Bihar: Conflicting Approaches
The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) engaged in several acts of violence in Bihar and Jharkhand during the 48-hour-bandh (shut down strike) on April 6-7, 2013, organised to protest against the killing of 10 of their cadres by the breakaway Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC) on March 27-28, 2013, in the Chatra District of Jharkhand. In fact, Maoist violence was somewhat higher in Bihar than in Jharkhand.
In Bihar's Gaya District, four Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were injured on April 7, 2013, while defusing bombs planted on a road by the Maoists. One of them later succumbed to his injuries. Meanwhile, about 100 Maoists blew up part of a power Sub-station in the Khaira Police Station are in Jamui District. The Maoists also set ablaze an Airtel mobile tower in the Kutumba Police Station area of Aurangabad District on the same day. In Muzaffarpur District, some 25 to 30 Maoists attacked the work site of Saaj Infracon, damaged construction equipment, and briefly took 10 to 15 labourers hostage. Earlier, on the first day of bandh, the Maoists blew up a railway track between Hajipur and Sarai stations in Vaishali District.
On April 11, 2013, a group of between 50 and 100 Maoists blew up seven wings of a building complex of the State Irrigation Department near Bigha village in the Deo Block of Aurangabad District.
The largest proportion of the violence in Bihar was reported from Gaya, Aurangabad and Jamui Districts. Indeed, since January 1, 2013, (till April 14, 2013), 11 people have been killed in Bihar, including eight Security Force (SF) personnel and three civilians, in Gaya and Aurangabad Districts, with no Maoist fatality reported from these or any other Districts in the State. Significantly, the Union Home Ministry in a letter written to the Bihar Government, [date not mentioned, in media reports] observed that these three Districts witnessed more than 60 per cent of all violence by Maoists in Bihar in 2012. Partial data on fatalities compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) confirms that these three Districts have remained Maoist strongholds for some years now.
The Gaya, Aurangabad and Jamui Districts have consistently been facing the brunt of Maoist violence. Of a total of 430 incidents recorded between January 2008 and April 14, 2013, Gaya accounted for 115, Aurangabad for 61, and Jamui, 61. Further, Munger, which share a border with Jamui District, follows closely, with 43 incidents. While there has been a decline in Maoist violence in 2011 and 2012 across all Maoist-affected States, including Bihar, Maoists have persisted with their violence in their stronghold areas. The three Districts of Aurangabad, Gaya and Jamui are strategically located close to the border with Jharkhand, another severely Maoist-affected State. Unsurprisingly, these three Districts have been included in a list of 26 prepared by the Union Government, which, together, accounted for 80 per cent of LWE violence in the last three years (2010-2012).
Some of the major incidents recently reported from these three Districts include:
February 22, 2013: Maoist cadres triggered a landmine blast killing eight persons - six Police personnel, one Special Police Officer (SPO) and one civilian - at Majhauliya village in Gaya District.
October 18, 2012: 14troopers of the 159th Battalion of the CRPF were killed and another eight, including a deputy commandant, were injured, when Maoists triggered an IED blast, blowing up a landmine-protected vehicle near the Chakarbandha Forest in Barha village under the Dumaria Police Station in Gaya District.
September 10, 2012: Six Maoist cadres were killed and 70 landmines were destroyed in an encounter with SFs in the Panchrukhiya Forest, bordering Gaya and Aurangabad Districts.
After taking several casualties in Gaya, the Bihar Police changed their operational strategy. Instead of engaging the Maoists in the Chakarbanda Forest, on the border of Aurangabad and Gaya Districts and then retreating to their bases, the Police set up positions at strategic locations, to encircle and dominate the forest area. About 10 companies of CRPF and the Special Task Force (STF) were deployed in the area.
While the Gaya, Aurangabad and Jamui Districts are at the core of Maoist violence in Bihar, other Districts in the State are far from untroubled. East Champaran, Muzzaffarpur, Munger, Rohtas, Saran, Sheohar, Sitamarhi, Vaishali, have also seen persistent Maoist activity, and every one of Bihar's 27 Districts has recorded at least one Maoist-related incident over the 2008-2013 period. Significantly, however, 22 Districts have been incident-free in 2013 (till date), and as many as 17 Districts remained incident-free through 2012.
Maoist front organizations, however, remain active and, in a recent letter to Bihar, the Union Government warned that the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF), alleged to be a Maoist front, enjoyed a free run in the State. The RDF was, in fact, allowed to hold a rally at Muzaffarpur in December 2012, though the event was organised under the banner of Janata Par Yudh Virodhi Manch (Movement for Opposition to the War on the People), and was attended by more than 1,000 people.
While there are visible improvements in various indices of Maoist activity in Bihar, sharp differences have emerged between the Centre and the State regarding the reason behind these changes. In a letter to the Bihar Chief Secretary Ashok Kumar Sinha, Union Home Secretary R.K. Singh stated that the casualty figures of civilian and police personnel in Naxal violence were a "major cause of worry", and further, that,
At present, anti-Naxal operations by the State Police have almost stopped. There are reasons to believe that CPI-Maoist has been using this lull to rebuild and consolidate its strength. The gains of last five years by the State Police on the Maoist front are being slowly frittered away. There is a need for intervention to arrest the drift. The Superintendents of Police need to be held accountable and responsible for anti-Naxal operations.
But the State administration claimed it was satisfied with its operational record, demonstrated through a total of 422 Maoists arrested in 2012. However, it was conceded that, in terms of the quality of arrests, the performance in 2012 was not as good as in 2011, when the State Police had arrested several leadership elements. Further, a total of 42 Maoists surrendered in 2012 as against 26 in 2011. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar claimed, on April 16, 2012, "Our approach, along with the strategy of area domination, intelligence-based operations, providing security to ongoing development works and capacity building of the Police Force, is reaping good results." Not surprisingly, the State Director General of Police (DGP) has reportedly refused to toe Centre's line on the anti-Maoist Strategy.
Despite visible improvements in various indices of Maoist activity, Bihar continuous to maintain the dubious distinction of having the lowest Police-population ratio in the country, at 65 per 100,000, less than half the national average of 137, as on December 31, 2011, according to the latest available report of the National Crimes Records Bureau. Patna has constantly clamoured for more and more deployment of Central Forces to deal with the Maoists, but has persistently neglected to improve its own capacities and capabilities. While deploying Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs) in Bihar, Delhi has repeatedly expressed its unhappiness at the absence of matching contributions personnel from the State.
In a possible fallout of divergent perceptions on the anti-Maoist strategy, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) decided to withdraw two battalions of CRPF from the State. The State had five battalions of CRPF and one battalion of the Commando Battalion for Rapid Actions (CoBRA).
Nevertheless, according to a July 2012 report, the CRPF is to set up a Group Centre in the State capital, Patna, which was to comprise of five battalions, strategically located across Gaya, Jamui, Rohtas, East Champaran and Patna, all Maoist-affected Districts. With the setting up of this Group Centre, the CRPF would have three such Centres in Bihar, with its bases already existing at Mokama and Muzaffarpur. Further, the Centre had given its nod for the deployment of one battalion of the Sashatra Seema Bal (SSB) in Bihar. Personnel of the battalion to be deployed in Bihar are undergoing training at Bagaha and Narkatiaganj in West Champaran District.
However, speaking at the 43rd All India Police Science Congress in Patna on February 27, 2013, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar made a commitment that the Bihar Government would meet the national guideline of having at least 125 police personnel per 100,000 population, by recruiting an additional 44,000 personnel to the State Force. Unsurprisingly, however, he gave no time-frame for achieving this target.
Despite the overall decline in Maoist violence in Bihar since 2011 due to a 'tactical retreat' by the Maoists, the visible concentration of violent activities in Maoist core areas remains a cause of concern, as does the persistence of low grade violence and over-ground political mobilization in wide areas of the State. With extremely limited capacities for Policing within the State, and an excessive dependence on CPMFs, the strategically vulnerable Districts along the Bihar-Jharkhand border could well become a nucleus for the future expansion of Maoist activities in a wide region of the intended 'Red corridor'.
(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)
(Posted on 15-04-2013)