Updated: April 11, 2021 8:07:03 am
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), from a peak of over 200 districts being affected by Maoist violence in the mid-2000s, the numbers are down to just 90, with the worst-affected districts only 30. While Chhattisgarh, and to an extent Jharkhand, continue to struggle in the battle against Maoists, other states, apart from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, have managed to restrict Naxal activity.
The cradle of the Naxal movement first saw Maoist rebellion in 1967, but it was quickly put down. The phenomenon raised its head again in the 1990s. By the 2000s, Maoists had influence in 18 districts of the state.
With the ultras targeting CPM cadres, the party-led state government equipped the police and set up a special counter-Maoist force called Straco.
“The West Bengal Police used phone interception massively to gather intelligence on Maoist activity. That the CPM had robust network in villages came in handy. By the late 2000s, police had infiltrated almost every dalam of the CPI (Maoist) in Bengal,” said a West Bengal cadre police officer.
When Mamata Banerjee came to power, she began luring rebels to the mainstream and many workers even joined the TMC. Police dealt a decisive blow by killing top Maoist leader Kishenji in 2011.
From the peak of 2010, when the state saw 341 incidents and 252 deaths, the state has brought down violence to zero in 2014.
Around the mid-1990s, the Maoist problem in the state peaked, impacting 22 of 30 districts, even taking on the form of a tribal movement against the government.
In 2008, Maoists raided the Nayagarh armoury in Koraput and looted 1,200 guns, including 400 INSAS rifles and 20 AK-47s, apart from killing 15 policemen. The same year, 37 Greyhounds commandos were killed in an ambush while approaching the “cut-off area” of Malkangiri in a boat.
The state responded by raising the Special Operations Group that hunted down Maoist leaders even as tribals were recruited as SPOs to generate intelligence. The government rolled out a surrender policy and began distributing land pattas among tribals to win them over.
This was coupled with infrastructure development in the backward regions that helped security forces mount quick attacks. A couple of years ago, the Gurupriyo bridge was completed, connecting the “cut-off area” for the first time with rest of Odisha.
From the peak of 101 casualties in 2008, Odisha had brought down violence significantly to nine deaths in 2020.
Maharashtra, which saw Maoist trouble in the early ’90s in its Vidarbha districts of Gondia, Chandrapur and Gadchiroli, was quick to realise the threat. It not only raised a C60 team, recruiting local tribals, but also increased the strength of police and started building roads in the region. Over the last decade, the state has got over 500 Maoists to surrender and in 2020, there were just 30 incidents, with eight deaths.
Bihar, where Maoists once held sway in the entire south-western part, apart from pockets in the northern areas bordering Nepal, has gained significant ground against Maoists in recent years. While the Maoist defeat in Bihar was partly of their own making, as dalams battled caste bias, the Nitish Kumar government’s welfare schemes also helped.
Today, the Maoist hold is limited to Gaya and neighbouring districts. In 2020, the state recorded 26 incidents, with eight civilian deaths.
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