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Chhattisgarh: Uncertain Rumblings

Chhattisgarh: Uncertain Rumblings

Fakir Mohan Pradhan | | 20 Jul 2015, 10:51 pm
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) abducted four auxiliary constables [former Salwa Judum cadres] of the Chhattisgarh Police near Sukanpali village under Kutru Police Station area in Bijapur District on July 13. Their dead bodies were found strewn on a road near Gudma village, close to the place of abduction, two days later. Maoists claimed responsibility for the killings, accusing them of participating in anti-Maoist operations. According to reports, Maoists stopped a passenger bus on the Kutru-Sukanpali road, in the evening of July 13 and abducted Mangal Sodi and Majji Rama who were travelling in it. A few minutes later, Raju Tela and Jayram Yadav, who were travelling on a motorcycle, were abducted from the same location. Three of them were posted in Kutru Police Station and one was posted in Bedre. They were returning to their base camps after collecting their salaries.

Some 18 to 20 other policemen were lucky to escape death as they were also travelling on the same road in another passenger bus, but stopped at a Police Post after receiving news of the abductions.

According to Bijapur Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) Kalyaan Elesela, "Almost all the vehicles moving on that road were stopped by the Maoists and all the passengers were taken one kilometre inside the forest, after which the four policemen were identified and separated. The road where the incident took place, was under construction and secured for the last eight months. However, because of rain, the work had stopped and there was no movement of forces." It has come to light that local Police knew about the Maoists conducting a similar search operation in the same area in the first week of July, but the incident was not reported to the Superintendent of Police (SP) of the District.

The incident speaks volumes about the hold of Maoists in the area and negligible presence of State authority even on the main roads. It is appalling, moreover, that local Police personnel deployed in anti-Maoist operations have to travel to nearby towns in public transport to receive their salaries, when there is a standing advisory against unprotected travel by security personnel in public transport.

According to partial data collected by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) Chhattisgarh has recorded 66 fatalities in Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-related violence in the current year (all data till July 19) - including 16 civilians, 33 Security Force (SF) personnel and 18 Maoists. All these fatalities have occurred in Bastar Division. It has been noted earlier that Bastar Division has emerged as the nucleus of the Maoist Tactical Counter-offensive (TCO), and accounted for 55 out of 87 SF fatalities across all States in 2014; as against 45 out of 111 in 2013. The deteriorating trend seems to be continuing: the Bastar Division accounts for 33 of 40 SF fatalities across all States in 2015 (till July 19). Further, out of a total of eight major incidents (involving three or more fatalities) in all States in 2015, five occurred in the Bastar Division. The Maoists have abducted over 20 civilians and SF personnel in nine incidents, in which four civilians and five SF personnel have been killed.

While the Sukanpali incident does give the impression that the Maoists are getting stronger, all is not going well in the party. Earlier, four senior Maoists - Hemla Bhagat, Kosi, Badru and Hinge - were killed by their own comrades between June 22 and July 5, while another Maoist Hurra, [Malangir Local Operation Squad (LOS) member], who feared for his life, managed to escape and surrender before the Police on July 8. Badru was a Divisional Committee (DVC) member of the Darbha area and a section commander of Maoists' "military platoon No. 24". Hemla Bhagat was another Darbha DVC member and chief of the Maoists' military intelligence wing in the area. Kosi Kursem, wife of Hemla Bhagat, was working with the Dandakaranya Adivasi Kisan Majdoor Sangh (DAKMS), a Maoist front organisation. Nothing much has been reported about Hinge.

Hurra's disclosures to the Police indicate that the surrender of the Maoists' Malangir area committee member Sannu Potam alias Kiran to the Police, along with an SLR on May 24, 2015, triggered the spate of killings.

Meanwhile, Ayatu, 'secretary' of the Malangir area committee, is known to have been 'detained' by the Maoists in the Katekalyan Forest in Dantewada District on suspicion of being a Police informer and of helping Sannu Potam to surrender. Ayatu reportedly uttered some "unpleasant words" against the highhandedness of Darbha DVC member Nirmala.

Issuing a Press statement on July 12 regarding the killing of Badru and others, Darbha DVC secretary Surinder declared, "Our party held a people's court which awarded death penalty to Badru and Hemla Bhagat. Both of them have been killed for indulging in anti-people, anti-party activities. They were in contact with the Police and were planning to kill some senior leaders of the party. They were also conspiring to surrender with weapons before the enemy [the Police]." The statement did not make any mention of the two other leaders - Hinge and Kosi - who were also killed by the Maoists in the last week of June.

In another incident, not entirely unrelated, the Maoists killed one of their comrades after holding him guilty in a Jan Adalat [people's court' a Maoist Kangaroo court] of breaching party discipline. Another Maoist was demoted by the same Jan Adalat. According to a recent document published by the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC) of the CPI-Maoist, "Rammurti [a commander of company-2 under DKZSC] had joined the Naxal movement as a member of company-1 in Bastar in 2002. He exhibited indiscipline and anarchist behaviour and hence was transferred to company-2. Despite repeated advice and attempts to reform him, he did not budge. When it was decided to send him home, he threatened to go to the police and divulge details about the movement to them. So after due inquiry and consent from senior leaders, it was decided to give him death penalty. Finally, a public hearing was also organised and the decision was reaffirmed." In the other case, the in-charge secretary of south Gadchiroli committee of Aitu was demoted to the position of a committee member after a women cadre accused him of sexual misconduct.

Though the killings of Badru and three other senior comrades have been explained as a reaction to the surrender of Sannu Potam, it is not clear why the surrender of an area committee member should have rattled the Maoists so much. CPI-Maoist has witnessed the surrender of many and far more senior cadres in the past, without attracting such a pattern of reprisals against others. Lanka Papi Reddy, a Central Committee (CC) member surrendered in 2007; G.V.K. Prasad Rao aka Gudsa Usendi, 'spokesperson' and member of the DKSZC, surrendered on January 8, 2014; Chambala Ravinder aka Arjun 'commander' of the '2nd Battalion' of the PLGA, surrendered on August 1, 2014.

The most probable explanation is that, unlike others, Potam surrendered with an SLR. Given the extraordinary secrecy and control exercised over armed cadres and their weapons, it is unlikely that a cadre can escape with a weapon without the collusion of others. The party keeps a close watch, not only over each and every cadre to prevent surrenders and development of 'anti-party activities', but also on all villagers in their areas of operation. Even when a villager visits a nearby town or any other place and takes more time to return than is expected, the Maoists are informed and they (Maoists) follow up. The Maoists also maintain and periodically update their database of villages, listing each villager, and with details down to the quantity of foodgrain with each family, and the number of goats, hens, etc. Establishing contact with the Police and taking a weapon out of the jungles to surrender is, consequently, an extraordinarily difficult task without some collective involvement.

Media reports indicate that Hemla Bhagat, Kosi, Badru, Hurra and Hinge were suspected of facilitating Potam's surrender. All five were 'detained' by the Maoists in the second week of June and were kept at different locations in the Gadiras area of Sukma and Aranpur area of Dantewada. Hemla Bhagat was the first to be killed on June 22, probably because he was very close to DKSZC member and South Regional Committee Secretary Ganesh Uike, had accompanied him on his trips to Kolkata, Delhi, and Hyderabad, and had knowledge of the Maoists' secret urban network. Kosi and Hurra somehow managed to escape from Maoist custody on June 24. While Hurra managed to reach the Police, Kosi was intercepted by the Maoists' Acheli range committee members and was beaten to death near Gotgul village. Hinge was also killed after Kosi, while Badru was killed on July 2, allegedly on the orders of Darbha DVC member Nirmala and Malangir area committee in-charge Deva, in the absence of Darbha DVC 'secretary' Surinder. There is some speculation that Badru's killing at the hands of Nirmala and Deva, in the absence of area leader Surinder, suggests intense rivalry among the Maoist cadres.

Despite criticism, the large number of surrenders (385 in 2014 and 57, so far, in 2015) in Bastar division seems to have caught the Maoists on the back foot. Muppalla Lakshmana Rao aka Ganapathy, in a supplement to the Central Committee message issued on 10th anniversary of the CPI-Maoist observed:

Some people have lost preparedness to continue along the arduous path of PPW (protracted people's war) and the will to sacrifice. They assess the might of the enemy as permanent and the people's strength as always being weak. They are making bankrupt arguments joining hands with the enemy. We should strongly fight back against such betrayers.

Pressure on the Maoists in the Bastar Division is clearly mounting, and harsh action against defecting cadres, or those under suspicion of defecting, is clearly necessary for the Maoist leadership to maintain a modicum of discipline. These moves are likely, however, to prove counterproductive over time, creating mistrust among cadres. Worse, since the four cadres executed by the Maoists in the present instance were all Bastar tribals, this action is likely to increase the already high levels of resentment against the 'outsider' leadership from the Telangana and Andhra regions. Disturbing as the continuing spate of killings by the Maoists is, it is an index of their difficulties, rather than of any rising strength.