Both urban and armed Naxals are feeling cornered and desperate.
Watch out, for the armed Naxals might be planning acts of violence and the urban ones, acts of propaganda.
Have the Naxalites and their friends in urban centres become a desperate lot?
The Pune police recently released a note with a chilling message from Naxalites, referring to a “Rajiv Gandhi-like incident”. The plot, according to the note, was to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he was making electoral gains in several states despite a big loss in Bihar.
The urban allies of Naxalites have been in overdrive ever since, in an attempt to dub the letter as fake. But this political desperation, to assassinate Modi, was sensed even before Modi became the Prime Minister. The October 2013 Patna blasts was likely one such instance.
The big question now is: why are Naxalites getting this desperate? It is well known that Naxalites have been facing the heat of security agencies these past four years. If one were to analyse the data from 2005 onwards, there is a clear indication that left-wing terrorists have been in trouble.
In 2005, there were 717 casualties in Naxal-related incidents – 281 civilians, 150 security personnel, and 286 Naxalites lost their lives. Between 2005 and 2018, the highest casualty figure was witnessed in 2010 when 626 civilians, 277 security personnel, and 277 Naxals died, leading to a total casualty toll of 1,180 persons.
Data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) shows a steep decline in the number of Naxal-related incidents. Between 2014 and 2018, there has been a steady fall in the number of casualties involving both civilians and security personnel. While 2014 saw 128 civilian casualties, in 2015, it was 93. In 2016 and 2017, the figures stood at 123 and 109 respectively. On the other hand, the number of Naxals killed in 2014 was 99 whereas in 2015 and 2016, it was 101 and 244 respectively.
The year 2017 saw 333 casualties in all, with 109 civilians losing their lives. The number of security personnel martyred stood at 74, and the number of Naxalites killed was 150. Data for 2018 compiled until 27 May suggests that 41 security personnel have been martyred, in addition to the death of 56 civilians, while 116 Naxalites have been killed.
A Desperate Retreat
While the number of incidents related to left-wing terrorism have fallen substantially, what is more important is the manner in which the Naxalites have been retreating. Apart from the encounters that have taken place, security forces have carried out a large number of arrests. The Home Ministry says that the forces have arrested 1,888 Naxalites in 2017, while in 2016 it was 1,840. In 2018, until 15 March, the number of arrests stood at 395, and SATP data suggests that until 31 March, another 46 Naxals were arrested.
The big retreat by Naxals can, however, be found in the large number of surrenders. Pushed to the wall, through 2017, at least 685 Naxalites have surrendered as opposed to the 1,442 surrenders in 2016. In 2018, until 31 March, at least 157 Naxalites have surrendered, the Home Ministry data states.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, while speaking at the Central Reserve Police Force’s Seventy-ninth Raising Day celebrations on 24 March 2018, said, “Maoism has become a major challenge, but due to the gallant and determined action of the security forces, these incidents have come down drastically. I can say that Left Wing Extremism in the country has entered its last leg.”
In addition to the rise in the number of surrenders, the geographical spread of the Naxalites too has reduced drastically. The Home Ministry says that the number of states reporting Naxal violence has reduced from 10 in 2013 to 9 in 2017. The number of districts reporting violence has reduced from 76 in 2013 to 58 in 2017. Police stations reporting violence have reduced in number from 330 in 2013 to 291 in 2017.
Home Ministry data also shows a steady decline in the number of Naxal-related incidents. In 2009, it was at 2,258, and by 2017, it came down to 908. The table below illustrates the point.
The Home Ministry says it has undertaken several initiatives to reduce the number of such incidents. To enhance local representation in the ranks of security forces and also to provide employment to local youth, the Bastariya Battalion has been raised. Recruited are 743 Scheduled Tribe candidates from the four most-affected left-wing extremist districts of Chhattisgarh – Bijapur, Dantewada, Narayanpur, and Sukma. This figure includes 242 female candidates. All recruitment formalities have been completed and training is in progress, the Home Ministry has said in a release.
Further, the ministry says Rs 1,120.73 crore was disbursed in the last four financial years (2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18), as compared to Rs 875 crore in the preceding four financial years (2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14).
Going by the data, it is clear that Naxalites are having a tough time. Various security experts argue that the desperation also stems from the fact that the funding has been decreased to a large extent. Naxalites were dealt a huge blow after the demonetisation exercise, wherein a large sum of their money dried up.
Another blow was dealt when the government tightened the noose around foreign funding. Former officer with the Research and Analysis Wing, Amar Bhushan says that the assassination plot is a clear sign of desperation on the part of Naxalites. It is a large network which operates using foreign funds.
The Special Intelligence Branch, which keeps a close watch on Naxal activities, also talks about a sense of desperation among Naxalites. Officials say that the dip in finances and the fact that they are fast losing their strongholds are signs of it.
An intelligence official explains that if one were to look at the pattern of the Naxalites, they have always resorted to desperate measures when they have been down. The Naxals have indulged in VIP-targeted violence for long. The attempts made on the lives of Andhra Pradesh chief ministers Janardhan Reddy in 1992 and Chandrababu Naidu in 2003 are signs of this very desperation. It may also be recalled that Naxalites had killed Daggubati Chenchu Ramaiah, a Telugu Desam Party leader in the 1980s.
Officials point out also that Naxals plan such acts when elections are around the corner. The Hyderabad police have been picking up inputs of late that suggest some kind of a sensational action may be impending. Naxals usually carry out strikes before elections as leaders tend to mingle more freely with the crowds at the time.
Bhushan adds that the crackdown on foreign funding coupled with extensive work on the ground has pushed left-wing terrorists into a corner. He also says that the desperation can be seen in the manner in which their urban sympathisers have been responding. The Bhima-Koregaon violence was one such instance. Naxals roped in a section of Dalits for a better appeal and made it look as though it was an issue about the Dalits. In reality, it was a way of fanning violence in a bid to weaken the nation, he says.
Bhushan tells Swarajya that urban Naxalites are dangerous. They are the ones who stand in the way of government to ensure that no action is taken against their friends in the forests. However, the current government has adopted a tough stance while dealing with both versions of Naxalites. This has rattled them and made them even more desperate, he adds.
In the days to come, the government will adopt a tougher approach and the Naxalites are aware of it. Hence the desperation among Naxals now is such that they could even think of a plan to assassinate the Prime Minister, Bhushan adds.