Conflict Alerts # 358, 7 April 2021
In the news
On 3 April, there was an encounter between a special police force led by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Maoists in the Sukma district of Chhattisgarh State. The encounter resulted in 22 members of the paramilitary getting killed, with one commando kidnapped.
On 5 April, the Home Minister of India commented on the killings as "an act of desperation by the Maoists", and the "the loss of lives of jawans will not be in vain."
Issues at large
First, the occasional deadly attacks by the Maoists with a huge casualty, despite the decline in Maoist violence during the last decade. According to a report by the Hindu, during recent years, there were more than five big attacks since 2017 in the Sukma district in Chattisgarh. In March 2017, 12 members of the CRPF were killed in an ambush; and in March 2020, 17 members of a police force were killed in another ambush. Last month, in March 2021, another police team suffered casualties when five of them got blown by a bomb.
Second, the concentration of Maoist violence in the Sukma district in Chhattisgarh. The topography, geography and demography of the district have played a crucial role in the region, remaining one of the last bastions for the Maoists. With a strong forest cover and far from the state capital, Sukma remains a periphery within the State, and a Maoist haven. Though there has been an emphasis on development activities, the district is yet to feel the fruits that would prevent the local population from joining or being sympathetic to the Maoist cause. Along with the neighbouring Bijapur district, Sukma shares the border with four States - Maharashtra, Telangana, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. Given the practical issues, this remains a nightmare for the police and paramilitary forces. Demographically, the district has a tribal population in the majority, with one of the lowest literacy rates in India.
Third, the State sees violence as a part of Maoists' last stand. The State believes strengthening the police force with special and focussed units would ultimately neutralize the Maoist threat. The State is moving in large numbers into the erstwhile Maoist areas; it believes that the Maoist movement is on the decline and pursues a one last push strategy. On the other hand, the Maoists want to disprove the State narrative that their movement is on a decline. Despite a numerically strong force, due to the geography and innovative Maoist strategies, the security forces get ambushed in larger numbers by the Maoists.
Fourth, the mixed balance sheet – whether the State has been successful in addressing the Maoists presence. The State would present statistics on a comparative note regarding the situation during the last ten years; the data would hint at the decline of Maoist violence during the last ten years. However, recurring violence in the district would also underline the persisting Maoist issue.
The Maoists are rhetorically strong; the State, despite its development narrative, has not succeeded in ensuring that the youths do not get attracted by the extremist ideology and slogans. Second, despite the government's tall claims, inequality still exists in the region and in Chhattisgarh. The State believes in large force and a bulldozer strategy in clearing out the Maoists. The latter believe in targeted ambushes but continue the guerrilla warfare. Given the geography and demography, the State is in for a long haul.