GUN­NING FOR MAOISTS

Ma­ha­rash­tra po­lice in­flict huge losses on in­sur­gents in their erst­while strong­hold of Gad­chi­roli. But it’s the de­vel­op­ment war that needs win­ning

India Today - - INSIDE -

Ma­ha­rash­tra po­lice in­flict huge losses on in­sur­gents in Gad­chi­roli. Can they now usher in de­vel­op­ment?

GUN­NING FOR MAOISTS By Ki­ran D. Tare in Gad­chi­roli

OON THE NIGHT OF APRIL 23, TWO par­ties of around 50 po­lice per­son­nel in com­bat fa­tigues con­verged on an iso­lated river­ine is­land in Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Gad­chi­roli district. The in­tel­li­gence was pre­cise—a large group of Maoists had gath­ered for a meet­ing. The C-60, the district’s counter-Maoist force, opened fire with their AK-47s on the cor­nered Maoists. When the shoot­ing stopped, 22 Maoists lay dead on the is­land. The bod­ies of an­other 10 Maoists would be fished out of the In­dra­vati river. A day later, an­other C-60 party killed eight Maoists in the Ra­jaram Khandla forests. Set­ting up the sort of trap the Maoists usu­ally do for the po­lice, the C-60 troop­ers, most of them from lo­cal tribes and with an in­nate sense of the ter­rain and trained to fight like the guer­ril­las, had turned the hunters into the hunted.

The C-60’s first ma­jor zero-ca­su­alty op­er­a­tion since it was raised in 1990 marked its com­ing of age. Among the dead were Shrini­vas and Sainath, both key mem­bers of the CPI (Maoist) south Gad­chi­roli divi­sion, a sub-group­ing of the Maoist re­gional wings that ‘ad­min­is­ters’ a district-sized divi­sion.

CPI (M) polit­buro mem­ber Brinda Karat ques­tioned the po­lice ver­sion of the en­counter. She said that not all the dead Maoists were armed and hinted that at least eight miss­ing vil­lagers could be among the dead. “The of­fi­cial ver­sion raises many ques­tions. If there was a fierce en­counter, how is it that the ca­su­al­ties are all on one side?” she asked in a May 3 ar­ti­cle. District su­per­in­ten­dent of po­lice Ab­hi­nav Desh­mukh re­futed the al­le­ga­tions. “We have pre­served vis­cera of all the dead. It will es­tab­lish the cause of their death. The DNA tests will con­firm whether the miss­ing peo­ple have died in our op­er­a­tion.”

The po­lice say the en­coun­ters mark a key mile­stone in what can be de­scribed as the In­dian state’s ‘clear, hold and build’ strat­egy against Maoist in­sur­gency (see graphic: Win­ning Strat­egy). In Gad­chi­roli, a re­mote district twice the size of Sikkim that’s syn­ony­mous with bombs, bul­lets and Maoists and where gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and po­lice of­fi­cers fear be­ing trans­ferred, the state is hit­ting back. It is clear­ing the ter­ri­tory of in­sur­gents and build­ing in­fra­struc­ture to bring in gov­er­nance.

Over the past decade, over 700 Maoists have been killed in Gad­chi­roli and some 180 have sur­ren­dered since 2015. The lat­est en­coun­ters, po­lice say, elim­i­nated two Maoist ‘dalams’ (groups of 10-15 armed men), rid­ding Bham­ra­gad taluka of the guer­ril­las. In 2015, the po­lice had sim­i­larly elim­i­nated two dalams in Siron­cha taluka.

Gad­chi­roli per­haps il­lus­trates a trend wit­nessed over the past few years—Maoists are fight­ing a los­ing bat­tle and their space is shrink­ing. On April 15, the Union home min­istry took 44 dis­tricts off the list of 126 dis­tricts worst af­fected by left-wing ex­trem­ism, mark­ing the sharpest de­cline in the Maoist in­sur­gency since the CPI (Maoist) came up in Ch­hat­tis­garh in 2004. Gad­chi­roli, which has some 200 ac­tive Maoists, as well as Bhan­dara and Chan­dra­pur still re­main in the list of Maoist-af­fected

BULLS­EYE Ma­ha­rash­tra’s C-60 po­lice com­man­dos in the forests of Gad­chi­roli

Cover by NILANJAN DAS

MANDAR DEODHAR

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