Starting with the then Union Home Minister in 2010 stating that the Maoists insurgency will be over in next 3-4 years, which his successors too echoed, it appears that we continue to deliberately ignore ground realities instead of recognizing the signals and evolving effective responses conforming to the changing situation.
On March 22, 2020, the DG CRPF told media that aided by latest surveillance tools in the sky that provide real-time information, security forces are now going deeper into Maoists strongholds and a new ‘synergy and collaboration is being worked out between his force, state police units and intelligence agencies to end the Maoists insurgency in near future. He was essentially speaking for the CRPF deployed in the Maoists affected belt.
Maoists struck a major blow to a security column ambushing them near Minpa Forest of Kasalapad area of Sukma District on March 21. The combined column comprising personnel from COBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Actions), DRG (District Reserve Guard) and local Police had gone to Elmagunda area on information of Maoists movement but having found nothing area were returning without securing or moving along the ridgelines. The operation was being controlled by SP and ASP located at Sukma about 100 km away from the battle zone. The combined column had no officers, only JCO equivalent.
Maoists managed to kill 17 and wounded 14 of the combined column and took away one LMG, about 14 AK-47 Assault Rifles, one UBGL and ammunition, also fleecing the dead of their belongings including taking away their jungle boots. The operation was being controlled by Maoist leader Hidma. The walking wounded broke contact when the ambush was sprung. Bodies of the dead were recovered next day on March 22.
On March 17, 2017, media quoting intelligence sources reported that the server hosting Maoists propaganda website, popular with Maoists sympathizers in India was located in China. To mask its true location, administrators of the website in connivance with server operators were using a proxy server to make it appear as if the actual server is hosted in Canada.
The website shares propaganda material, documents, statements of Maoists leaders and views of Maoists justifying killing of Indian security forces. The website administrators had stated on the home page of the website that the website is not based in India or owned and maintained by people from India, nor it is connected to the Maoists.
In July 2018, the South Asia Terrorism Portal reported that the Popular Front of India (PFI) had joined hands with organizations linked to the Communist Party of India-Maoists (CPI-Maoists) to target the government in Jharkhand. Terror activities in Jharkhand had forced the State Government to ban both the Maoists and the PFI and that there was growing convergence between Maoists affiliates and the PFI following the ban. The Portal also quoted a MHA report that the convergence of between the Maoists and PFI was not new and that the two had come together in the past.
In June 2018, about 10,000 Maoists some of whom were armed, staged a protest in Bastar against the allotment of an iron ore mine (Deposir-13) to the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) in Balladila Hills which has strong Maoists influence. This was similar to the protest by tribals in Odisha few years ago that led to the cancellation of mining project. In Dantewada, the NMDC was already operating two mines.
The NMDC-Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation (CMDC) joint venture named NCL floated a global tender and finally selected Adani Enterprises Limited (AEL) to operate Deposit-13 in 2018. The NMDC trade union too is opposed to the deal on grounds of the operation being privatized and thousands of Tribals joined the protests.
In July 2019, hundreds of Adivasis and members of other forest dwelling communities protested in Dahanu in Palghar District of Maharashtra against proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act, high points of the amendments being:
• Centre has right to declare any area a reserved forest. State governments and Forest Settlement Officers (FSOs) vested with more powers than Gram Sabhas. Central and state governments given right to lease out reserved forest land, compromising rights of tribal people and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs) over forest resources.
• Community defined as a group of persons specified on basis of government records living in specific locality and in joint possession and enjoyment of common property resources, without regard to race, religion, caste, language and culture.
• Creation of village forests from any forest land or wasteland managed by Joint Forest Management Committees who would exercise community forest rights “in consultation” Gram Sabhas and State Forest Departments but would not require approval of Gram Sabhas which was mandatory earlier.
• FSO empowered not to admit any claim unless he is satisfied with the evidence. FSO to use the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, in order to acquire and include land in the reserved forests category.
• Gram Sabhas excluded from Forest Tribunals who would hear appeals and adjudicate on them.
• Practice of shifting cultivation to be restricted, bringing part of such areas under settled cultivation.
From the tribal perspective, above amendments provide for creation of private forests, precursor to ‘privately owned’ forests, divesting these communities of their legally guaranteed rights over forest land and resources under the Constitution. State governments can take away forest dwellers’ rights to resources and land on pretext of conserving forests. These amendments are also contrary to Forest Rights Act, 2006 which confers titles and rights to tribal communities and OTFDs.
In December 2019, Government of Assam stated that both Maoists and PFI were actively involved in violence during the ant-CAA protests in the state. Similar involvement was proved during anti-CAA violence in Uttar Pradesh. A number of PFI cadres were arrested also arrested in UP. The UP Government recommended to the Centre to ban the PFI.
The MHA is still to take that decision despite PFI involvement in Delhi Riots. According to MHA’s dossier on PFI, the group receives funding from abroad. PFI says it works for the marginalized and minorities. The dossier also says that PFI runs an outfit named PFI Youth Wing (Mao) in coalition with the banned CPI (Maoist), with members of this group tasked to coordinate with underground Maoist workers. This has been established through investigations.
In an official statement issued from Bastar on March 7, 2020, Maoists have launched an offensive against the Union Government’s ‘Hindutva’ agenda, and has extended support to the minorities. This is a major shift in Maoists strategy to widen their sympathizer-base to include minorities and all those who are opposed to the CAA, NRC, NPR and such like issues. The Maoists statement includes, “By using CAA and NRC, the government has prepared a list of 19 lakh Indians and planning to declare them as non-citizens.
A large number of poor people in Assam have been deported to detention centres …..By bringing in triple talaq bill, the Modi government pretended to be a benefactor for Muslim women, which is false.” The statement adds that security forces operations are with malafide intentions and calls upon ‘exploited and oppressed Tribals’ to join hands with Maoists who are determined to strike hard by attacking the ‘Fascist’ forces – implying government and security forces.
16 years ago in 2004, a Maoist document had read, “At present the revolutionary movement is advancing in a vast belt of peoples war encompassing the extensive areas of Danda Karanya, Jharkhand, Andhra, Bihar-Odisha border, north Telengana and Koel-Kaimur. We will be able to build these areas into contiguous areas of armed struggle with each area influencing the other”.
Two documents released by Maoists (‘Strategy and Tactics of Indian Revolution’ or STIR and ‘Urban Perspective: Our Work in Urban Areas’ or UPUA) need to be taken seriously. Linked with recent events, they indicate that the critical phase of attacking the political fabric of Indian democracy has already begun.
The issue needs to be viewed even more seriously considering the brain of the Maoists ideology is in Beijing, they are receiving focused support from both China, Pakistan’s ISI-proxies and the anti-national cabal within India, with over-ground elements of Maoists cloaked as intellectuals, social-activists and even journalists.
Connecting the above dots would indicate that the Maoists insurgency by no means is petering out. On the contrary, it might become much bigger if the Maoists-PFI nexus is allowed to grow. Merely saying this nexus was there all along amounts to behaving like the ostrich. Maoists have enough arms and ammunition snatched from security forces as also supplied from within India and abroad.
This situation is already being exploited by China and Pakistan and these two rogue states will keep hardening their stance against India, as is indicative from dynamics of the region. For that matter, it will be foolish for policy makers to believe that West wants a strong India. The reverse is actually true – a destabilized West Asia and destabilized South Asia would be good in their liking.
It would not be out of place to say that a state of civil war in India would suit many outside and within India. Maoists in Bastar find a disconnect between the ongoing development with Tribals living in villages in the interior without access to safe drinking water, medical facilities and basic education, and large number of Tribals unable to get their land deeds.
Also, when we take 100 days to remove illegal occupation of a public road at Shaheen Bagh in the Capital, we are only encouraging such elements; irrespective of whether we were counting votes ot lacked the will. At the same time the often heard comment that there are hardly and Tribals or Adivasis left is stupid. Don’t millionaires with ‘dalit’ tag continue to enjoy accompanying benefits? Besides, these Tribals are not in small numbers to be scoffed away as in pockets of Andaman and Nicobar.
Shifting cultivation is the norm in Nagaland and Mizoram as well but there the governments would not stop the practice because of absence of minerals. All over including J&K the emphasis id on Panchayats, so why dilution of Gram Sabhas? In fact, sustained interaction with Gram Sabhas would help resolve most issues.
Like any insurgency, the Maoist insurgency cannot be resolved only militarily. In this respect, the practice of keeping hundreds in prisons for months without prosecution or trial (as revealed by former DGPs) fans the insurgency more especially where the jailed individual is sole bread winner of the family. Chhattisgarh alone has an assortment of 65 CAPF assorted battalions at all times, which is equivalent to about four and a half divisions of the Army. But apparently the anti-insurgency grid is not effective.
The major problem also is lack of coordination amongst the assortment of forces and officers not accompanying the units or sub-units launched in operations. That is why essential tactics of movement, anti-ambush drill and use of ground gets glossed over. Imagine if the Army officers simply give orders to the JCOs in insurgency areas of J&K and Northeast “carry on Sahib”, themselves sitting in their offices.
Finally, a sinister part of the Maoist ambush on March 21 should not be lost sight of. Of the 17 security personnel killed, 15 were from the DRG, the DRG manpower being 100% Adivasis.
So it is now Adivasis versus Adivasis in the Maoist belt. It is quite possible that fake information of Maoists movement in Elmagunda area was fed to lure the combined force into that area, their movements watched and the well planned ambush sprung when they were on the way back. When Rajnath Singh (now Defence Minister) had first taken over as Home Minister, he had directed that the Maoists organization should be infiltrated by the intelligence agencies and the security forces in the region.
This has apparently not happened, not even in the case of PFI by central intelligence agencies. The Centre and States need to examine these issues. The Maoists insurgency is no more just an insurgency by itself.