Bijapur — Cooling Hotspot for India-Maoists

The Maoists retain a substantial measure of resilience as well as capacities to orchestrate and execute violence in the Bijapur District.

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[File Photo]

On May 10, 2024, as many as 12 Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres were gunned down in an encounter with Security Force (SF) personnel in a forest area near Pidia village under Gangaloor Police Station limits in the Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh. Two SF personnel were injured in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast triggered by Maoists during the operation. Based on inputs about the presence of the ‘commander’ of the CPI-Maoist PLGA (People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army) company No. 2, Vella, and ‘Gangaloor area committee’ ‘secretary’ Dinesh Modiyam, along with 100 to 150 cadres in the forest, personnel belonging to the District Reserve Guard (DRG) from Bijapur, Dantewada, and Sukma districts, Bastar Fighters, the Special Task Force (STF), the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), and its elite unit CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) launched an operation. After the encounter, the bodies of 12 Naxalites [Left Wing Extremists] were recovered from the spot, along with one barrel grenade launcher (BGL), a 12-bore gun, a country-made rifle, BGL shells, a huge cache of explosives, Maoist uniforms, bags, medicines, and Naxalite publicity materials and literature. Identities of the deceased had not been ascertained at the time of writing.

On April 21, 2024, a CPI-Maoist cadre, Guddu Kawasi, who had a INR 100,000 reward on his head, was killed in an encounter with SF personnel in a forest area near Keshkutul village under Bhairamgarh Police Station limits in Bijapur District. A DRG team was out on an anti-Maoist operation after they received information that the Maoist ‘division supply team’ ‘commander’, Kawasi Pandaru, and 15-20 other cadres were present in the Keshkutul-Keshmundi Forests. Seeing the security personnel, the Maoists started firing and the encounter started. After the exchange of fire stopped, the body of one Maoist, a weapon and explosives were recovered from the spot.

On April 6, 2024, three unidentified CPI-Maoist cadres were killed during an exchange of fire with SFs in the Karriguta Forest of Pujarikanker village in the Usoor Tehsil (revenue unit) of Bijapur District. SFs recovered one AK-47 rifle, one Light Machine Gun (LMG) and explosives.

On April 2, 2024, 13 CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an encounter with security personnel in a forest near Lendra village under Gangaloor Police Station limits in Bijapur District. The identity of the dead Maoists was yet to be ascertained, but prima facie, it appeared that they belonged to the Maoist’s PLGA Company No. 2. Police recovered weapons, including an LMG, a .303 rifle, and a 12-bore gun, along with a substantial quantity of barrel grenade launchers, shells, and other arms and ammunition, from the site.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 50 Naxalites have been killed in Bijapur District in the current year, thus far (data till May 12, 2024). During the corresponding period of 2023, two Naxalites had been killed in the district. Through 2023, a total of four Naxalites were killed in the district, and 14 had beenkilled in 2022. Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started documenting LWE-related violence across the country, at least 405 Naxalites have been killed in the Bijapur region and district (Bijapur was part of the Dantewada District and was carved as a separate District on May 11, 2007).

At least six SF personnel have been killed in Bijapur District in the current year, thus far (data till May 12, 2024). During the corresponding period of 2023, two SF personnel had been killed in the district, and through the year, a total of four were killed. Four SF personnel were killed in 2022. Since March 6, 2000, at least 260 SF troopers have been killed in Bijapur.

An analysis of the fatalities data shows that the SF:Maoist kill ratio in Bijapur is strongly in favour of the SFs at 1:8.33 in the current year (data till May 12, 2024), as compared to a neutral at 1:1 during the corresponding period of 2023. The kill ratio remained neutral through 2023, at 1:1. The ratio was in favour of the SFs at 1:3.5 in 2022, while it favoured the Maoists at 1.5:1 in 2021. The ratio favoured the Maoists on three earlier occasions: in 2007, at 4.9:1; in 2011, at 1.28:1; and in 2003 at 4:1. However, since March 6, 2000, when SATP started documenting LWE-related violence across the country, the overall ratio in the Bijapur region and district was in favour of the SFs at 1:1.55, suggesting relative dominance of the SFs.

Meanwhile, civilian fatalities, a key index of security in a region, have followed a cyclical trend in Bijapur District. The district recorded single-digit fatalities in 2003 (four) and 2006 (four), then went on to record a spike into double-digit fatalities in 2007 (34), 2008 (16), 2009 (28), 2010 (14), 2011 (10), 2012 (17), 2013 (15), and 2014 (10). Single-digit fatalities were again recorded in 2015 (seven), 2016 (five), 2017 (three), 2018 (seven), and 2019 (eight). Another spike was recorded in 2020 (15), and then again fatalities reverted to single digits in 2021 (six). The rose into double-digits in 2022 (14), but recorded a single-digit fatality at nine. 2024 has already recorded double-digit civilian fatalities, at 13 (data till May 12, 2024). Bijapur (region and district) has recorded a total of 239 civilian fatalities since March 6, 2000.

Bijapur tops the list among the seven districts (Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, and Sukma) of the Bastar Division, which remain a challenge for the Security Forces.  Bijapur, with 69 fatalities (13 civilians, six SF personnel, and 50 Naxalites) in 2024, is followed by Kanker with 35 (one SF trooper and 34 Naxalites), Narayanpur with nine (three civilians and six Naxalites), Dantewada with seven (one civilian, one SF trooper, and five Naxalites), and Sukma with seven (two civilians and five Naxalites). Bastar and Kondagaon have yet to record any fatalities.

Significantly, since March 6, 2000, Bijapur (region and district) accounted for 24.60 per cent of all fatalities in the state – 921 out of a total of 3,743; and for 8.08 per cent of the total of 11,393 Maoist-linked fatalities recorded across the country since 2000.  

Analysis of other parameters of violence indicates that the Maoists are weakening in Bijapur. The Maoists have been unable to carry out any incidents of arson in the current year so far (data till May 12, 2024). At least three such incidents were reported in 2023 and six in 2022. The Maoists carried out two incidents of abduction in which three villagers were abducted and killed in 2024. At least four such incidents were reported in 2023, in which two civilians and two SF personnel were abducted. The Maoists killed the two civilians and one SF trooper and released the other trooper after warning. In 2022, six such incidents were reported, in which six civilians and one SF trooper were abducted. The Maoists killed four civilians and the SF trooper, and released two civilians after warning. The Maoists have not given any Bandh (general shutdown strike) calls in the district in 2024, so far. They were not able to make any such calls in 2023 or 2022 as well. The last such call was given by the South Sub-Zonal Bureau of the CPI-Maoist in Bijapur District on December 12, 2021.

Bijapur, spread over a geographical area of 6,562.48 square kilometres, of which around 1,848.07 square kilometres (28 per cent of its total area) is under forest cover, has great geo-strategic importance for the Maoists, falling under the Abujhmadh Forest range (which spreads over 3,900 square kilometres) and the troubled ‘Bastar Division’. The geographical juxtaposition with the LWE-affected Narayanpur District (Chhattisgarh) to the North, Bastar District (Chhattisgarh) to the North-east; Dantewada District (Chhattisgarh) to the east, Sukma District (Chhattisgarh) to the South-east, Karimnagar, Warangal and Khammam Districts of Telangana on the south, and Gadchiroli District of Maharashtra to the West, further makes it a daunting final bastion for the Maoists, as they cling to the hope of a possible resurrection.

Indeed, to the Police, the area remains a core zone for the Maoists in the Bastar region and is also part of an escape route used by top rebel leaders to slip out of Chhattisgarh into Telangana and Andhra Pradesh during times of increased pressure from Security Forces.

Nevertheless, combing operations and raids have resulted in the arrest of 16 Naxalites in the District in the current year (data till May 12, 2024), in addition to 19 in 2023 (nine in the corresponding period of 2023). 40 rebels were arrested in 2022. Mounting SF pressure has led to the surrender of 19 Naxalites in the current year, in addition to 13 in 2023 (four in the corresponding period of 2023). Nine Naxalites had surrendered in 2022.

The Maoists retain a substantial measure of resilience as well as capacities to orchestrate and execute violence in the Bijapur District. The recent offensive against them, probing deeper into their strongholds, has certainly weakened them, but the complex environment and the troubled neighbourhood of the district creates continuous challenges for the security forces.

Deepak Kumar Nayak

Deepak Kumar Nayak, Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi, India

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