New Delhi: In an encounter Saturday, 22 uniformed officers, including CoBRA commanders of the specially trained battalion, lost their lives in Chhattisgarh’s naxal affected areas. In episode 717 of ‘Cut the Clutter’, ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta traced the history of the rise of violent communism extremists in the region.
On their geographical location, he said, “Chhattisgarh is a large state which is thinly populated. In fact, this is where Dandakaranya is located — the region where Lord Ram goes for his vanvas in Ramayan.”
“The reason why it is an ideal location for such activities is because of the terrain and the socio-economic conditions in the region. This sparsely populated area has a large tribal population which has been ungoverned for years.”
“India’s violent or extreme ‘revolutionary communist movement’ was born in what is now Telangana in 1948,” he added.
Gupta said that at the time, “In a very communist style, leaders of these groups declared that they were setting up communes in 3,000 villages. They started recruiting educated youth from cities to become a part of their movement. They also said that they were wedded to the Mao-kind of revolution — Mao or Bolshevik Revolution — which is continuing a war involving the entire population until you can change the entire system in India.”
Gupta speculated that Saturday’s attack was most likely a trap that had been laid by the Maoists for the armed forces. “A naxal leader by the name of Hidma, (who) the Indian forces have been looking for since long, was believed to be in this region between Sukma and Bijapur. When a troop of 1,000 policemen and special forces entered these villages, they found these villages empty. This is an indication that it could have been a trap.”
Gupta also described the style of attack that naxals follow. Naxals ambush the enemy and once the latter are injured, they surround them and steal their equipment, like guns, bulletproof vests and boots. Calling this mission a setback for the security forces, he added, “If so many of our armed forces are killed and their equipment is stolen, how can the operation be a success? In addition to this, reports suggest that this operation was led by the same officer who led the 19 April 2010 operation in [which] 76 soldiers died. This was the second highest number of casualties in the history of the Indian Armed forces. So unless you can fix accountability for what has gone wrong, these things will keep on happening.”
Gupta then talked of the number of casualties of recent encounters between the armed forces and the naxals: in March 2017, 12 CRPF men were killed, in April 2017, 26 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) members were killed in a place called Chintamani in South Bastar, on 21 March 2020, 17 security personnel were killed. These 17 included five CRPF and 12 district reserve group personnel, the local policemen. This year in March, five District Reserve Guard (DRG) soldiers were killed in Narayanpur district.
Talking about the BJP’s promise to solve this problem, Gupta said that over the past few years the government had not been able to deliver on this. “In 2014, PM Narendra Modi, in his (poll) campaigns, had promised to bring a solution to this problem. In 2015, Home Minister Amit Shah, too, had claimed that the problem of naxalism in the region would be solved in two to three years. This has not happened yet.”
Gupta said the naxal movement had weakened since the UPA government’s time. He then explained the origins of the naxal movement. “In 1967, in northern Bengal, in a village that has now come to be known as Naxalbari, trouble was brewing between the tribals and the local landlords. When one of the tribals was killed (at) the hands of these landlords, the tribals retaliated against them and won. This is where the whole movement of retaliation began.”
Recounting the contribution of the Community Party of India, Gupta explained, “The CPI was formed in 1920 and was well received by the communist countries across the world. The group split after the war of 1962 with China because they were torn between Indian patriotism and their ideological loyalties to Mao. Charu Majumdar, who split from the CPI, became the leader of the extremist movement which gained the name naxalism after the uprising in Naxalbari, West Bengal.”
Majumdar, with other leaders, came up with the idea of the ‘annihilation line’, which means to kill those who you have disagreements with or who are a threat to the people, which means landlords, businessmen, civil servants and policemen. Due to this, a lot of the killings occurred in urban areas of Bengal and eventually spread to other states.
As this problem escalated, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi decided to crush this movement. Explaining the operation of 1971, Gupta said, “A covert operation by the name ‘Operation Steeplechase’ was worked out under the leadership of then Lt General Manekshaw. The operation was said to be so discreet that there were no written instructions for it.”
This operation is said to have broken the back of the naxal movement at the time.
Over the years, the increased vigil by the Indian government led the naxalites to take refuge in regions where it would be difficult to access, such as the Dandakaranya forest of Chhattisgarh.
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