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
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