Chhattisgarh: Narayanpur: Entering the Heartland
On August 9, 2017, SFs arrested a local CPI-Maoist 'militia commander', identified as Budhru Mandavi (23), from Kalmanar village in Narayanpur District. A CPI-Maoist banner and two pamphlets were found on him.
On July 31, 2017, in a joint operation SFs arrested four CPI-Maoist cadres from Bagjhar village in Narayanpur District. The arrested cadres were identified as Malu Netam (45), Baijuram Gawde (26), Ashiram Salam (42) and Shivnath Yadav. Malu Netam carried a reward of INR 2,000 on his head.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 25 Maoists have been arrested in Narayanpur District thus far in 2017 (data till September 3). During the corresponding period in 2016, 10 Maoists had been arrested. However, a total of 32 Maoists were arrested through 2016. There were no arrests in 2015, while 73 were arrested in 2014; 34 in 2013; 14 in 2012; 43 in 2011; and 25 in 2010.
Moreover, according to SATP data, at least 15 Maoists were killed in Narayanpur District in 2017 (data till September 3), as against six, during the corresponding period, in 2016, and a total of 16 through 2016. Total Maoist fatalities in 2016 were the highest ever recorded in this category in the District. The previous highs were recorded in 2010, at 15 Maoist fatalities, and 2011 at 12.
SFs have suffered one loss in the current year. During the corresponding period of the preceding year, SFs also recorded one loss, which was also the only loss in this category through 2016. Thus, the SFs have managed to secure a tremendous positive kill ratio in these two years - 1:16 in 2016 and 1: 15 in 2017 (data till September 3 for both years), the two best ever kill ratios recorded in favour of SFs in the District. On the contrary for three consecutive years - 2008, 2009, and 2010 - the Maoists had a better kill ratio against the SFs. The best kill ratio in favour of Maoists was recorded in 2008 - 1: 2.14. It is significant to note that the fatalities among SFs have declined considerably, from a peak of 27 fatalities in 2010, down to six in 2011, and one per year since then, with an aberration of two fatalities in 2015.
Mounting SF pressure also led to the surrender of 215 Maoists in 2017 (data till September 3), according to SATP data. During the corresponding period in 2016, 112 Maoists had surrendered, and a total of 224 through 2016. In the current year, importantly, on August 25, 2017, seven cadres of the CPI-Maoist, including Manish Salaam (21), carrying a reward of INR 100,000 on his head, surrendered before senior Police and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) officials at the Narayanpur District Headquarters. Earlier, on January 29, 2017, 195 lower rung Naxals [Left Wing Extremists (LWEs)], including 24 women, belonging to Janatana Sarkar ('people's government' unit) of the CPI-Maoist, surrendered in the District, expressing a wish to join the mainstream.
There has also been marginal improvement with regard to civilian casualties in the current year - three civilians were killed in 2017 (data till September 3) as against four in the corresponding period of 2016 (no further fatality recorded in this category in 2016). However, fatalities in this category, had been increasing, on year on year basis, since 2014, though the numbers were relatively low as compared to other Maoist-affected Districts across the country.
Indeed, the overall security scenario in the District is improving. Not surprisingly, according to an April 30, 2017, report, the worst Naxal-affected Abujhmad region in Narayanpur District, long neglected since Independence (1947), will be surveyed by the Chhattisgarh Government for the first time, to compile records of land holdings. The revenue survey will enable a population of at least 35,000, mainly tribals, residing in around 237 villages of Abujhmad to get pattas (title deeds) for the lands they possess.
However, Taman Singh Sonwani, then Collector of Narayanpur, admitted on April 30, 2017, "The completion of the survey is largely dependent on security arrangements. In several villages of Abujhmad, it is not possible to enter without security cover. Hence, it is not possible to predict when the process will be completed". Further, Superintendent of Police (SP) Santosh Singh stated, "Presently the survey is being conducted in the villages located close to security camps and eventually it will be carried out in the interiors."
A great deal still needs to be done to restore the order in this District, which continues to remain on the list of the 35 worst Maoist-affected Districts across the country. Narayanpur, moreover, falls under the troubled Bastar Division of Chhattisgarh, which remains the principal challenge for the state.
Narayanpur, one of Chhattisgarh's twenty seven Districts, is surrounded with dense forests, hills, streams, waterfalls and natural caves. The forest cover of 2116.915 square kilometres accounts for 32.87 per cent of the District's total area. As a result of the difficult terrain and natural protection it offers Narayanpur has had immense 'geo-strategic importance' for the Maoists, and has long served as a major transit route for the rebels to cross into the Naxalite affected areas of the neighbouring State of Maharashtra, giving them safe passage to orchestrate violence on both sides of the State borders. Despite reverses, consequently, the Maoists will certainly fight back to restore a measure of ascendancy in a region that they have dominated in the past.
On August 13, 2017, SFs neutralised a Maoist camp during an operation carried out in the dense forests of the Dandakaranya Range in Narayanpur District. During searches after the encounter, horses were recovered along with weapons and literature. Superintendent of Police (SP) Abhinav Deshmukh from Gadchiroli (Maharashtra), who led the operation, disclosed,
It is suspected that senior central committee leader Sonu Bhupati was holed up in the camp and was conducting meetings with commanders. The horses at the place could be for him and his close aides to move easily in the difficult terrain. Sonu Bhupati is chief of Dandakaranya range falling in areas of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Mallojula Venugopala aka Bhupathi aka Sonu is in charge of the Dandakaranya Special Zone Committee (DKSZC), the Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC), and the 'Golden Corridor Committee (which had been formed by the Maoists to target students and labourers in the industrial areas along the 'golden corridor' from Pune through Mumbai, Thane and Nashik in Maharashtra to Ahmedabad in Gujarat and Maharashtra) and is a member of the Central Regional Bureau of the CPI-Maoist. He is also the brother of slain Maoist 'Politbureau member' Mallojula Koteswara Rao aka Kishenji, who was killed during an operation in Burishole Forest in the West Midnapore District of West Bengal on November 24, 2011.
According to the SATP database, at least 17 encounters have been reported between the Maoists and SFs which in the District in the current year, as against six such encounter in the corresponding period of 2016, and 12 such through 2016. Besides, there were at least 13 incidents of seizure of arms and ammunition by the SFs in the current year, during which huge caches were recovered. In 2016, during the corresponding period, there were at least five such incidents of recovery, and nine through 2016).
The Maoists have also orchestrated violence to impede developmental works in the District. At least three such incidents have been reported in the District in the current year, as against one such incident in the corresponding period of 2016, and two incidents through 2016. In one such incident, on May 29, 2017, for instance, a group of 50 CPI-Maoist cadres set ablaze a private bus travelling from the Dhanora area to Orchha village in Narayanpur District. The Maoists had been opposing the road construction work in Jhorigaon, where road construction is underway at a brisk pace under security cover provided by the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the District Police. Earlier, on May 18, 2017, the Maoists had set ablaze a tractor and a mixer engaged in road construction work in the District, and had warned workers against getting involved in any construction works.
The State's failure to deliver the rudiments of governance and security in these purportedly inaccessible areas has always been misused by Maoists as an alibi to garner support from the local population. Now, as the State reaches out to people in these areas, the Maoists are afraid of losing their support base, though minimal, and can be expected to resist to the limits of their capacities. It is another matter, as an Expert Group to the Planning Commission in 2008, on 'Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas,' had noted, that even in areas which are not so inaccessible, "the absence of adequate public intervention, especially in education, health and employment has allowed the non-State actors to push their agenda among the people."
On May 11, 2017, Chief Minister (CM) Raman Singh addressing a convention of Panchs [members of gram panchayats, village level local-self government institution] Sarpanchs (heads of gram panchayats) and farmers at the District Headquarters town of Narayanpur, calling on the Maoists to join the mainstream of the society and declaring, "There will be progress only when there is peace. There will not be development if schools, hostels and hospitals are damaged. The bullet from the gun only takes out a life of a human being (sic)." On the occasion, the Chief Minister laid foundation stones, dedicated 39 developmental works worth INR 76.5 million and sanctioned ten public-utility works worth INR 450 million in the District. In addition, INR 240 million was sanctioned for solar energy-based irrigation pumps to 500 farmers, INR 5 million for expanding the electricity distribution network in Narayanpur town, INR 4 million to develop sports facilities in the town, and INR 60 million each to construct 33/11 kilovolt electric sub-stations at Orchha and Akabeda. Two specialist doctors' posts and two ambulances were also sanctioned for Narayanpur town. In addition, INR 50 million was announced to upgrade roads in the town. Chief Minister Singh also announced that electrification of 62 villages in the District had been completed and efforts were being made to provide electricity to 1,080 villages and 5,600 habitations over the next two years.
Effective and time-bound implementation of these projects will have dramatic impact on the local populations and will certainly erode the limited surviving Maoist base. However, all such implementation will depend heavily on continuing SF pressure on the rebels, and on operational success and widening and effective security cover into the Maoist heartland areas of Abujhmadh in Narayanpur and beyond.