India: Maoist Desperation In Chhattisgarh – Analysis

On April 20, 2023, a Policeman, identified as Sitaram Kudiyam (40), was injured when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded while he was trying to neutralise it during an area domination operation near Bangapal village under Nelasnar Police Station limits in Bijapur District. The device is suspected to have been planted by Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres, to target Security Force (SF) patrols.

On April 18, 2023, Bijapur District Indian National Congress Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Vikram Mandavi’s convoy was attacked by Maoist cadres on the outskirts of Bijapur town in Bijapur District. Maoists also fired at the District Panchayat (village level local self-Government institution) official Parvati Kashyap’s vehicle, which was part of the MLA’s convoy. The convoy was returning from a public gathering – ‘nukkad sabha’ – at a weekly market in Gangaloor. However, nobody was injured in the incident.

On April 17, 2023, an encounter took place between the Police and Maoist cadres in the forests of Bade Tungali under Jangla Police Station in the Bijapur District. During the search operation after the encounter, an IED planted by the Maoists was recovered. The IED exploded during attempts to defuse it, injuring District Reserve Guard (DRG) trooper Shankar Paret.

On April 13, 2023, Maoist cadres set ablaze two tipper vehicles engaged in ballast transportation on Gangaloor Road near Padeda village under the Gangaloor Police Station limits of Bijapur District.

On April 1, 2023, CPI-Maoist cadres attacked a Police patrol with bombs near Sawar Forest, resulting in an exchange of fire between the SFs and Maoists, in the Todka area in Bijapur District. While there was firing from both sides, no casualties were reported.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Bijapur District has accounted for at least eight Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-linked fatalities (three civilians, two SF personnel, and three Maoists), in eight incidents of killing in the current year, thus far (data till April 23, 2023). During the corresponding period of 2022, 12 such incidents were recorded in the district, with 15 fatalities (six civilians, three SF personnel, and six Maoists). Through 2022, in 24 incidents of killing, Maoist-linked fatalities in the district totaled 32 (14 civilians, four SF personnel, and 14 Maoists).

An analysis of the fatalities data suggests that the SF:Maoist kill ratio in Bijapur is in favour of the SFs at 1:1.5 in the current year (data till April 23, 2023), as it was during the corresponding period of 2022 at 1:2. The kill ratio also favoured the SFs through 2022 at 1:3.5. However, the ratio was in favour of the Maoists at 1.25:1 in 2021. The ratio has been in favour of the Maoists in three earlier instances: in 2007, at 4.9:1; in 2011, at 1.28:1; and in 2003 at 4:1.

Significantly, in 2003, Bijapur was part of the Dantewada District and was carved as a separate District on May 11, 2007. However, since March 6, 2000, when SATP started documenting LWE-related violence across the country, the overall SF:Maoist kill ratio in the Bijapur area/District favoured the SFs at 1:1.45.

Since the formation of the separate district of Bijapur, civilian fatalities have followed a cyclical trend, registered double-digit fatalities till 2014 [(2007, 34), (2008, 16), (2009, 28), (2010, 14), (2011, 10), (2012, 17), (2013, 15), and (2014, 10)]; and dropping into single digits between 2015 and 2019 [(2015, seven), (2016, five), (2017, three), (2018, seven), and (2019, eight)]. The district recorded reverted to the double-digits, with 15 fatalities in 2020; back to the single digit, with six killed in 2021; up to 14 in 2022; and with three fatalities in 2023, so far (data till April 23, 2023). Since March 6, 2000, the Bijapur area/District has recorded a total of 220 civilian fatalities.

Incidents of killing in the district have reduced to approximately 33.33 per cent in the current year, as compared to the corresponding period in 2022, indicating a decline in the intensity of Maoist activities. However, in 2022, the Bijapur District accounted for 44.44 per cent of total killings reported in Chhattisgarh, as against 12.60 per cent in 2021. Significantly, since March 6, 2000, when SATP started documenting LWE-related violence across the country, the Bijapur District/Area accounted for 23.65 per cent of all fatalities in the state – 843 out of a total of 3,563. The district accounted for 7.57 per cent of the total of 11,129 Maoist-linked fatalities recorded across the country since 2000.

Moreover, despite a decline of 32 per cent in overall fatalities in LWE-linked violence in the district as compared to the state, in the current year, Bijapur tops the list among the seven districts (Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, and Sukma) of the Bastar Division, which remain a challenge for the Security Forces. Bijapur with eight fatalities, is followed by Sukma with six (three civilians and three SF personnel), Narayanpur with four (three civilians and one SF trooper), Kanker, with two (one civilian and one SF trooper), Dantewada and Kondagaon, one civilian each, while Bastar is yet to record any fatality.

Combing operations and raids have resulted in the arrest of eight Maoists in the District in the current year (data till April 23, 2023), in addition to 40 in 2022 (20 in the corresponding period of 2022). Mounting SF pressure has led to the surrender of four Maoists, in addition to nine in 2022 (two in the corresponding period of 2022).

Analysis of other parameters of violence indicate that the Maoists’ strength is diminishing in Bijapur. A total of 1,023 Maoist-linked incidents have been recorded in the district since March 6, 2000. The year wise distribution of Maoist-related incidents increased between 2011 and 2016 – 2011 (32), 2012 (34), 2013 (69), 2014 (73), 2015 (79), and 2016 (93). Thereafter, the numbers increased, barring 2017 and 2019; dropping to 73 in 2017, rising to 84 in 2018, again falling to 48 in 2019, spiking to 65 in 2020, 69 in 2021, and 76 in 2022. In the current year, 22 incidents have already been recorded (data till April 23, 2023).

Meanwhile, since March 6, 2000, Bijapur has recorded 68 major incidents (each resulting in three or more fatalities), with none of these recorded in the current year (data till April 23, 2023). The Maoists have triggered at least 111 blasts, killing at least 86 persons and injured another 153 in the district since March 6, 2000. A high of 15 incidents of explosion was recorded in 2015, followed by 14 in 2016, and 11 in 2018. The current year has already recorded five explosions, thus far.

The Maoists have engineered 43 incidents of arson since March 6, 2000, in Bijapur, of which a maximum of six incidents was recorded in 2007, 2015, 2017, and 2022, and a low of one such incident in 2003, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016, and 2020. Two such incident have taken place in the current year, so far (data data till April 23, 2023).

Worried by their losses due to the effectiveness of SF operations, in their attempt to garner some sympathy and mislead locals, the Maoists repeatedly alleged that the SFs have used air strikes on the border of Bijapur and Sukma Districts. On April 6, 2023, Samta, the ‘spokesperson’ for the CPI-Maoist South Sub-Zonal Bureau, issued a press note claiming a ‘bombing’ targeted at the Naxalites [Left Wing Extremists, LWEs] in the Pamed area. “Bombardment by drones and helicopters is going on since 6 am in Bhattiguda, Kavargatta, Meenaghatta and Jabbagatta areas of Pamed area of South Bastar,” the Maoist leader asserted in the press note, and blamed the visit of Union Home Minister (UHM) Amit Shah for the attack.

Similarly, on January 11, 2023, a CPI-Maoist statement issued in the name of Ganga, ‘secretary’ of South Bastar Division Committee of Maoists, accused the SFs of conducting airstrikes on villages in the Bijapur and Sukma Districts of South Bastar. The statement claimed that Madkanguda, Mettaguda, Bottetong, Sakiler, Madpadulade, Kannemarka, Pottemangum, Bottalanka, Rasapalli, and Errapad villages and forest hills of South Bastar, in the border areas of Pamed, Kistaram, were targeted by drones and helicopters.

However, on April 11, 2023, CRPF spokesperson, H.K. Sahu, stated, “We are not aware about it (air strikes).” There is little independent evidence of any resort to air power – by helicopter gunships or drones – by the SFs, anywhere in the fight against the Maoists.

Meanwhile, to boost the morale of their cadres, the Maoists have orchestrated audacious attacks on political figures, including the April 18, 2023, attack on Vikram Mandavi’s convoy.

Earlier, on February 5, 2023, Maoist cadres hacked to death a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) functionary, identified as Neelkanth Kakem (40), while he was attending a wedding at Paikram village under Awapalli Police Station limits in Bijapur District.

In addition to Bijapur District, in the bordering district of Dantewada, on February 11, 2023, a local BJP leader, Ramdhar Alami (43), was hacked to death by the Maoists at Thulthuli village under Barsoor Police Station limits.

In district Narayanpur, on February 10, 2023, the Maoists killed a local BJP leader, Sagar Sahu, vice-president of BJP’s Narayanpur District unit, at his home in Chhotedongar village.

Speaking of these attacks on political figures on February 22, 2023, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Bastar Range, Sundarraj P., asserted that the real reason that the Maoists were killing people was to create a “sensation”:

This is not a new strategy. On an average they strike and kill five to six individuals every year. This is just to create fear among people and public administrators, irrespective of party affiliations.

The necessity to engage in actions that create fear in the masses as the Maoists see their own relevance fading in the tribal region, where their loss of influence is palpable.

Meanwhile, according to a March 12, 2023, report, Central security agencies have undertaken a survey to ascertain the level of Maoist influence in Bijapur, as well as in the other districts of the Bastar Division, ahead of the Assembly polls – due before November 2023 – to reassert the establishment of the civil administration in Maoist strongholds. An unnamed security official attached to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), stated,

The idea behind the survey is to understand the Maoist influence in several districts of Chhattisgarh. With an all-out offensive against Maoists already underway in the state, the Centre wants to start several welfare schemes, including road construction and electricity, to win the trust of villagers. 

Bijapur, spread over a geographical area of 6,562.48 square kilometres, of which around 1,848.07 square kilometres (28 per cent of its total area) is under forest cover, has great geo-strategic significance for the Maoists, falling under the challenging Abujhmadh Forest range (which spreads over 3,900 square kilometres) and the troubled ‘Bastar Division’. The geographical juxtaposition with the LWE-affected Narayanpur District (Chhattisgarh) to the North; Bastar District (Chhattisgarh) to the North-east; Dantewada District (Chhattisgarh) to the east; Sukma District (Chhattisgarh) to the South-east; Karimnagar, Warangal and Khammam Districts of Telangana on the south; and Gadchiroli District of Maharashtra on the West, further makes it a formidable final bastion of the Maoists, as they cling to the hope of a possible comeback.

Indeed, Bijapur District in the Bastar Division of Chhattisgarh showcases a region where the Maoists retain a significant measure of resilience, as well as capacities to operate and perpetrate violence. Continued SF operations, blended with an effective administrative outreach can ensure that the gains of recent years are consolidated further, and the threat of this continuing insurgency is finally contained.

The recent incidents of Maoist violence indicate a rising desperation, as they see their influence shrink in this fading erstwhile stronghold.