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Another Major Maoist Ambush

April 11, 2020 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army


Amidst speculation that that the Maoist insurgency is dying down, Maoists struck a major blow by ambushing security forces on March 21 near Minpa Forest of Kasalapad area of Sukma District. The combined column comprising personnel from COBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Actions), DRG (District Reserve Guard) and local Police had gone to Elmagunda area on information of Maoist movement but having found nothing were returning without securing/moving along ridgelines. The operation was controlled by SP and ASP at Sukma about 100 km away from the battle zone. The column had no officers, only JCO equivalent. Maoists killed 17, wounded 14 and took away one LMG, about 14 AK-47 Rifles, one UBGL and ammunition, also fleecing the dead of their belongings including jungle boots. Maoist leader Hidma was controlling the operation. Bodies of the dead were recovered next day. On March 22, 2020, the DG CRPF told media that aided by latest surveillance tools in the sky that provide real-time information, security forces are now going deeper into Maoists strongholds and a new 'synergy and collaboration is being worked out between his force, state police units and intelligence agencies to end the Maoists insurgency in near future. But he was essentially speaking for the CRPF deployed in the Maoists affected belt.

Looking at the continuing Maoists violence the need for overall centralised control is must. On March 17, 2017, media quoting intelligence sources reported that the server hosting Maoist propaganda website, popular with Maoist sympathisers in India was located in China. To mask its true location, administrators of the website in connivance with server operators were using a proxy server to make it appear as if the actual server is hosted in Canada. The website shares propaganda material, documents, statements of Maoist leaders and views of Maoists justifying killing of Indian security forces. The website administrators had stated on the home page itself that the website is not based in India or owned and maintained by people from India, nor it is connected to the Maoists. In July 2018, the South Asia Terrorism Portal reported that the Popular Front of India (PFI) had joined hands with organisations linked to the Communist Party of India-Maoists (CPI-Maoists) to target the government in Jharkhand. Terror activities in Jharkhand had forced the State Government to ban both the Maoists and the PFI and that there was growing convergence between Maoists affiliates and the PFI following the ban. The Portal also quoted a MHA report that the convergence of between the Maoists and PFI was not new and that the two had come together in the past.

In June 2018, about 10,000 Maoists some of whom were armed, staged a protest in Bastar against the allotment of an iron ore mine (Deposit-13) to the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) in Balladila Hills which has strong Maoist influence. In July 2019, hundreds of Adivasis and members of other forest dwelling communities protested in Dahanu in Palghar District of Maharashtra against proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act, high points of the amendments being: powers of Gram Sabhas reduced vis--vis Forest Settlement Officers (FSOs); Centre/States given right to lease out reserved forest land; Gram Sabhas approval no more required for creating village forests from any forest land or wasteland; FSO empowered not to admit any claim unless satisfied with the evidence; Gram Sabhas excluded from Forest Tribunals, and; practice of shifting cultivation to be restricted, bringing part of such areas under settled cultivation. From the tribal perspective, these amendments provide for creation of private forests, precursor to 'privately owned' forests, divesting them of legally guaranteed rights over forest land and resources under the Constitution, also violating Forest Rights Act, 2006 which confers titles and rights to tribal communities. In December 2019, Assam reported active employment of Maoist and PFI in ant-CAA protests. Same was the case in Uttar Pradesh where number of PFI cadres were arrested. UP Government recommended to the Centre to ban the PFI but MHA is yet to do so although MHA admits PFI receives funding from abroad and has a PFI Youth Wing (Mao) in coalition with Maoists.

In an official statement issued on March 7, 2020, Maoists have launched an offensive against the Union Government's 'Hindutva' agenda, and has extended support to the minorities. This is a major shift in Maoists strategy to widen their sympathiser-base to include minorities and all those who are opposed to the CAA, NRC, NPR and such like issues. The issue needs to be viewed even more seriously considering the brain of the Maoists ideology is in Beijing, they are receiving focused support from both China, Pakistan's ISI-proxies and the anti-national cabal within India, with over-ground elements of Maoists cloaked as intellectuals, social-activists and even journalists. A sinister part of the Maoist ambush on March 21 was that of the 17 security personnel killed, 15 were from the DRG, the DRG manpower being 100 per cent Adivasis. So it is now Adivasis versus Adivasis in the Maoist belt. It is quite possible that fake information of Maoists movements was fed to lure the column into that area, their movements monitored and ambushed on the way back. When Rajnath Singh (now Defence Minister) first became Home Minister, he had directed that the Maoists organisation should be infiltrated by the intelligence agencies and the security forces in the region. This has apparently not happened, not even in the case of PFI by central intelligence agencies. The Centre and States need to examine these issues. The Centre needs to give the overall command of counter-Maoists operations to the DG CRPF rather than leaving the responsibility to DG Police of individual states. Maoist insurgency spans multiple states when pressured in one they slip into the adjoining state.

Supported by China-Pakistan their links with other insurgent-terrorist organisations are expanding. However, the CRPF must be given their own officers exclusively, not IPS officers whose expertise is law and order and who do not move out with their columns in operations. IPS officers holding senior-level appointments have a similar debilitating effect on junior CRPF officers too. We must acknowledge that Maoists insurgency is no more just an insurgency by itself.