Left-Wing Extremism regarded as the foremost national security challenge in 2005 has been considerably reined in the last one and a half decades and presently the geographic spread is reduced to 70 districts mainly in Central India.
Violence has come down by 23 per cent, fatalities by 21 per cent and death toll is less than 200 as per figures quoted by the Union Home Minister Shri Amit Shah in a coordinating meet on September 26.
Consequent to reduction in violence Central government has adopted a development led counter Naxal model, is supporting the states in containing Left Wing Extremism (LWE) by providing central forces, funds and infrastructure development.
During the COVID 19 period in 2020 – 2021, security forces and the Maoist sustained operations, but the latter are known to have lost a number of cadres as well as senior commanders, which has reduced their potential.
Despite this and restricted area in which they have been contained, Naxals continue to field a large armed cadre as well as support base and are adept at moving into areas with security vacuum such as Madhya Pradesh in 2021.
While they have lost territory, the ability to carry out major terror attacks on security forces, disrupt development by targeting infrastructure companies, coercing tribal to raise the flag of rebellion continues and random killing of innocent civilians continues. In some areas there is a noticeable trend of criminal terror.
A detailed review of the LWE trajectory in 2022 is as per succeeding paragraphs.
Development Led Counter Naxal Model
In an expansive meeting on September 26, 2021, Union Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Cooperation, reviewed state of Left Wing Extremism (LWE) in New Delhi.
Apart from various union ministers, whose ministries were connected with LWE management, Chief Ministers of Bihar, Odisha, Maharashtra, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand and Home Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Senior officials from Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Kerala attended the meeting.[i]
Mr Amit Shah outlined the led counter-insurgency model with accessibility to fast pace growth in the region so that dissatisfaction does not lead to the people to be swayed by the Naxal propaganda and support or join militancy.
For obvious reasons, the operational issues were not publicly released, but later, some trends are evident and are discussed in a subsequent section.
Surrender policy was outlined stating that those who want to give up arms and join mainstream will be welcome, but those who continue to take up arms will be neutralised.
Coordination at the state level was emphasised with Chief Secretaries of affected states to hold a review meeting with DGPs and officers of central agencies at least every three months, thereby a coordination spiral being generated reaching the lower level.
On the security front Union Home Minister approved deployment of Central forces and stated how fixed expenditure of States on deployment of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) had been reduced, thus facilitating employment of these for counter Naxal operations.
The importance given to countering Naxalism by the Central government was also evident as the annual DGP’s conference in November devoted time to discussion of Left Wing Extremism with the Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi in attendance.
Ministry of Home Affairs is supporting the State Governments for Capacity Building and strengthening of Security Apparatus by deployment of CAPF Battalions, provision of helicopters and UAVs and sanction of India Reserve Battalions (IRBs)/ Special India Reserve Battalions (SIRBs).
Funds are also provided under Modernization of Police Force (MPF), Security Related Expenditure (SRE) Scheme and Special Infrastructure Scheme (SIS) for modernization and training of State Police.
Neutralizing the sources of income of the Left Wing Extremists also assumed importance.
In 2022 the Security forces plan to launch a two-pronged strategy to counter Naxals.
Setting up 25 'Forward Operating Bases' under the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and improvement of road connectivity is being planned in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Telangana states.
Of the 25, 10 bases will be established in Chhattisgarh, seven in Maharashtra, six in Jharkhand, and one each in Odisha and Telangana as per the ANI.
Thus SF will have 56 Forward Operating Bases (FOB) by the end of 2022. FOB or company operating bases is a concept that has been in vogue in the North East and is thus being adopted in LWE areas as well.
Explaining the strategy, a senior CRPF official was quoted by the media as stating that “CoBRA, CRPF’s anti-Naxal specialized wing, in coordination with various state police forces is closely monitoring the movement of Maoists especially the senior rank holders. The strategy is to tighten the noose around Maoists by expanding the network of security camps especially in core Naxal areas. -- Big anti-Naxal operations would follow thereafter.”
Targeting leadership is also on the radar. About 50 Naxal commanders have been listed in Naxal affected states including Andhra, Telangana, Chhattisgarh. Based on a hit list that has been prepared, security forces are expected to target the rebel leaders by developing intelligence.
Improvement of road connectivity in ‘mission mode’ 12 crucial roads in the Naxal belt in Sukma, Bijapur and Dantewada; all in Chhattisgarh--covering about 478.6 km sanctioned over the past one decade but 214.8 kms of road construction is still pending has been planned. This will facilitate security forces to operate deep inside the Naxal influence areas.
Of the 12 roads, five falls in Sukma district, one in Dantewada, and four are in the Bijapur district while two roads are located on the Bijapur-Sukma border and Dantewada-Sukma border.
State of Violence and Area Spread
Over the last decade or so, there has been a consistent decline both in violence figure and geographical spread. The incidents of LWE violence have come down by 70% from all-time high of 2258 in 2009 to 665 in 2020.
The resultant deaths have also come down by 82% from all-time high of 1005 in 2010 to 183 in 2020.
The area under Maoist’s influence was also constricted with geographical spread shrunk from 96 in 2010 to just 53 districts in 2020. 25 districts account for 85% of LWE violence in the country.
The number of districts requiring special funds for policing due to Naxal presence has been reviewed twice in the last 03 years, and has come down from 126 districts to 90 in April-2018 and then to 70 in July-2021.
The number of most affected districts were also reduced from 35 to 30 in April-2018 and further reduced to 25 in July 2021. Eight districts have been categorized as ‘District of Concern’.
Possible Naxal Strategy
Despite bleeding of cadres and leadership, the Naxals are expected to actively counter the security forces strategy. The loss of leadership is severe there are 24 central committee members now as against more than 35 in 2010 as per the Times of India. The Politburo, has 12 members as against 20 a decade ago.
General Secretary Namballa Kesava Rao alias Basava Raj leads the group and is in both politburo and central committee. Ten of the top Maoist leaders are from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Police statistics show Maoists are estimated to have around 100 armed cadres in Andhra-Orissa border and the earlier strength of around 2000 to 3,000 militia members is expected to have come down considerably
Hindustan Times reported that as per Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra police figures, the total estimated strength of armed Maoists in the region is 2,498, of which 1,391 are men and 1,107 women.
The Maoist are organised in nine divisions of CPI (Maoist) Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC), central committee members of CPI (Maoist), the newly formed Maharashtra – Madhya Pradesh Chhattisgarh (MMC) zone and two other divisions (Mainpuri-Nuapada joint division and Bargarh-Balangir and Mahasamund ( BBM) division which falls in Chhattisgarh and Odisha respectively.
Naxalite have offered to surrender issuing a pamphlet on March 12 on behalf of the spokesperson of the Bastar-based Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC) with preconditions such as removal of security forces camps, removal of ban/sanctions and release of imprisoned leaders. “We are always ready to enter into peace talks for the overall benefit of the common public,” it said as per the Print. These demands are not likely to be accepted by the Government.
While a vigorous campaign of expanding influence of security forces in the Naxal influenced areas by establishing forward operating bases is being undertaken the spread of influence and large number of cadres continuing to be active indicates that while LWE areas will be constricted, violence restrained and SF domination will certainly increase a stalemate of sorts may be the outcome ahead in 2022.
The Naxals will be able to carry out large-scale attacks sporadically, such as the U Shaped ambush in 2021, while in many areas, they would be reduced to criminal terror, mainly in Jharkhand and Bihar.
While development is important, an overall security and law and order led coordinated approach will be essential in the coming years to overcome the menace.
[i] Union Minister of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Shri Giriraj Singh, Minister of Tribal Affairs Shri Arjun Munda, Minister of Communications, IT and Railways, Shri Ashwini Vaishnav, Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways, Gen VK Singh, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Shri Nityanand Rai. Chief Ministers. Union Home Secretary, top officials of Central Armed Police Forces and many senior officers of Central and State Governments also attended the meeting.