The focus of anti-Naxal operations continues to be the worst Maoist violence-hit states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. PTI file photo
by Manisha Sarade 9 July 2020
In November 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah claimed, “We have buried Naxalism 20-feet under the earth”. A decrease in violent incidents and a considerable drop in LWE-related deaths were repeatedly cited, in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)’s reports and statements by ministers to back the claim. While the numbers might depict a story of achievement and the LWE could be in the feeblest stage of its being, whether it has indeed been ‘buried’ still remains a question, especially now, as we deal with a myriad of issues and hazards augmented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Maoist ambush of March 21-22, wherein 17 security personnel were killed and 15 others severely injured in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma District, was not the terminus of the rebels’ activities. The threat is not dormant and expecting a Maoist collapse amidst the pandemic may be too early. They have been silently using this period to enhance their cadre base in their capital Bastar, and other regions. The issue stands ignored by the Centre and the state governments¾the consequences of which can only be seen once the lockdown is lifted.
Naxals in the red belt have rather been take advantage of the crisis. As a part of the many vicious activities in LWE districts of Chhattisgarh, they bombed many roads in Dantewada, Sukma, Bijapur, and Narayanpura. The security forces in the area have also found several tunnels under the road. These have been built to target forces and COVID-19 warriors. The forces have detected the tunnels in the areas of Kuakonda and Katekalyan. In May, a dangerous attack was prevented by the security forces when the Task Force teams detected and diffused remote-controlled IEDs containing around 3-5 kgs of explosives. The security forces also found cocktail bombs, placed in the direct vicinity of the forests with the motive of setting the trees aflame after the blast. The fire would have made it easier for them to attack the forces on duty for the road construction on Palli-Barsoor road in Dantewada. The Naxals frequently plant and detonate IEDs blasts aiming to target the forces, movement of political or official cavalcade in their prearranged trap.
The ceasefire declared in the month of May also served as the perfect respite to re-establish their strongholds in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar. They met villagers, organised meetings, recruited ground-level forces and reinforced their Jantana Sarkars. Deep into the jungles where the CPI (Maoists) hold more ground, they follow the strategy of strategic stalemate. In such areas, called as guerrilla bases, they hold the police forces from advancing. Due to the lesser chances of victories in battles, the police forces do enter these areas very regularly. In these liberated zones, CPI (Maoists) run parallel governments called as “Jantana Sarkar” (people’s government). They have made systematic efforts in preventing the development initiatives of the government from reaching the local people, in these guerrilla zones and bases. This act is essential for capturing the minds of the people, maintaining their legitimacy and obtaining a regular flow of recruits that includes children and women. For the same reason, the CPI (Maoists) checks people from entering these areas. Additionally, some CPI-Maoist divisions took special use of the pandemic situation to their advantage. On the pretext of spreading awareness about COVID-19 in the villages, some Maoists, especially from Bastar region reportedly recruited new cadres and instigated their local recruits to demand more ration.
However, Maoists too are facing adversities due to disturbance in the supply of food and other essentials in the far-flung areas due to the pandemic. March and Mid-April are considered to be the period when the Naxals stock-up on food as they don’t prefer to organise operations during this time and choose to stay in their hideaways during Monsoons. After the lockdown, haat bazaar, a place that holds significance in the ethnic culture of the tribal people of Bastar region, has remained closed. These bazaars, labelled as “supermarket for the locals”, gather weekly and are also a place for carousing and relaxation. Provisional stalls exhibit a variety of products, including earthen pots, aluminium utensils, vegetables and fruits, mahua, unpolished rice and other grains, and jewellery. These markets are also a delicate zone and have been vulnerable to a plentiful of Maoist-police conflicts. The Naxals in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Maharashtra and a few other states, get their ration from these haat bazaars. They usually acquire food provisions through a chain of helpers. The police often question people carrying ration in large quantities and check their financial position to assess if the items are for their personal use. But they have not been able to eliminate the supply chain completely. The Chhattisgarh government had released two months of ration free of cost to all below poverty line (BPL) card holders following complete lockdown levied to battle COVID-19 outbreak, after which the Naxals demanded as high as half of the ration.
The Maoists have also attempted to communicate with migrant labourers who have returned to their homes in Balaghat, Mandla and Dindori districts. These three districts have documented a reverse migration of approximately 2 lakh labourers. Maoists have already begun camping in these areas. Presently the head of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), Nambala Keshava Rao is known for his strong military strategies in the form of guerrilla warfare and use of novel forms of IEDs. He’s not only belligerent on field tactics but intensely dedicated to Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology. The lockdown period has clearly been a crisis as well as an opportunity for the Left-Wing Extremists.