India’s Shifting Political Landscape: Chhattisgarh’s Red Retreat

On October 20, 2023, two Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres were killed in an encounter with Security Forces (SFs) in the Kanker District of Chhattisgarh. The identities of the slain Maoists are yet to be confirmed, but on June 11, 2023, a woman CPI-Maoist cadre, Sunita, was killed in a gun battle with SFs near Binagunda village.

On June 21, 2023, the body of Maanu Dugga, a Maoist, was discovered in Kesokodi village by SFs. Dugga was an active member in the Koskode area and was allegedly killed by fellow cadres due to his objectionable behavior with women in the organization.

According to partial data from the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least four Maoists have been killed in Kanker District since the beginning of 2023. Since March 6, 2000, Kanker District has recorded 58 Naxalite (Left Wing Extremist) fatalities.

In the current year, one trooper lost his life fighting Maoists, the same number as in 2022. No further SF fatalities were recorded in 2022. Search operations and combing raids led to the arrest of seven Maoists in the district. The last arrest was made on October 29, 2020, when a woman CPI-Maoist cadre, Dashri Korsa alias Samita, was arrested. Since March 6, 2000, 479 Naxalites have been arrested in Kanker District. The district has seen a significant decline in Maoist activities, with two Maoists surrendered in the current year and three in 2022.

Civilian fatalities in Kanker have followed a cyclical trend, with one recorded in the current year and three killed in 2022. A total of 478 Maoist-linked incidents have been recorded in the district since 2000, with a high of 78 in 2014.

The last major incident occurred on November 23, 2020, when three CPI-Maoist cadres were killed and a trooper of the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) was injured in an exchange of fire at Tadoki village. Maoists have triggered at least 42 blasts, with 52 people killed and another 52 injured since March 6, 2000. The current year has already recorded four explosions, with one person killed and another six sustaining injuries.

Maoists have executed 35 incidents of arson since March 6, 2000, with a maximum of six incidents recorded in 2022. Concerns persist, as credible information suggests the presence of Maoist leaders belonging to the ‘RKB division’, a Medki Local Operation Squad (LOS) commander, and 20 to 25 Maoists in the eastern region of the Kotri River, near Amatola village, in the Binagunda and Kalpar areas of the district. On June 11, 2023, a combing operation was launched, and a woman Maoist was neutralized.

The Maoists in Kanker district have accused Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat of political manipulation and tribal conflict in the name of religion. They have also accused former Kanker MP Vikram Usendi of practicing vote bank politics with the tribals. Kanker district, covering 5,285.01 square kilometers, is part of the ‘Bastar Division’, a major challenge for the state and ranked as the worst LWE-affected region in the country. The district’s strategic advantage lies in its dense forests, swift rivers, streams, and hilly features, making it a significant tactical location for rebels to carry out their activities.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) has included Kanker in its list of ’25 Most Affected Districts’ from eight states across India. Kanker, along with six other Chhattisgarh districts, is also included among the 70 Naxal-affected Districts in 10 states across India, covered under the Centre’s Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme, which funds focused operations against the extremists. Despite the Maoists’ reverses in their erstwhile areas of dominance, it remains necessary for the security establishment to consolidate SF gains and check the Maoists’ ongoing activities in Kanker and the state at large.

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