Repeating familiar tactics, the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) lured Security Force (SF) troops into a trap near Amawatikar village in Latehar District of Jharkhand on January 7, 2013.
In the ensuing encounter, the SFs lost nine Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and one Jharkhand Jaguar (JJ) trooper, and at least another 15 SF personnel received injuries. At least two Maoists are believed to have been killed, though no bodies were recovered. The casualties in the incident increased next day as four civilians, who were helping the SFs recover the dead bodies of the troopers, lost their lives when the landmine placed beneath the body of one of the troopers exploded.
More shocking was the fact that, during the autopsy on one of the troopers, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) weighing 2.75 kilograms was found inserted surgically in the abdomen of the body. Later, it was found that the Maoists had similarly placed another IED in the body of another trooper, but it had exploded earlier. The Maoists had also booby-trapped the body of another three troopers, but the devices failed to explode.
The SFs had been trying to trap Central Committee member Arvindji for almost a month prior to the January 7 encounter. Two encounters with his contingent of around 250 cadres had already occurred prior to this date, but he had managed to escape. Finally, his contingent managed to mislead the SFs and ambushed them.
This not the first time that Jharkhand Police was taken by surprise. Barely two months earlier, on November 9, 2012, three Policemen and a prisoner were killed when about 100 armed CPI-Maoist cadres, including women cadres, attacked a Police van carrying 32 prisoners from Giridih Court to the Divisional Jail, at Mahadev Chauk in Giridih District. The Maoists succeeded in freeing eight of their comrades from the prison van.
Indeed, while overall Maoist violence has declined dramatically across the country, the decline in Jharkhand has been relatively modest. According to Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) data, total fatalities in Jharkhand declined by under 14 per cent, from 198 in 2011, to 169 in 2012, while all-India fatalities declined from 710 to 488, a drop of over 31 per cent.
MHA data indicates that Jharkhand has maintained its dubious distinction of recording the highest number of civilian fatalities among Maoist-affected States, with 133 civilians killed in 2012, though the number was down from 149 in 2011. Chhattisgarh, the State recording the second highest civilian fatalities, registered 63 killed, less than half the number for Jharkhand. SF and Maoist fatalities also declined marginally, from 33 and 16, respectively, in 2011, to 29 and seven in 2012. Partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) records a total of 20 Maoist related fatalities in Jharkhand in 2013 (till January 27), including six civilians, 10 SF personnel and 4 Maoists.
A range of other parameters also indicate a marginal slowdown in Maoist activity in Jharkhand.
While most parameters appeared to be comparable over the two years, there was a considerable decrease in arms training camps held by the Maoists, and the organization of ´Jan Adalats´ ( ´People´s Courts´, kangaroo courts organized by the Maoists), suggesting that the Maoist networks were under some pressure, resulting in a decline in political mobilization and recruitment.
According to partial data compiled by SATP, incidents of killing (civilian, SF and Naxal) were reported from 14 Districts in 2012 - Bokaro (1), Chatra (5), Dhanbad (1) Garhwa (13) Giridih (8) Gumla (18) Hazaribagh (3) Khunti (13) Latehar (12) Pakur (1) Palamu (7) Ranchi (6) Simdega (5) and West Singhbhum (5). In 2011 incidents of killing were recorded in 16 Districts.
Among the other patterns of violence recorded by SATP, the Maoists engaged in 18 incidents of arson in 11 Districts - Khunti (3), Giridih (2), Lohardaga (2), Ranchi (2), Latehar (2), West Singhbhum (2), Chatra (1), Gumla (1), Dumka (1), Bokaro (1) and Garwah (1). Emphasizing these incidents, Director General of Police (DGP) G.S. Rath, on December 20, 2012, stated that, barring incidents of setting ablaze of vehicles, Maoist activities have been ´contained to a large extent´ in Jharkhand. LWE groups also abducted at least 26 Persons through 2012, and triggered at least 9 landmine blasts in the State. Jharkhand recorded at least six major incidents (involving three or more fatalities) against 14 such incidents in 2011.
An analysis of Maoist violence, as well as of overground and underground activities, through 2012, indicates that Bokaro, Chatra, Dhanbad, Garhwa, Giridih, Gumla, Hazaribagh, Khunti, Latehar, Pakur, Palamu, Ranchi, Simdega and West Singhbhum Districts remain highly affected; while Dhanbad, Lohardaga and Ramgarh are moderately affected.
A peculiar feature of LWE violence in Jharkhand is that, along with the CPI-Maoist, other splinter groups (which have broken away from the CPI-Maoist) continue to operate. These groups include the People´s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), Jharkhand Prastuti Committee (JPC), Jharkhand Janmukti Parishad (JJP), Swatantra Jan Sangharsh India Morcha (SJSIM), Sangharsh Janmukti Morcha (SJMM), and Jharkhand Sangharsh Janmukti Morcha (JSJM). These splinter groups are strongly antagonist to CPI-Maoist though they also fight among themselves. On June 24, 2012, in a change of strategy, the CPI-Maoist decided to call off violence against other armed outfits, including their splinter groups, for three months, to facilitate unity of action against the unified command of the Centre and the State Governments. The attempt, however, appears to have failed.
Significantly, S.N. Pradhan, the Jharkhand Police spokesperson, disclosed to the media that none of the 23 troopers who died in encounters in 2012 (till October), had been killed by non-Maoist groups. On the other hand, of the 33 extremists killed during this period in Jharkhand, 22 were reportedly eliminated in fratricidal operations by rival groups. Six died in encounters with Government Forces, while five were lynched by the "public". In 2011, fratricidal violence reportedly killed 40 Maoists. CPI-Maoist involvement in violent incidents came down from 65-70 per cent in 2008-09 to 44 per cent in 2012, Pradhan added. In contrast, the PLFI´s ´share´ rose to 30 per cent, from 14 per cent. Pradhan observed, further, "Where the (CPI) Maoists are retreating, their rival groups are moving in to occupy the space. All of them are purely criminal groups fighting over extortion and killing people if their demands are not met."
The SFs made some ´commander´ level arrests in the year. Maoist ´zonal commander´ Naveen Majhi, wanted in 110 criminal cases in four States, was arrested in Hazaribagh District on May 31, 2012. He is also a member of the Bihar-Jharkhand-North Chhattisgarh Special Area Committee of the CPI-Maoist. Among others arrested were two ´zonal commanders´, nine ´sub-zonal commanders´, four ´area commanders´, five hardcore Maoists and 12 ´top´ Maoists from CPI-Maoist; two ´zonal commanders´, three ´sub-zonal commanders´ and four ´area commanders´ from PLFI; one TPC ´zonal commander´ and one ´zonal commander´ and one ´area commander´ from JPC. Significantly police arrested three CPI-Maoist cadres and seized a US-made M-16 rifle and 14 cartridges of 5.56 mm, one 9-mm pistol of Italian make, and one light weight bullet-proof jacket worth INR 400,000, manufactured in the United Kingdom, prompting the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to launch a probe into the influx of arms and equipment from Western sources.
Among those killed in encounters with the Police, Ajay Ganjhu alias Parasji (45), who had been heading the Bihar-Jharkhand regional committee of the CPI-Maoist, was the most notorious. Ganjhu, who carried a reward of INR 1.7 million on his head, was killed in a joint operation by the Jharkhand Police and the CRPF in Kunda forest in Chatra District on July 19, 2012.
Meanwhile, the Saranda Forest of West Singhbhum District, which was reclaimed from Maoist dominance last year and where development work is being carried under the Saranda Action Plan (SAP), again witnessed Maoist violence. On November 17, 2012, just a month after work started on road construction under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) as part of the SAP, Maoists set ablaze four dumpers and two earth movers (Josephy Cyril Bamford Ltd) in Ushariya village of Digha Panchayat in West Singhbhum District. SFs then started ´Operation Anaconda II´ (from December 10, 2012) to flush the Maoists out from Saranda. It may be noted here that Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh is personally monitoring implementation of SAP, and has already made at least four visits to Saranda to monitor the implementation of the development plan. Despite this, on September 12, 2012, at Digha, Ramesh apologized to the people for the tardy pace of development work due to the "Naxal activities".
Before ´Operation Anaconda II´, SFs had conducted some large cordon and search operations in the State. ´Operation Octopus´, launched in April in Latehar District; ´Operation Thunder´ in Jhumra hills in Bokaro District in May; Operation ´Rain Storm´ in Garhwa District in July-end; and ´Operation Marangdeo´ on the Jharkhand-Chhattisgarh borders in August. However, the operational efficiency of such large scale campaigns is open to debate.
Jharkhand´s Police Population ratio (Policemen per 100,000 population) was 167 as on December 31, 2011, well above the national average of 137, but substantially below the level needed to deal with the State´s complex problems of law and order administration and security. 18 battalions of CRPF have also been deployed in the State, and another five battalions are likely to be added shortly, in view of the latest encounter at Latehar.
Compounding Jharkhand´s fraught security situation is political instability that has, again, necessitated the implementation of President´s rule in this poorly governed, backward and impoverished State. President´s rule does, of course, create a small window of opportunity for a better alignment of the Centre´s and State´s anti-Maoist orientation. However, given the results of large-scale area domination exercises, dramatic improvements are unlikely, unless there is a dramatic improvement in intelligence capabilities, and the escalation of targeted, intelligence led special operations.
(The writer Fakir Mohan Pradhan is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)