,000 rounds of ammunition and one wireless set in this incident.
August 19: 11 Policemen and a civilian were killed, and three sustained injuries, in an ambush set by CPI-Maoist cadres in the forest near Metlaperu village under the Bhadrakali Police Station area of Bijapur District in Chhattisgarh. A force of about 70 Policemen had set out from Bhadrakali for operational and logistical operations. The Police claimed ‘four or five Maoists’ were also killed.
June 10: The CPI-Maoist cadres blew up an anti-landmine vehicle and opened fire on the survivors, killing 10 Security Force (SF) personnel – seven SPOs and three Police constables – and injuring another three at a bridge near Gatan village in Katekalyan area in Dantewada District in Chhattisgarh.
May 3: 11 SF personnel were killed and nearly 40 injured when CPI-Maoist cadres set off landmines in a trap laid out in the Lohardaga District in Jharkhand. After a tip off about Maoists having assembled there, the SF personnel drawn from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Jharkhand Jaguars, Jharkhand Armed Police (JAP) and the District Armed Police (DAP) went to Urumuru village, but returned after failing to find any Maoists. On their return, they were ambushed in the Dhardhariya Hills under the Senha Police Station. The Maoists had planted improvised explosive devices (IEDs) across an area of two kilometres, each at a distance of 1.5 to 2 feet, according to the Police.
The most significant reverses suffered by the Maoists, however, were in the neutralization (arrest or killing) of their top leadership cadres. While total Maoist fatalities have registered significant declines, from 219 (294) in 2009, through 172 (277) in 2010, to 99 (199) in 2011, the attrition at the top has been devastating. SATP data indicates that, of the 16-member Politburo of 2007, two have been killed, while another seven are in custody. This has left just Muppala Lakshman Rao aka Ganapathy, the party General Secretary, Prashant Bose aka Kishan Da, Nambala Keshavarao aka Ganganna, Mallojula Venugopal Rao aka Bhupathi, Katakam Sudershan aka Anand, Malla Raji Reddy aka Sathenna and Misir Besra aka Sunirmal, still underground and active out of the Politburo members.
Of the 39 member Central Committee (including the Politburo), eighteen have been neutralized – with five killed, and 13 in custody. Comparable attrition has been recorded in the Regional, State and District level leaderships, sending the movement into a defensive tailspin. As many as 1,972 Maoists have been arrested in 2011, adding to 2,916 in 2010 and 1,981 in 2009; and another 393 surrendered in 2011, as against 266 in 2010 and 150 in 2009. Significantly, an overwhelming proportion of top leadership cadres have been neutralized across the country as a result of intelligence based-operations led by the Andhra Pradesh Police and, in particular, the State’s Special Intelligence Branch.
In the meanwhile, state responses have also shifted track, with the vaunting ‘clear, hold and develop’ strategies aggressively advocated by the UMHA, and enthusiastically embraced by some States – particularly including Chhattisgarh – having been entirely abandoned. Indeed, after the Chintalnad incident of April 2010, in which 76 SF personnel were killed, the aggressive ‘area domination’ approach was abruptly discarded, as the disconnect between objectives and capabilities became obvious even to those who had deliberately blinded themselves to the realities of the ground. The UMHA has, since, shifted its rhetoric to a ‘holistic’ approach, increasingly emphasising development, on the one hand, and the responsibility of the States for ‘law and order’ operations, and emphasising ‘capacity building’ and the ‘containment of violence’ rather than any ambitious campaigns to wipe out the Maoists in their heartland areas. The UMHA’s reports increasingly emphasise financial allocations to the States under the Integrated Action Plan (with an outlay of INR 15 billion in 2010-11, and INR 18 billion in 2011-12), as well as Central support to the States for various modernization and capacity building projects. In addition, the UMHA has emphasised a range of capacity building measures for Central Paramilitary Forces, including the sanction of 116 additional battalions, of which 36 had been raised, and another 21 were in the ‘process of being raised’. The States have enthusiastically embraced this approach, shifting the emphasis from operational successes and ‘kills’, to the more leisurely rhythm of purported developmental interventions under various ‘integrated action plans’. Regrettably, anecdotal evidence from most of the States suggests that implementation of these plans is riddled with corruption and irregularities, and only a tiny proportion of the very considerable allocations actually reach intended beneficiaries in the Maoist-affected areas, and at least a significant fraction of these actually flows into Maoist coffers.
Most of the Red Corridor States have substantially increased Police recruitment, and have improved Police-population ratios. According to data compiled annually by the National Crime Records Bureau, the Indian average remained static at 133 between end-2009 and end-2010 (the UMHA claimed, at different points in 2011, ratios of 160 and 176 per 100,000 population, but these claims are, likely, based on a fudging of data, since the sheer quantum of recruitment that would be required to secure these ratios has simply and visibly not occurred). However, several of the Red Corridor States improved their ratios significantly between 2009 and 2010. Andhra Pradesh recorded an increase from 128 per 100,000 to 131; Chhattisgarh from 164 to 170; and Jharkhand, from 139 to 151. However, Bihar, with the worst ratio in the country, went up from an abysmal 62 to just 64; and West Bengal, from 93 to 95. Maharashtra actually dropped from 166 to 164; and Orissa from 108 to 106.
Nevertheless, while significant – though still far from adequate – transformations have occurred in the strength at the level of the constabulary in many afflicted States, these have not resulted in proportionate increases in State Forces deployed for counter-insurgency duties, and there is also an acute and persistent crisis at leadership level. At the apex, the Indian Police Service registered a shortfall of over 28 per cent against a sanctioned strength of 4,720, despite an accelerated intake, up from 135 in 2010 to 150 in 2011. In Chhattisgarh, for instance, the Police population ratio has gone up from 103 in 2005, through 164 in 2009 to as much as 170 in 2010. Further, more than 18,000 Chhattisgarh Police personnel and officers have been trained for counter-insurgency at the Counter-insurgency and Jungle Warfare School at Kanker. Yet, the operational counter-insurgency deployment of State Police Forces remains at barely 3,000. Significant improvements in capacity in terms of Police modernization, fortification of Police Stations, and training are yet to create a decisive operational impact.
The Maoists have, in essence, suffered tremendously as a result of their strategic overreach, to extend their people’s war into areas where conditions were far from favourable for radical and armed mobilisation, even as the state has been forced to dilute its ‘massive and coordinated’ offensive operations after the dramatic losses suffered by SFs in a succession of high profile incidents through end-2009 and early 2010. On both sides, there is some evidence, both, of disarray, and of a more concerted, coherent, effort towards consolidation and towards reconciling strategies and tactics with capacities and capabilities. The visible decline in a range of parameters of Maoist activities coincides with a frenzied effort behind the scenes to recover from the reverses of the recent past, and there is little reason to believe that the next cycle of overt and aggressive confrontation between the rebels and the state will be less bloody than the last.