Are Maoists on the backfoot in Orissa?By Jatindra Dash, IANS
Sunday, December 26, 2010
BHUBANESWAR - Offensives by security forces and the refusal of people to join have hit hard Maoists in Orissa, police say. But experts are not so sure and say the guerrillas are only lying low.
“The Maoists have weakened. They are not getting support. They are not able to increase their strength as people are refusing to join them,” state Inspector General of Police Sanjeev Marik told IANS.
He said the rebels were being smoked out of their strongholds as police and paramilitary forces have intensified combing operations since the middle of last year.
“The Maoists are frustrated. They have turned into criminals and extortionists. That is whey they are targeting more innocent civilians,” the officer said.
The government has declared 15 of Orissa’s 30 districts “Maoist-affected”. The last major Maoist raid was in April 2009 when hundreds laid siege to a bauxite mine in Koraput district.
The rebels looted explosives and killed 10 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in the attack.
“They usually conduct such raids to demonstrate their strength. There has been no such major raid since then. It shows they have weakened,” a senior intelligence officer told IANS.
However, sporadic incidents of violence continue.
Early this month, the Communist Party of India-Maoist killed two civilians in Sundergarh, over 400 km from here, after branding them police spies.
The rebels torched about 15 vehicles of a private construction company near Pindiki village in Gajapati district Dec 20.
The officer said such incidents only proved that the Maoists were getting desperate.
According to official figures, Maoists killed 53 civilians in Orissa this year. The figures for 2009 and 2008 were 28 and 24 respectively.
The initiatives taken by the authorities to wean away Maoists from the path of violence are showing results. This year 43 guerrillas surrendered. The number last year was just 10.
There have been virtually no major guerrilla activity in areas known as Maoist strongholds. The crackdown by security forces has forced them to shift base.
Consequently, Maoist activities have been reported in four new districts - Kalahandi, Nuapada, Bolangir and Bargarh.
But experts do not share the optimism.
“It seems to be a well-calculated strategy. When they see attacks are imminent, they stay low. I don’t think they are weakening,” says a retired police officer.
“They may not have launched any massive raids, but their activities have been reported from new areas, indicating they are expanding their bases,” he said.
Around 10 years ago, Maoists in Orissa — which borders West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and and Chhattigarh, all of them Maoist bastions — were confined to just three or four districts.
By 2007, this had gone up to 15 of 30 districts.
Orissa is home to 36.7 million people, of whom 22 percent and 16 percent are tribals and Dalits respectively. Most are steeped in poverty, a key reason for leftwing extremism.
Thirtyeight percent of Orissa is forested, providing safe hiding places to the guerrillas.
Orrisa’s mineral reserves too are an added factor.
The state has 17 percent of India’s mineral wealth, including 60 percent of bauxite reserves, 25 percent of coal, 28 percent of iron ore and 92 percent of nickel deposits.
According to official figures, 78 rebels were killed and 1,433 arrested in the last 10 years.
(Jatindra Dash can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)