On December 4, 2020, a Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadre was killed in an exchange of fire with the Security Forces (SFs) in a forested area near Hakwa village under Gangaloor Police Station limits in Bijapur District, Chhattisgarh. The body of the Maoist, identified as Arjun, a ‘platoon commander’ of the Gangaloor ‘area committee’ of the Maoists, was recovered along with a firearm and explosives.
On December 2, 2020, two tribal villagers were abducted and subsequently killed by CPI-Maoist cadres in Kamkanar village in Bijapur District. The two victims, Sannu Uika and Sunil Boddu, from Kamkanar village, were being threatened by Maoists over the preceding few months, as they were suspected of supporting the Police.
On November 28, 2020, Nitin P. Balerao, an Assistant Commandant of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), the elite Commando wing of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), was killed and eight personnel, including the second-in-command Dinesh Kumar Singh, were injured in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast triggered by cadres of the CPI-Maoist in the Burkapal area in Sukma District.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the Bastar Division has accounted for at least 123 Maoist-linked fatalities (26 civilians, 35 SF personnel, and 62 Maoists) in the current year, thus far (data till December 13, 2020). During the corresponding period in 2019, the ‘division’ had recorded 102 fatalities (30 civilians, 18 SF personnel, and 54 Maoists). Through 2019, Maoist-linked fatalities in the Division totalled 107 [30 civilians, 18 SF personnel, and 59 Maoists].
The Bastar Division, considered to be the last bastion of the Maoists, spans over 40,000 square kilometers, and comprises of seven Districts – Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, and Sukma.
Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling statistics on Left Wing Extremism in India, the Bastar Division has registered at least 3,032 fatalities (787 civilians; 1,028 SF personnel; 1,195 Maoists; and 22 unspecified). The Bastar Division accounted for a whopping 90.72 per cent of the total fatalities recorded in the State (3,342, including 891 civilians; 1,129 SF personnel; 1,298 Maoists, and 24 unspecified (data till December 13, 2020).
After a low of 107 fatalities in the Division in 2019, there is evidence of an escalation of activities in 2020. An April 18, 2020, report revealed that the CPI-Maoist organised a gathering of people in their area of influence in Bastar, directing village headmen and others to part with the rations they received from the State Government during the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Abhishek Pallava, SP, Dantewada, thus disclosed,
The naxals [Left Wing Extremists] are regularly holding the meetings of tribals in areas cited as their epicentre. We have got inputs from the villagers that the rebels are threatening them and demanding to hand over the BPL [Below Poverty Line] ration which they got under the public distribution system scheme.
The villagers were even thrashed publicly during the meeting to instil terror and are forced to comply with their diktat. Also, the Maoists continued to extort money from the local contractors and the collectors of minor forest products to meet their requirements.
Meanwhile, according to an October 9, 2020, report, the Maoists claimed to have executed 25 persons in Bijapur District in the last week of September 2020 [exact date not specified], including some of their key associates, branding them as 'secret agents, coverts and Police informers' operating for the Chhattisgarh Police. Accusing the State Police of building a network of such operatives to sabotage their movement, Vikalp, the 'official representative' of the CPI-Maoist Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee, issued a statement declaring that "12 secret agents, five coverts and eight informers" in the Gangaloor area of Bijapur District were eliminated in the people's court, "based on credible evidence." In the statement of October 7, 2020, released to the press, Vikalp thus stated,
The central, state governments planned operation "Samadhan" to eliminate our leadership and movement by 2022. As part of this tactic, Bastar IGP [Inspector General of Police] Sundarraj and Bijapur SP [Superintendent of Police] Kamlochan Kashyap have enlisted secret agents, coverts, and informers on a large scale in the district. Monthly salaries were credited into the bank accounts opened in their name.
Importantly, SAMADHAN is the strategy announced on May 8, 2017, by the then Union Home Minister (UHM) Rajnath Singh to deal with Left Wing Extremism affected States across India. Significantly, the strategy has eight components: S - Smart Leadership; A - Aggressive Strategy; M - Motivation and Training; A - Actionable Intelligence, D - Dashboard Based Key Performance Indicators; H - Harnessing Technology: A - Action plan for each theatre; and N - No access to Financing.
Indeed, according to a November 16, 2020, report, to contain the LWE menace and to target the Maoist leadership by going after the ‘security blanket’ that surrounds it, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) agreed to deploy five additional battalions of the CRPF in Sukma and Bijapur Districts in the Bastar Division.
The ‘Central Committee’ of the CPI-Maoist is protected by the ‘Central Regional Command’ (CRC), and is most active in Sukma and Bijapur Districts. CRC’s ‘battalion 1’, is led by Maoist leader Madvi Hidma, who according to unconfirmed reports, has been promoted to the Central Committee.
An October 1, 2020, report stated that, in order to strengthen its hold in the Maoist strongholds, the Chhattisgarh Government was set to open eight new Police camps by the end of 2020, even as it faced protests against the move. According to the Government, the camps will come up in Dantewada, Kondagaon, Bijapur and Sukma Districts, as part of 15 Police camps that the Government plans to set up. Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Bastar, Sundarraj P., disclosed,
A total of 15 camps of the state police are to be commissioned during 2020. Seven camps were already established in the districts of Narayanpur, Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur in February-March 2020. Eight other camps will be established by December and another five will come up by March 2021.
On September 4, 2020, State Director General of Police (DGP), D.M. Awasthi, asserted,
Anti-Naxal operations will be intensified in the next three months. In core areas like Sukma, Dantewada and Bijapur of Bastar division, operations should be launched with complete planning. Along with Naxals, actions should also be taken against their supporters. To expedite operations, construction of bridges and culverts should be done at a rapid pace in Maoist-hit areas.
Around 60,000 personnel of the State Police and Paramilitary Forces are deployed in the seven Districts of Bastar Division.
The Maoists in the Bastar Division remains a major challenge for the State, as well as for the country. This is where the ‘final battle’ against the rebels is set to be won. The Maoists retain significant operational capacities in this region, though these have been substantially eroded by the Security Forces. Nevertheless, the area remains difficult, with the Maoists holding tenaciously on to their last surviving stronghold.