How Home Minister Amit Shah Oversaw The Fall Of Maoist Bastions In Bihar And Jharkhand

How Home Minister Amit Shah Oversaw The Fall Of Maoist Bastions In Bihar And Jharkhand

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Nov 6, 2022 06:58 PM +05:30 IST
How Home Minister Amit Shah Oversaw The Fall Of Maoist Bastions In Bihar And JharkhandUnion Home Minister Amit Shah
  • The last traces of red terror were uprooted from the smashed ‘red bastions’. Here's an account of how the Home Ministry went after Maoists under Amit Shah's direct supervision.

For 32 years, a 55-square-kilometre area, with a hill called Budha Pahar as its most prominent feature, had remained an impregnable fortress of Maoists.

This Maoist bastion straddling the Latehar and Garhwa districts of Jharkhand and Balrampur district of Chhattisgarh defied multiple attempts by security forces to breach it.

This bastion ultimately fell in end-September this year. And last week, security forces cleared the last landmine planted by the red terrorists there.

The fall of Budha Pahar, and also Maoist bastions in Chakrabandha and Bhimabandha forests in Bihar, was the outcome of meticulous planning and a multi-pronged strategy adopted by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) under the direct supervision of Amit Shah.

A director in the MHA’s crucial Left Wing Extremism (LWE) division, who did not want to be named, spoke to Swarajya on the strategy adopted to defeat the Maoists under Shah’s leadership.

The broad outlines of the multi-pronged strategy were:

  • Strengthening and upgrading security forces

The MHA increased allocation to LWE-affected states, especially Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, under the Special Infrastructure Scheme to modernise their police forces, including their training. 

The police forces of these states were equipped with modern weapons and provided the infrastructure and facilities so they can be empowered to take on the Maoists.

Special attention was paid to retraining and equipping the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)’s Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (Cobra).

The help of counter-insurgency, guerilla, and jungle warfare experts from the army and special forces was taken to retrain Cobra troopers and officers, and they were armed with modern lethal weapons. 

Similarly, attention was devoted to making the Jharkhand Jaguars (a specialised unit of Jharkhand Police raised to fight Maoists) fighting fit. 

Special attention was given to boosting the morale and confidence of the police and CRPF units.

Further, joint drills were held between the Cobra and Jharkhand Jaguar troopers to strengthen operational compatibility and coordination between them.

The MHA organised regular interactions between police officers at the ground level of the three states in order to enhance cooperation, coordination, and intelligence-sharing between them.

  • Strengthening intelligence gathering

“Union Home Minister Amit Shah put a premium on this (aspect), and at all review meetings on LWE held with the affected states, he repeatedly stressed on strengthening the intelligence gathering mechanism.

"He underlined the need to win over locals, especially the tribals who inhabit the LWE-affected belts and are worst-affected by Maoist depredations.

"That is why allocation to various schemes under civic action programmes, providing healthcare and education facilities to tribals, boosting road and mobile connectivity and financial inclusion,” said the senior MHA officer.

The outreach to tribals and people living in Maoist-infested areas resulted in winning them over and helping the police and central forces gather vital information about Maoist activities.

  • Cutting off funds for Maoists

Extortions from mining companies and business establishments, and even wealthy professionals like doctors and senior executives of companies, was the main source of funds for the Maoists.

Strengthening of the local intelligence network helped the forces and central agencies tighten vigil and crack down on Maoist agents who were tasked with collecting ‘protection money’ from companies, business establishments, and individuals. 

The victims of Maoist extortion were also assured of protection and warned against succumbing to threats by the red terrorists. 

  • Cracking down on overground sympathisers and workers, and ‘urban Naxals’

Over the past few years, under the direct supervision of Shah, a nationwide operation was launched against overground sympathisers and workers of the Maoists. Many ‘urban Naxals’ were jailed, and many overground Maoist workers were neutralised. 

This resulted in the Maoists living in jungles being totally cut off from their support and sustenance bases in urban areas. 

Many of these overground workers and ‘urban Naxals’ were conduits for arms and finances, and the crackdown on them resulted in Maoists being denied funds and arms.

Snapping the nexus between the Maoists and their sympathisers and overground workers also resulted in the denial of ideological sustenance to the red terrorists. 

It also became virtually impossible for Maoists to access their urban bases for getting medical attention and for their crucial rest and recuperation. 

Maoists were also denied their much-needed oxygen of publicity in the media and sympathy from leftist intellectuals who became wary of coming under the MHA’s radar and exposing themselves to coercive action if they extended any sort of direct or indirect assistance and even publicity or sympathy to the red terrorists.

“This was a paradigm change from the past when these urban Naxals and leftist ‘intellectuals’ (Maoist sympathisers) would openly flaunt their support for the red terrorists and extend all sorts of support to them," he said.

  • Confined to and cornered in the jungle

The Maoists were thus confined to and cornered in the jungles of Jharkhand, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh. Denied funds, publicity, medical attention, arms, and the crucial lifeline of help from the ‘urban Naxals’, they fell on the defensive.

Many of them became disillusioned and surrendered, while others lost the will to fight and were killed in encounters.

“The battle (against the Maoists) was more than half won even before security forces launched operations against them. They (the Maoists) were put on the backfoot, and lost the support of the local population due to the aggressive and proactive strategy adopted by the MHA under Amit Shah,” the officer admitted. 

  • The all-out assault

In April this year, security forces — the police forces of Jharkhand, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh, and the central forces (CRPF) — launched all-out operations codenamed ‘Operation Octopus’ (for regaining control of Budha Pahar), ‘Operation Double Bull’ (for driving away Maoists from Bhimabandha forests spread over Bihar’s Gaya and Aurangabad districts), and ‘Operation Chakrabandha’ to take control of the Chakrabandha forest in Bihar’s Munger district.

Unlike the earlier half-hearted and uncoordinated anti-Maoist operations during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime, this time the three operations were well-coordinated and planned to the minutest detail. 

The regular police forces of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Bihar, as well as troopers from the CRPF, were deployed to cordon off Budha Pahar and the two forests in Bihar. 

This cordon was tight and pinned down the Maoists to their hideouts. Ultimately, denied arms, finances, and even food and water, the embattled Maoists suffered a breakdown in morale. 

That is when the highly motivated, well-trained, and lethally armed troopers of the Cobra and Jharkhand Jaguars, as well as some specialised units of Chhattisgarh Police, moved in for the final assault on 4 September.

“By that time, the besieged Maoists had lost the will to fight. Many of them abandoned their hideouts and ran away, while many others surrendered. Only a few put up a meek fight and were easily neutralised,” said the MHA officer.

  • Success of the three operations

By mid-September, security forces had regained control of Budha Pahar and the two Maoist-infested forests in Bihar. 

Seven Maoists were killed in operations on the Chhattisgarh side of Budha Pahar area, while 436 surrendered or were arrested. 

Four Maoists were killed in Jharkhand and 120 surrendered or were arrested. In Bihar, 36 Maoists surrendered or were arrested. 

Some of the Maoists killed had huge bounties on their heads. 

Huge cache of arms and ammunition, Chinese-made grenades, and various types of IEDs were seized from Maoist dens in the three areas that were known in security parlance as the ‘terror axis region’.

Budha Pahar was declared a ‘Maoist-free zone’ on 21 September, and this was marked by the landing of a CRPF chopper on top of Budha Pahar.

The Maoists had rigged all roads and the jungles with IEDs (improvised explosive devices), and over the past month, the security forces and their specialised units, armed with mine-sweepers as well as bomb disposal squads, had been combing the former Maoist bastions intensively.

Last week, the last IED was unearthed and Budha Pahar and the two forests in Bihar were declared free of IEDs. With that, the last traces of the red terror was uprooted from the smashed ‘red bastions’. 

  • Significance of the success

Shah termed the success of the three coordinated operations as a “decisive victory.” 

The complete success of the three operations, and the wiping out of all Maoists from the ‘terror axis region’, has dealt a body blow to the Maoists in other pockets and demoralised them. 

The fall of Budha Pahar especially has dealt a huge psychological blow to the Maoist leadership which used to gather there for strategy sessions and even rest and recuperation.

Budha Pahar was their safe haven and its fall has debilitated them in spirit, mind, and in strength and resolve. 

The success of the operations has also instilled a huge dollop of confidence among the police forces of the three states as well as the CRPF, including their Cobra units. 

  • Success, in Statistics:

    • In 2010, under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, nearly 100 districts in the country were under total domination of Maoists. Today, only 39 districts have a presence of Maoists, and they are nowhere as powerful in their areas as even eight years ago.

    • Incidents of violence involving Maoists are down from 2,258 in 2009 to 509 in 2021.

    • Death rate is down by 85 per cent: the death toll in Maoist-related violence was 1,005 in 2010; it was down to 147 in 2021.

    • Of 32 Maoist-linked incidents in 2022, two were incidents of killing, which resulted in four fatalities, all Maoists (data until 25 September 2022).

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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