In Maharashtra, a relatively secure state of the country, with a demonstrated ability to take on the
'people's war' of the Communist Party of India–Maoist (CPI-Maoist), the rebels have put a two-pronged strategy into play. While the conventional
'protracted war' is being played out in the impoverished eastern Vidarbha region of the
state, a silent operation is on in the flourishing western industrial townships. The security forces (SFs) have been able to keep the Maoists at bay in the east, but the western
districts are clearly in jeopardy, unless a serious attempt is made to secure their future.
Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) data indicated a significant decline in Left Wing Extremist (LWE) related violence in 2007 compared to the previous year. In 2007, 30 fatalities were recorded in 94 incidents in Maharashtra. The slide in the situation noticeable in 2005 and 2006--with 56 and 61 fatalities, respectively--largely appeared to have been arrested, although the civilians constituted 77 per cent of the total LWE related fatalities recorded in 2007.
Maharashtra: Left-wing Extremism related fatalities: 2003-2007
Source: Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.
Six out of the seven LWE affected districts in the state (Gadchiroli,
Chandrapur, Bhandara, Gondia, Yavatmal and Nanded), out of a total 35, are located in the eastern part of the
state [Nashik being the only affected district in the west], in the economically backward Vidarbha region, sharing borders with Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. Geographical contiguity with, and the
'spill over' from, the Maoist affected districts of Adilabad, Karimnagar and Nizamabad in Andhra Pradesh, as well as Rajnandgaon, Bastar, Kanker and Dantewada in Chhattisgarh, have been described as the principal reason for the extremist mobilisation in eastern Maharashtra.
According to state police sources, at one point of time, the CPI-Maoist had established more than 22 units in Gadchiroli, comprising 200 office-bearers, out of which 162 were male and 38 female. These units, reporting directly to the party's politburo, functioned through a further 325 village units, which, together, had 7,825 members. Activities of these cadres ensured that, throughout 2007, at least 28 villages had a janathana sarkar (people's government), which, in Maoist parlance, were the 'embryonic stage of organs of real people's power'. Maoist front organisations like the 'Deshbhakti Yuva Manch' (Patriotic Youth Forum) spread the revolutionary message and imparted training to the youth.
Clinical police operations since 2005 are said to have disrupted the Maoist dominance in the eastern belt through a series of arrests and surrenders. According to state police headquarters, 11 top commanders of the outfit have been arrested in the state between 2006 and 2007. During the same period, another 122 cadres surrendered. Further, in January 2008, 55 Maoists surrendered with 28 weapons in the Gadchiroli district. The police claim that the Gaonbandi (no entry to the villages) scheme, being implemented since 2003, to prevent the Maoists from exploiting, mobilizing and recruiting the villagers, was carried out in 242 villages. These villages, through their panchayats (village level self government institution) passed a resolution barring entry to the Maoists and were provided with INR 300,000 each. As a result, Maoist recruitment in both Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts is said to have been drastically reduced, forcing the outfit to wind up several of its dalams (armed squads) in the Gadchiroli and Gondia districts by June 2007, and shifting existing cadres into Chhattisgarh. The dalams that have folded up include the Gamini, Kotagaon, Dhanora and Jimmalgatta squads.
The trajectory of mobilisation in urban areas, however, is troubling. While such strategy has simply failed to take off in many states including those which have been severely affected by the Maoist people's war, noticeable progress appears to have been achieved in Maharashtra's western region--arrests of some of the top cadres not withstanding. In fact, the police 'successes' in the east could have been a factor behind the Maoist mobilisation in the west. To that effect, the urban centres of western Maharashtra could become the first victims of the Maoist engulfment, if current levels of the rebels' activities are allowed to persist.
On May 8, 2007, the Nagpur police arrested Arun Ferreira, the Maoist communications and propaganda strategist, and a Maoist 'divisional secretary' Murali Sattya Reddy, from the Deekshabhoomi area. Subsequent investigations revealed Ferreira's seven-year long history of mobilising support and organising Maoist activities in the Vidarbha region. Three months later, on August 19, two Maoists--Vishnu alias Shridhar Shrinivasan, Maharashtra 'state secretary' and a member of the central politburo, and Vikram alias Vernon Gonzalves, a Maharashtra state Committee member--were arrested from the outskirts of Mumbai. A day later, on August 20, in a joint operation with the Andhra Pradesh police, the Anti-Terrorism Squad of the Maharashtra police arrested K.D. Rao, a lawyer practising in the Bombay High Court, outside the YMCA hostel near Colaba in Mumbai, for his alleged links with the Maoists and involvement in the killing of a police officer six years earlier.
These arrests, apart from indicating the 'successes' for the Maharashtra police, were also a rude awakener, suggesting that Maharashtra's urban centres could emerge as the next-generation battlefield of the Maoists. This broad objective has been made clear in one of the most comprehensive Maoist documents on the subject, "Urban Perspective: Our Work in Urban Areas". The document is now reportedly being revised by a five-member Urban Sub-Committee (USC), formed some time in January 2007. The new document is likely to focus on past successes and failures at 'mass mobilisation and party building' in organised and unorganised economic sectors in the urban areas. It is most likely that the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) planned in Navi Mumbai encompassing Dronagiri, Kalamboli, Ulwe and the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) areas would receive due attention of the USC.
While no arrest of the Maoists has taken place in western Maharashtra since August 2007, state police sources indicated in the last week of February 2008 that at least 75 Maoist sympathisers were currently based in Mumbai and were engaged in propagating their ideology, setting up secret cells and front organisations, and recruiting people. The general targets of this advance force were trade and labour unions, the poor and students--but their strategies of mobilisation were extremely focused, looking at small sub-groups within these broad categories, who had specific grievances that could be harnessed. The Mumbai City police are currently in the process of identifying and preparing dossiers on this core group. Mumbai is also being used as a resting, planning and recruitment location. police claim to have definite information about injured Maoists from other states reaching the city for treatment, education and relaxation. Similarly, intelligence sources indicate that Maoist front organisations have begun spreading their tentacles into rural Thane, an industrial district barely 100 kilometres north from Mumbai. This western district's tribal and backward taluks (revenue division) including Jawahar and Mokhada have been the most vulnerable to Maoist mobilisation.
The orientation of the anti-Maoist strategy in Maharashtra appears to be prejudiced heavily towards containing visible capacities for violence. Accordingly, the Maharashtra police have invested substantially in augmenting the fighting capabilities of its Force in areas affected by such violence. The focus of attention and concentration of SFs has, consequently, been most visible in the eastern region, where the Maoists are engaged in guerrilla actions. Comparatively less attention appears to have been focused on the western districts, where, senior police officials note, "there is no armed activity." This lack of armed activity, in all probability, is likely to continue till the Maoists manage to bridge the 700 kilometre gap between Yavatmal (the inner most affected district in the east) and Mumbai, by way of establishing a regime of sympathisers, over ground workers, and networks to facilitate the initiation of armed activity.
At the forefront of anti-Maoist operations in the Vidarbha region is a Special Action Group (SAG) of 300 specially trained Armed police personnel, raised in 2006 on the lines of the Greyhounds in Andhra Pradesh. Trained at the Unconventional Operations Training Centre (UOTC) at Hingana on the outskirts of Nagpur, SAG personnel have been deployed in Gadchiroli, Gondia and Bhandara districts. The Director General of police (DGP) on March 10, 2008, spoke of setting up another specialised force to combat the Maoists in the state. Maharashtra also boasts of a numerically robust police force compared to the national average, though it still remains below international prescribed norms in terms of police-population ratios. The police population ratio in Maharashtra stands at 147 per 100,000 compared to the national average of 122. police density (policemen per 100 square kilometres) is 49.9 compared to the country-wide average of 42.5.
These figures, however, camouflage a serious shortage of fighting forces within the state police. The ratio between civil police and armed police in Maharashtra stands at 1:91.2 (national average is 1:77.4), indicating that only a meagre 8.8 per cent of the (actual) police force of 153,628 is available for armed operations against lawbreakers, including the Maoists. In comparison, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have 16 and 39.7 per cent of their respective police Forces in the 'Armed' category.
A 15 per cent vacancy against sanctioned posts among the armed police makes Maharashtra even more vulnerable. Against a sanctioned strength of 16,040 armed police personnel, the actual strength stood at 13,539 on December 31, 2006. Worse, the armed police has been left leaderless over protracted periods, with, for instance, all four sanctioned posts at the top levels of Director General (DG)/Additional DG/Inspector General (IG)/ Deputy IG vacant as on December 31, 2006. Wide vacancies also existed in the lower ranks. A 78 per cent vacancy existed among the ranks of the Senior Superintendent of police (SSP)/ Superintendent of police (SP)/ Additional SP/Assistant SP and Deputy SP (17 of 79 sanctioned posts were filled). In the Inspectors/Sub-Inspectors (SI)/ Assistant Sub-Inspectors (ASI) category, the vacancy was 21 per cent and personnel below the ASI rank was handicapped by a 14 per cent vacancy. Such vacancies cannot be 'acceptable' even under present circumstances, where operations concentrated in just the six districts of the east. They would be disastrous in the event of the probable Maoist expansion into the western region of the state.
Maoist strategies have unfolded systematically across various states of the country, but have constantly taken security planners by surprise. In the case of Maharashtra, while operational successes by the police are, no doubt, significant, much more will be needed in terms of a strategy of containment and defence against the creeping Maoist consolidation in widening areas of the state, especially in the western districts. Police 'successes' in the east notwithstanding, the Maoist challenge can be expected to hang heavy over the state in the foreseeable future.
Bibhu Prasad Routray is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management.
Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism