Chhattisgarh: Belated homecomings

With increasing surrenders in the ‘heartland’ areas of the Bastar Division, LWE violence has seen a dramatic decline in the rebels’ areas of activity in the Division and across the state. T

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A file photo of Maoists in Chhattisgarh. Photo: AFP

On May 14, 2024, as many as 30 Maoists [Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist)], nine of them carrying a cumulative bounty of INR 3.9 million on their heads, surrendered before Security Forces (SFs) in Bijapur District in the Bastar Division of Chhattisgarh. The Maoists, among them six women, surrendered before senior officials of the Police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), declaring that they were disappointed with atrocities committed by Maoists on tribals and the “hollow” Maoist ideology, the Police stated in a release. Of the 30 surrendered cadres, Mitki Kakem alias Sarita (35/F), a member of ‘military company No. 2’ of the Maoists, and Muri Muhnda alias Sukhmati (32/F), a member of ‘platoon No. 32’, carried bounties of INR 800,000 each on their heads. Rajita Vetti (24/F), Deve Kovasi (24/F), and Ayta Sodhi (22/F), all ‘platoon members’, and Sinu, a member of ‘battalion No. 1’ of the Maoists, carried a reward of INR 500,000 each on their heads. The others, Munna Hemla (35), Aytu Midiam (38) and Aytu Karam (50), were active as heads of ‘janatana sarkar’ (people’s government) groups of the Maoists, and carried rewards of INR 100,000 each. These nine cadres were allegedly involved in multiple attacks on security personnel, the release said. The identities of the remaining 21 lower-ranking cadres are yet to be disclosed.

On May 9, 2024, six Maoists, who were allegedly involved in the killing of 65 SF personnel, surrendered in Sukma District in the Bastar Division. The Maoists carried a combined bounties of INR 3.6 million. The surrendered Maoists were identified as Dudhi Pojja (27) and Dudhi Pojje (24), from the ‘People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) Battalion 1’, and they carried bounties of INR 800,000 each; Kawasi Mudha (30), Karam Naranna (65), Rainu Madkam (35), and Jayakka alias Aayte Korsa (51), a woman cadre, who carried rewards of INR 500,000 each. They were all involved in the 2017 Burkapal ambush that claimed the lives of 25 SF personnel, the 2020 Minpa attack that killed 17 SF personnel, and the 2021 Tekulguda attack that killed 23 SF personnel

On May 8, 2024, three Maoists, including two women, surrendered in the Dantewada District of the Bastar Division under the Lon Varratu (a local Gondi dialect expression, meaning return to your home/village) scheme. The surrendered Maoists were part of the Maoists’ ‘Malanger Area Committee’ and belonged to the Krantikari Mahila Adivasi Sangthan (KAMS), a Maoist front organisation, and the Chetna Natya Mandali (CNM), the CPI-Maoist ‘cultural wing’. The surrendered Maoists were identified as Kumari Nande Markam, a KAMS member; Kesha Gonche, a Gonderas Panchayat ‘militia’ (people’s army of the Maoists) member; and Kumari Malle, a Gonderas Panchayat CNM member. The surrendered Maoists stated that they had lost faith in the ‘hollow ideology’ of the Maoists and their exploitation, and had thus decided to lay down their arms.

On May 5, 2024, 35 Maoists, including three cadres with bounties on their heads, surrendered in Dantewada District. The surrendered Maoists were previously active in the Bhairamgarh, Malanger, and Katekalyan Area Committees, often involved in disruptive activities like road digging, tree cutting, and dissemination of Maoist propaganda during bandhs (general shut-down strikes). Dantewada Superintendent of Police (SP) Gaurav Rai confirmed that the surrendered Maoists had renounced violence and expressed their belief in democracy and the Constitution.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 135 Maoists have surrendered in the Bastar Division in the current year, thus far (data till May 19, 2024). During the corresponding period of 2023, 89 Maoists had surrendered in the division. Another, 98 surrendered in the remaining part of the year, taking the total number of surrendered Maoists to 187 through 2023. 182 had surrendered in 2022. Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on Left Wing Extremism (LWE) in India, at least 4,105 Naxalites (Left Wing Extremists) have surrendered in the Bastar Division.

Significantly, around 96.33 per cent of surrenders have taken place in the Bastar Division (4,105) as compared to the total surrender (4,261) in Chhattisgarh since March 6, 2000. The total number of surrenders in the state is 4,261 since March 6, 2000, while such surrenders across the country stood at 16,931.

The Bastar Division, spread over a geographical area of over 40,000 square kilometres, comprises seven of Chhattisgarh’s 33 districts: Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, and Sukma.

On April 18, 2024, Chhattisgarh Deputy Chief Minister (CM) and State Home Minister Vijay Sharma, stated that the Chhattisgarh Government is working on a new surrender policy in which Maoists who give up arms may have their FIRs quashed, but the terms would not be lenient for hard-core commanders. He thus stated,

Our govt [Government] is holding discussions to bring major changes in the surrender policy for Maoists. We want to encourage more insurgents to give up violence, join the mainstream and avail benefits of the state’s progress. Also, it is mulling wiping out FIRs of those who surrender.

However, on being asked if FIRs against Madvi Hidma or other top Maoist ‘commanders’ will also be quashed if they give up arms, the deputy CM asserted,

It’s Maoist central committee members who have fanned the fire of violence and launched this unending conflict in society. We are ready to talk with anyone, be it Hidma or any of the central committee members. They can surrender, but the provisions will not be the same for them. Quashing their FIRs will be difficult because of the harm they have caused. But there’s no ill-feeling towards them, we welcome them to surrender. Since govt is one of the parties in cases related to Maoist violence, it has a valid say in requesting the courts to quash FIRs.

Later, on April 22, 2024, during his visit to the Kanker District of the Division, Union Home Minister (UHM) Amit Shah asserted that the central government had eliminated terrorism from the country, as he issued a stern warning to Maoists in Chhattisgarh, asking them to surrender or else they would be rooted out from the state in two years:

long as there is Naxalism, tribal brothers and sisters will not have access to electricity, schools, ration shops and hospitals. I would like to tell them (Naxalites) to surrender, otherwise the result of the fight is certain. We will finish them. We will root them out from Chhattisgarh.

Previously, the comprehensive ‘Naxal Eradication Policy’ of May 17, 2023, ensured that the Naxalites would get immediate assistance of INR 25,000 at the time of surrender. An active Naxalite with a reward of INR 500,000 or more on his or her head will be given an additional INR 1 million on surrender (this money will be in addition to the reward amount declared on them and the compensation payable for handing over their weapon). This additional amount of INR 1 million will be kept in a fixed deposit in a bank, and the interest earned on it will be given to the surrendered Naxalite. The entire amount will be handed over to the surrendered Naxalite after three years, following a review of his or her conduct. Naxalites buying agricultural land within three years of their surrender will get a full rebate in stamp duty and registration fees for land up to two acres.

In a specific initiative to facilitate the surrender of rebels, the then state government launched the Lon Varratu Scheme on June 12, 2020, in the Dantewada District, which offered a range of incentives to encourage insurgents to abandon their fight against the State and clear their names from the Police records. Speaking on the scheme, Dantewada SP Abhishek Pallava disclosed on August 12, 2021,

We launched the Lon Varratu campaign in June last year [2020] which has yielded good results as 400 ultras have quit violence under the drive so far [August 12, 2021]. Along with this drive, police have also been conducting a survey to assess the security situation, in view of the Maoist threat, in each and every village in the district. The villages are coded in three categories – red (hypersensitive), yellow (sensitive), and green (normal).

According to a report on May 5, 2024, 796 Maoists, including 180 cadres with rewards, have surrendered under the Lon Varratu campaign of the Dantewada Police since June 2020.

Similarly, ‘Poona Narkom’ (a local Gondi dialect expression, meaning New Dawn) was launched by the Sukma District Police on August 9, 2021, under which medical camps were organised in different places of the district, including the district headquarters, for the tribal villagers of rural areas, in collaboration with the district health department. Along with this, useful materials of daily use were also distributed to the villagers. Under the campaign, work was to be done to create awareness of the policies of the government, along with education, health, and employment. Under the Poona Narkom campaign, the youth will be made aware and trained in the field of employment by the Sukma Police. Regrettably, the specific number of surrenders under the campaign have not been recorded. 

It is useful to mention here that most of the surrenders that have taken place in the Bastar Division have occurred under flagship campaigns like Poona Narkom and Lone Varratu, which are turning out to be success stories for the SFs in the hinterlands of Chhattisgarh.

The Bastar Division has accounted for 3,425 fatalities (893 civilians, 1,115 SF personnel, 1,395 Naxalites, and 22 Not Specified) in LWE-linked violence, since March 6, 2000. Appallingly, the Division recorded 91.16 per cent of the total LWE-linked fatalities in the state [3,757 fatalities (1,009 civilians, 1,223 SF personnel, 1,501 Naxalites, and 24 Not Specified)]. In the current year 128 fatalities (20 civilians, eight SF personnel, 100 Naxalites) had been recorded in the Bastar Division, so far (data till May 19, 2024). 

With increasing surrenders in the ‘heartland’ areas of the Bastar Division, LWE violence has seen a dramatic decline in the rebels’ areas of activity in the Division and across the state. The proposed new surrender and rehabilitation policy, coupled with continued SF pressure and aggressive developmental initiatives, particularly in infrastructure and communications, could bring back increasing numbers of the remaining Maoists in the Bastar Division. 

Deepak Kumar Nayak

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

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