Maharashtra: Uncertain Gains
The level of violence perpetrated by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) in Maharashtra has decreased in 2012 in terms of fatalities, in comparison to 2011, returning to levels comparable with 2010. According to partial data collected by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the State witnessed a total of 40 fatalities - 21 civilians, 14 Security Force (SF) personnel and five Maoists - in Maoist-related violence in 2012, as against 69 fatalities - 34 civilians, 10 SF personnel and 25 Maoists - in 2011. The State reported just one major incident (involving three or more fatalities) in 2012, when Maoists detonated a landmine at Pustola village in Gadchiroli District on March 27, 2012, killing 13 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers (12 died in the incident and one trooper later succumbed to injuries in hospital), and injuring another 28. There were five major incidents in 2011.
Union Ministry of Home Affairs data indicate 45 fatalities in 2012 (as on November 30, 2012), including 27 civilians, 14 SF personnel and four Maoists; as against 57 fatalities - 44 civilians, 10 SF personnel and three Maoists - in the whole of 2011, in Maharashtra.
In 2012, incidents of killing were reported from three Districts - Gadchiroli, Gondia and Aurangabad - though Gadchiroli dominates overwhelmingly. As many as 37 of the 40 fatalities (18 civilians, 14 SF and five Maoists) in the State - were reported from Gadchiroli alone. Gondia had two civilian fatalities and Aurangabad had one. In 2011, fatalities had been reported from Gadchiroli (67), Gondia (1) and Nagpur (1). Fatality figures of the last three years suggest that civilian and SF fatalities have remained relatively high, though wide variations have been recorded in Maoist fatalities. However, the high Maoist fatalities reported in 2011 may be misleading, as very few bodies of those allegedly killed were actually recovered. Police believe that the woman Maoist killed in a December 4, 2012, encounter was Narmada Akka, a senior Maoist leader, though the Maoists have issued no clarification in this regard.
SATP data indicates that there were at least 24 incidents of exchange of fire between SFs and Maoists in 2012, of which 22 were in Gadchiroli and two in Gondia. The frequency of encounters increased towards the end of the year, with 11 encounters reported in just the last three months of 2012. The encounters resulted in the killing of at least four Maoists. The fifth Maoist's buried dead body was recovered in Gadchiroli District, where he is believed to have been killed in an earlier encounter. Remarkably, the SFs did not suffer any fatalities in these encounters, though some troopers were injured. 13 of the 14 SF fatalities were the result of a single improvised explosive device (IED) attack, and the 14th was shot dead when he was accompanying an ailing colleague to the health centre at Fulbodi Gatta village in Dhanora tehsil of Gadchiroli District. Apart from the March 27 IED attack on the CRPF, the Maoists did not trigger any other landmine/IED blast. However, an officer of the Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad (BDDS) was injured while defusing a land mine planted by the Maoists near Bhagvantrao School on the main road to Kamalpur village in Aheri sub-division of Gadchiroli District.
During search and combing operations, the SFs made recoveries of arms, ammunition and other articles in nine instances - five in Gadchiroli, two in Gondia, and one each in Chandrapur and Raigad.
The Maoists engaged in at least seven incidents of arson through 2012 - five in Gadchiroli and two in Gondia - and one has already been recorded in 2013, in Gadchiroli. In one such incident a group of around 50 Maoists intercepted four tractors and three trolleys in the forest patch between Rajoli and Keshori in Gondia District and set them afire on April 12, 2012. In another incident an estimated 150 Maoists set ablaze a forest depot near Jimalgatta village in Gadchiroli District on May 14, 2012. In the latest incident on January 13, 2013, a group of around 40 Maoists set ablaze 27 vehicles at a road construction site near Lekha (Menda) village on the Godalvahi-Dhanora road in Gadchiroli District, some six kilometers from the State highway connecting Gadchiroli and Rajnandgaon (Chhattisgarh).
The Maoists abducted seven persons in four recorded incidents of abduction, three in Gadchiroli and one in Gondia.
In another eye-opener for the State, with inputs from the Andhra Pradesh Police, the Mumbai (Maharashtra) Police raided workshops near Mumbai, which were clandestinely manufacturing weapons for Maoists and seized several castings, believed to be intended for making hand grenades, rockets and other materials, and for fabricating Rocket Launchers (RLs). Police arrested four Maoists - Asim Kumar Bhattacharya (63), Dinesh Wankhede (30), Suman Gawde (40) and Paru Patel (40), from Dombivali, in this connection, and recovered over INR 2.3 million in cash, laptops, pen drives and books on manufacturing weapons.
Police made a total of 40 arrests of Maoists cadres and sympathizers in the State in 2012 (SATP data), as against 56 in 2011. Some of the significant arrests included the CPI-Maoist Chandrapur District in-charge, Pramod Godghate (30); and CPI-Maoist State Committee Member and Secretary of the Chandrapur Committee, Maruti Kurwatkar (31). Significantly, Police also arrested Venkatramma Reddy, a manager of Hyderabad's Sushee Infrastructure Private Limited, which was engaged in the Pranhita-Chevella Irrigation Project, a Maharashtra - Andhra Pradesh joint venture, along with two other persons - Chinmaya Soyam, a former sarpanch (head of Gram Panchayat, village level local self Government institution)of a village in the neighbouring Adilabad District of Andhra Pradesh, and Suryanarayan Parpatwar, a local Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and the former chairman of Sironcha Panchayat Samiti [block level Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI)] - on December 22. The trio was arrested in the Devalmari jungle of Gadchiroli while they were allegedly on a 'clandestine mission' to help Maoists in Gadchiroli District. Superintendent of Police Suvez Haque disclosed that the arrested persons "often brought aid for the Naxal dalam (squad) involved in Lankachen encounter".
Further, eight Maoists, including two 'platoon commanders', surrendered in Maharashtra through 2012, as against 22 in 2011.
An analysis of reported incidents indicates that the Maoist have a very strong presence in Gadchiroli, a moderate presence in Gondia and Chandrapur, and a marginal presence in Pune, Thane, Mumbai, Raigad and Aurangabad Districts. A total of 92 Maoist-related incidents were reported from 11 Districts [Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Gondia, Mumbai Suburban, Nagpur, Nandurbar, Nashik, Pune, Thane, Wardha, and Yavatmal] in Maharashtra, through 2011; while a total of 51 such incidents were reported from seven Districts [Amravati, Bhandara, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Gondia, Mumbai City and Nagpur] in 2010.
Apart from the violence they perpetrated, the Maoists also stumped the administration when they subverted the democratic process in PRI in Gadchiroli. Threatening the PRI representatives through selective killings and abductions, the Maoists forced them to resign en mass between May and July, 2012. At least seven PRI representatives and one former PRI representative have been killed, and two former PRI members have been abducted. However, the situation has been maneuvered into a stalemate, with the State Government refusing to accept most of the resignations on the grounds that they were not in the prescribed format. The resignations of only two Panchayat Samiti (block level PRI) members in Etapali and one Zilla Parishad (District level PRI) Member in Bhamragarh were accepted as valid, and the posts were filled up during by-elections later in the year. Nevertheless, the system of local governance was paralysed. For the District administration, the PRIs are very much in their posts; the PRIs, on the other hand, claim they have obeyed the Maoist diktat and refuse to function. The Maoists have also been threatening members of various Self Help Groups (SHGs), village committees and forest management committees in Gadchiroli District, directing them to step down as well. Indeed, they have come out heavily even against Mohan Hirabai Hiralal, a Gandhian, who pioneered the Community Forest Right (CFR) model in Mendha-Lekha village, accusing him of "waylaying the tribals from the path of conflict (sic)." A press note released by CPI-Maoist 'Gadchiroli divisional committee' declared, "Hiralal is a follower of Vinoba Bhave, who had sought land from the rich. He is trying to cover up the violence by capitalists against the poor by professing non-violence."
Despite significant Police successes, the Maoists continue to struggle to consolidate their movement in the State. They have reportedly carved out a new zone for operations, comprising the northern Gadchiroli and Gondia areas of Maharashtra, and the Balaghat area of Madhya Pradesh. The area has been brought under the direction of the newly appointed North Gadchiroli-Gondia-Balaghat Divisional Committee, which is now actively recruiting. The Committee is currently headed by Pahad Singh.
The incoherence of State policy was reflected when the State Home Minister R.R. Patil 'admitted' in the Legislative Assembly, on July 13, 2012, that Maoist violence in the State had not witnessed a drop, despite 'heavy presence' of Security Forces. The CRPF has deployed six battalions in the State, including a battalion of the CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) Force. Patil has, as usual, blamed the Maoists for sabotaging the developmental process in the Gadchiroli District. However, Government apathy, with persistent vacancies in key administrative posts, has emerged as a strong factor hindering development in the District and, indeed, in the wider and backward Vidharba region. Meanwhile, according to a December 14, 2012, report, following a severe reprimand by the Bombay High Court, the Chief Secretary of Maharashtra, J.S. Banthia, issued a circular to fill up vacant posts in the Maoist-affected areas of the neglected Vidarbha region by December 31, 2012. The deadline has likely been missed, but no follow up details are available.
Maharashtra has a Police Population-ratio (number of Policemen per population of 100, 000) of 163 against an all-India average of 137, as on December 31, 2011 (National Crime Records Bureau data). While this ratio is better than most other Maoist-afflicted States, it is still considered well below the levels required. The Mumbai city Police has constituted a Special Intelligence unit specifically to tackle the Maoist threat in the city.
The decrease in Maoist violence level in Maharashtra in 2012, in terms of fatalities as well as spatial extension, provides little room for complacency. Indeed, evidence of Maoist intimidation - dramatically visible in the way the Maoists have brow-beaten the elected representatives of PRIs in Gadchiroli - and of continuing political mobilization and consolidation, remains strong, suggesting that the dip in violence, as in the past, is a tactical choice the Maoists have made, rather than a necessity that has been imposed on them.
(The writer Fakir Mohan Pradhan is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)