On January 07, Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared that the aim of the Union government is to make the country free from Maoism before the 2024 parliamentary elections while addressing a rally at Indira stadium in Chhattisgarh’s Korba city as per multiple media sources.
He also appealed to the people to vote back the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in power in 2024.
The appeal needs to be examined in context of elections due in Chhattisgarh amongst eight other states this year and the general elections due in the country in the first half of 2024.
As the Home Minister of the country Mr Shah would be aware of the state of violence in the Naxal affected states in Central India. Indeed there is a noticeable drop in violence over the past few years.
Thus from 670 incidents and 202 fatalities in violence in 2019 there have been 483 incidents and 91 fatalities till 30 November 2022 as per information given by Mr Shah’s Ministry to the parliament during the recent winter session which was closed prematurely on December 23rd last year.
The most LWE Affected Districts in the country has come down to 30 from 35 in 2018 and further to 25 in 2021. The number of districts which are being supported through the SRE scheme for security is presently 70.
Thus the task would be to bring down the level of violence in the 25 most impacted and root out Naxal influence from the rest of the 45 districts in the country.
Given the marked success that the Central Government has achieved in bringing down the violence in Jammu and Kashmir after removal of Special Status of then State and now Union Territory, Home Minister may be confident of achieving similar results in the LWE affected districts even though the numbers are large, spread over several states and the nature of the terrain and violence is different.
Troop saturation was the method employed by the Central Government to first assume tight control of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and then sustain the same.
Attempts are apparently being made to do the same in Naxal affected districts as well by establishing company operating posts or COPs in the Naxal heartland in Central India.
Operations for the establishment of new COPs and to neutralize the Maoists in large groups are being carried out.
A report in the Times of India on January 12 indicated there was a fierce encounter on January 11 on the inter-state border between Chhattisgarh and Telangana. The report quotes Bastar range inspector general of police P Sundarraj to state that, “A CRPF’s CoBRA battalion was being shifted to a forward operating base via a chopper in forests located on borders of Sukma and Bijapur. Maoists suddenly opened fire when the troops were de-boarding the helicopter leading to an encounter between the two. There was no casualty reported from CoBRA battalion and we were trying to find out if any Maoist suffered injuries or death. The search operation is underway in the region.”
There were reports circulating of Maoist commander Madvi Hidma having been killed or injured in the operation. If that be so this could be marked as a success.
However despite the government intent the challenge of overcoming Naxal presence/influence from 70 districts in the next 15 months prior to elections in 2024 remains considerable.
The level of troops required for the purpose and the ability of these to overcome the hard core People Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) cadres and their supporters will remain a major challenge given that these are flexible and operate in small groups evading the security dragnet and exploiting the inter state boundaries.
To ensure that the Home Minister’s statement is not an electoral hype, major operations will have to be launched simultaneously across at least 25 districts in a saturation mode.
For instance in Chhattisgarh which is the state with maximum incidents of violence in 2022 which have in fact increased from 263 in 2019 to 279 in 2022 till 30 November 14 districts are in receipt of SRE funds and Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur and Sukma could be seen as the most severely impacted.
Is the present level of security forces deployed for counter Naxal operations capable of elimination of Maoism from Chhattisgarh let alone across India remains to be seen?