More substantive losses were inflicted on the Maoists in 2013, in comparison to other Maoist-affected States over the same period. In fact, in their own assessments the Maoists acknowledged that their movement in Maharashtra had "weakened".
The fatality figures alone tell much of the story. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 45 people were killed in the State in Left Wing Extremist (LWE) linked violence in 2013, including 10 civilians, seven Security Force (SF) personnel, and 28 Maoists, while 21 civilians, 14 SF personnel and five Maoists were killed in 2012.
Significantly, while civilian and SF fatalities fell to less than half between 2012 and 2013, Maoist fatalities have increased by an astonishing seven times. The Maoist fatality figure for 2013 is, in fact, the highest for any one year in Maharashtra. In terms of geographical spread, except for one civilian fatality in Gondia District, all other fatalities in 2013 were recorded in Gadchiroli District.
Maharashtra recorded seven major incidents (each resulting in three or more fatalities) in 2013, as against just one in 2012. The Maoists suffered heavily in five of the seven 2013 incidents. Common to these significant operational successes against the Maoists was the fact that the rebels were taken by complete surprise, a crucial departure from the experience of the past in Gadchiroli as well as most other theatres of Maoist violence. This point was driven further home by the fact that, in these operations, the Maoists were not even able to execute orderly withdrawals, as evidenced by the high number of bodies recovered. The Maoists do not generally leave behind the bodies of their fallen comrades. Moreover, SF casualties in these operations have been minimal, in sharp contrast to the ratio of fatalities in 2012.
Further, as a result of the growing strength of their intelligence network, the Gadchiroli Police were able to successfully execute a counter-ambush against a group of 50 to 60 Maoists, who were waiting to ambush Police search parties in the Hetalkasa Forest under the Malewada Police Station in Gadchiroli on May 19, 2013. After the encounter, the Police recovered the body of a Maoist and a small cache of arms and ammunition.
As indicated, the SFs managed to significantly cut down operational losses. Out of the seven SF fatalities recorded in 2013, three personnel were killed in a single Improvised Explosive Device (IED) incident on October 17. Due to the tremendous SF pressure, moreover, Maoist strikes against civilians also declined significantly, with just one major incident, on June 13, involving civilian fatalities, when Llyod Company's Vice President, a subcontractor and a Police patil [village representative] accompanying them, were killed near Nender village in Etapalli tehsil in Gadchiroli. The Maoists carried out the killing purportedly to protest against the attempt to start mining in Surajagad and Damkodvadavi Hills in the Gatta area, despite 'popular sentiment' against mining in the area.
Other patterns of Maoist violence also registered a decline in 2013. In total, 12 exchange-of-fire incidents were reported between the SFs and the Maoists from Maharashtra in 2013, as against 22 in 2012. In one such incident, on February 11, 2013, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) staved off a Maoist attack near Sirpur village in the jungle of Pendhri in Gadchiroli District. The 192 Battalion of CRPF was engaged in an area domination exercise from the evening of the previous day, when a group of Maoists, camping in the jungle, triggered a blast on spotting the SFs party.
The Maoists engineered only two explosions in 2013, as against one IED attack in 2012.
Three arson related incidents in 2013 were attributed to the Maoists, in comparison to seven such incidents in 2012. In the worst of these, on January 13, 2013, a group of around 40 Maoist cadres set ablaze 27 vehicles at a road construction site near Lekha (Menda) village on Godalvahi-Dhanora road in Gadchiroli District. They also set ablaze a Gram Panchayat building in Godalwahi village in Dhanora Division of Gadchiroli District on April 28, 2013.
One abduction case in Gondia District was registered against the Maoists, as against seven such cases in 2012.
Four bandh (shut down strike) calls were given by the Maoists over various issues in 2013, though they evoked a lukewarm response. The Maoists had imposed six bandhsin 2012.
Twenty-two Maoists were arrested in 2013 in comparison to 41 in 2012, the most significant being the arrest of a 'deputy commander' of the Kasansoor Dalam (armed squad), identified as Ramesh alias Kaju Gawde, during an anti-Maoist operation in Reknar village in the Etapalli tehsil (revenue unit) of Gadchiroli District and Chaitu Pada, who was arrested for involvement in the murder of the Vice-President of Lloyds Metals & Engineers and two others, on June 24, 2013. Other arrests that drew greater media attention included the apprehension of two activists of the Kabir Kala Manch (a Maoist 'cultural organisation') - Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali - on April 3, 2013, and the arrest of Prashant Rahi aka Prashant Sanglikar, an Uttarakhand-based journalist-turned-activist, on September 1, 2013. Further, the Gadchiroli Police's decision to register cases against Prime Minister's Rural Development Fellow (PMRDF) Mahesh Raut and his friend Harshali Potdar from Mumbai, after two arrested Maoists revealed that the pair were travelling with them to meet top Maoist leaders, and the subsequent raid on the house of G.N. Saibaba, an assistant professor at Ramlal Anand College, Delhi University, in Delhi, generated much media controversy.
Thirty Maoist cadres surrendered in 2013, as against just eight in 2012. 28 Maoists from different dalams in Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh border areas, surrendered before the Gadchiroli District Police, under 'Campaign Navjeevan' (New life). The Campaign was launched in December 2012. Meanwhile, statistics furnished by Gadchiroli Police indicate that 396 Maoists have 'returned to the mainstream' since 2005, when the Government's surrender policy was relaunched with fresh vigour. The list of surrenders, however, is devoid of names from the top Maoist leadership.
Explaining the turnaround, Maharashtra Additional Director-General of Police (ADGP) (Special Operations), Prem Kisan Jain, told the media, "We have reorganised the setup within the Department, in which all anti-Naxal operations, including intelligence, training and action, have been brought under one chain of command." Further, Jain claimed that increasing the duration of the stay of the forces in the forests to 3 to 5 days, instead of shorter durations, had helped them immensely in disrupting Maoist logistics: "We have not only managed to confine Maoists in their areas, but have also been able to penetrate into hitherto impregnable areas, which has put them on the defensive." Coordination among the State Police Force, the State special force (C-60) and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), also improved dramatically. Advanced training centres, manned by Army personnel, have been set up and more specialised equipment has been provided to the counter-insurgency (CI) troops. The "economical use of ammunition" has also helped the Police, with better firing skills and restraint in the use of ammunition during encounters. In the past, panicked and indiscriminate firing by SFs had often resulted in units running out of ammunition during an ambush or encounter.
In addition to operational improvement, there has been a visible transformation in the capacities and processes of intelligence gathering. While surrendered Maoists have provided crucial operational information, Police also appear to have significantly infiltrated Maoist ranks in Gadchiroli.
Nevertheless, on April 1, 2013, the Maharashtra Government once again included fourtehsils of Gondia District - Gondia, Goregaon, Tiroda and Amgaon - in the list of Maoist-affected areas. These areas had been removed from the list of Maoist-affected areas on February 4, 2013. Further, on March 6, 2013, the Maharashtra Government said that it could not be claimed that LWE activities in Gadchiroli District had ended until the movement comes to a complete halt.
On March 11, 2013, the Maharashtra State Home Department informed the State Legislature that it spent INR 2.91 billion for the construction of 10 fortified Police Stations in Maoist affected areas, and on the capital outlay for road transport. Further, on March 20, 2013, the State Government adopted a resolution to hike the salary and dearness allowance of Police personnel serving in Maoist affected areas, by 50 per cent. Meanwhile, the Maharashtra State Anti-Naxal Operations Unit now has a Special Propaganda Cell for countering the campaigns triggered by the Maoists.
On July 15, 2013, the State Government announced that the Maoist-affected Gadchiroli and Gondia Districts would soon get a 'special development authority' to curb red-tapism, and thereby expedite development. Further, Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil underlined the urgent need of forming a District Development Authority for Gadchiroli, arguing that both the system and the CPI-Maoist constituted a great development challenge in Maoist-afflicted area.
Dramatic gains have clearly been registered in the anti-Maoist campaigns in Gadchiroli. Nevertheless, the Maoist capacity for revival must not be underestimated, as it often has been in the past. Far greater consolidation is necessary before the present gains can be thought to be irreversible.
(The writer Mrinal Kanta Das is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)
--IBNS (Posted on 01-01-2014)