Chhattisgarh: Red War Continues

Nihar Nayak

Chhattisgarh played second fiddle to neighboring Andhra Pradesh in the lists of worst affected Maoist or Naxalite states in the year 2005. The state experienced an escalation of violence since the beginning of the euphemistically called Salva Zudoom (peace initiative) in June last year. Data on Maoist violence compiled by the State police revealed that during 2005, 130 villagers, 39 police personnel lost their lives and 70 more were injured in Maoist attacks. However, Chhattisgarh Home Minister Ramvichar Netam on December 21 informed the Legislative Assembly that Maoists have killed 90 villagers in the Bastar region associated with Salva Zudoom. A total 271 people were killed in the State in 968 incidents of Maoist violence between January 2004 and November 20, 2005, including 175 civilians, 54 police personnel, 35 Maoists and seven home guards.

The Maoists run parallel government in Dandakaranya region of the state, holding People's Courts to settle both civil and criminal disputes, and imposing penalties that range from simple fines to mutilation and death. According to State police, approximately 18 squads, armed with sophisticated weapons like AK series rifles and trained in remote control explosive device are active in nine districts of Chhattisgarh, including Bastar, Dantewada, Kanker and Surguja. To intensify the revolution the outfit celebrated the silver jubilee of the Dandakaranya armed struggle in the last week of December 2004. Andhra-Orissa Border Special Zonal Committee Secretary of Maoists Bhaskar on December 24 said the armed fight would continue till the establishment of people’s rule in Dandakaranya area.

The Dandakaranya base area, with a population of eight million, comprise portions of two districts from Maharashtra, one from Madhya Pradesh; four districts of the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, six southern districts or Bastar region of Chhattisgarh and Malkangir district of Orissa. The Dandakaranya struggle was on in three zones -- north Telangana, Andhra (eastern region with the formation of AOB) and Maharashtra. During the last 25 years, a strong base for the party, an army and people's power had been established due to the Dandakaranya struggle.

The guerilla zones and base areas, according to the Maoist strategy, denote advanced stages of a revolutionary movement. A guerilla zone is an area where the organization and the "reactionary" state are equally placed and fighting for control. Base area formation would technically mean a later stage when revolutionaries win the battle with the state and take control of the governance of the area.

The Bastar region, which comprises three districts-Dantewada, Bastar and Kanker, is one of the underdeveloped areas in Chhattisgarh and virtually controlled Naxalites. Tribal constitute 37 per cent of Chhatisgarh's population. The Scheduled Tribes are concentrated in the southern, the northern and the north-eastern districts. The highest concentration is in Dantewada district has 79 percent tribal followed by Bastar (67 percent) Jashpur (65 percent), Surguja (57 percent) and Kanker (56 percent). Almost 98 percent of the tribal population resides in rural areas. These are also one of the poorest regions in the State in terms of economic development and industrialization. In terms of educational and health infrastructure, Bastar and Dantewada are the most neglected districts.

The state government took several steps to bring down Maoist related violence in the state. The State Assembly passed the Special Public Safety Bill on December 23 to curb Maoist activities. Earlier, the Chhattisgarh police have reportedly decided to offer weapons to anti-Naxalite groups and also selectively appoint people involved in the Salva Zudoom action as Special Police Officers. Inspector General of Police (Bastar region), M. W. Ansari, disclosed that people would be provided arms in areas where the police force and Government machinery find it difficult to move.

It is not clear how the Government will ‘provide security’ to those who ‘oppose the Naxalites’ in areas ‘where the police force and Government machinery find it difficult to move’, but on August 25, the Government announced that it had set up a Committee headed by Chief Secretary A.K. Vijayvargiya to provide direct support to the tribal ‘insurrection’.

For all its hype, the Salva Zudoom exercise is restricted to only some 250 of the 3,766 villages in the Bastar region. The Salva Zudoom has led to the forcible displacement of people throughout Bhairamgarh, Geedam and Bijapur areas. Nearly 15,000 people from 420 villages are living as refugees in temporary camps. Nor, indeed, have these actions in any measure forced the Maoists into a retreat. The Naxalites have, in fact, retaliated violently and continue to respond poorly to announcements of the Government’s surrender and rehabilitation policy announced on June 25, 2005.

Little attention has been paid by State authorities to other critical issues that sustain Naxalite movement, such as the social roots and support structures, their financial operations and empire, the relative unprepared ness of the police force, and the abysmal performance of the institutions of civil governance in Naxalite-affected areas. The result is that the Government's anti-Naxalite drive, despite the large scale use of the police and paramilitary forces, has failed to yield desired results.

Author Note
The Author is presently with the Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi