September 28, 2020
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An Ominous Warning

The Maoist 'success' at Jehanabad is bound to echo in other parts of India with the rebels' Central Committee having reportedly called for another round of their 'tactical counter offensive campaign' in 'weak states'.
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An Ominous Warning
An Ominous Warning
In what is arguably the most daring attack in the history of the Maoist or Naxalite movement in India, approximately 150 to 200 armed cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) along with some 800 ‘sympathizers’ attacked the Jehanabad district jail in Bihar on November 13, 2005, and freed 341 prisoners, abducted more than 20 activists of the Ranvir Sena (a militia of upper caste landlords), and looted a large quantity of arms and ammunition.

During the siege, seven persons (three Maoists, two Ranvir Sena cadres and two police personnel) were killed. Subsequently, the Maoists executed nine of the abducted Ranvir Sena cadres. The Maoists, who had virtually taken control of all entry and exit points of the town, also carried out synchronized attacks on the district court, Police Lines, district armoury, the residence of the district judge, and the S. S. College, where a para-military forces camp had been set up.

Hours before the siege of Jehanabad town, about 50 kms from the state capital Patna, the Maoists had disconnected electric supply to the city and, two days earlier, had disconnected telephone services to the jail and Police Lines area. Clearly, as much as these indicate meticulous planning by the Maoists, they also reflect sweeping intelligence failures and security lapses.

Since the formation of the CPI-Maoist in September 2004 (after a union between the erstwhile People’s War Group and Maoist Communist Centre), Maoist attacks have become more specific and target-oriented. The Jehanabad incursion, it needs mention, is not an isolated one. Indeed, it marks a ‘higher stage of militarization’.

On November 11, just a few days before the Jehanabad siege, over a hundred Maoists had attacked a Home Guard training centre at Pachamba in the Giridih district of neighbouring Jharkhand, killing five persons before decamping with 183 rifles, two pistols and 2,500 cartridges. Earlier, on June 23, 2005, at least 200-armed Maoists had targeted a Police Station and branches of the State Bank of India and the Central Bank of India in the Madhuban area of the East Champaran district in Bihar, close to the Nepal border.

The Maoists had carried out a similar attack on the Koraput District armoury in Orissa on February 6, 2004, killing four security force personnel and looting more than 2,000 firearms. They had subsequently opened fire on the city Police Station, the Sadar (peri-urban) police camp, the office of the District Superintendent of Police, the Treasury and the Orissa Special Armed Police Centre of the 3rd Battalion.

In all these incidents, ‘sympathisers’, constituting the people’s militia or 'base force' in ‘revolutionary’ terminology, have supported the ‘regular’ Maoist cadre. The Jehanabad attack is also a reiteration of the Maoist strategy of a protracted ‘People’s War’ and constituent principle that seeks to surround cities from the countryside, where the communist-led forces establish 'base areas' and 'liberated zones', expanding through the stages of the strategic defensive, the strategic equilibrium, and culminating in the strategic offensive. As one commentator has noted,

…such incidents involving civilian population may be few for now, but they do point to the capabilities of the Maoist leadership in mobilising the masses and coordinating the movement of assault teams. More such actions can be anticipated. The Central Committee has called for another round of the Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign (TCOC). More dangerous is employing of the ‘mobile warfare tactics’ in these raids. Mobile warfare is a decisive stage in guerrilla war and if allowed to continue, Maoists will in a short time ‘liberate’ pockets of influence. Mobile warfare is a stage where the guerrilla force is in a commanding position and thestate forces find themselves on the defensive.

More alarming is the ground-level support that the CPI-Maoist now evidently has within the ‘red map’, which covers at least 165 districts spread across 14 states. The ‘Base Force’ experiment has also been successfully played out by the Nepalese Maoists over the past few years.

Within Bihar, the attack indicates increased Naxalite activity in south central Bihar and a gradual spread towards the northeastern part of the state. This upsurge has also been made possible by the Ranvir Sena’s decline in the Magadh region (Gaya, Nawada, Aurangabad and Jehanabad districts), which they used to dominate earlier.

According to the ministry of home affairs data on Left Wing extremism, Bihar was the worst affected state in 2004, with Maoists active in 30 out of its 38 districts, and with 155 killings between January and November 30, 2004, up from 128 in 2003. A total of 93 people, including 22 civilians, 27 Security Force (SF) personnel and 44 Maoists, have died in year 2005, till November 20 (SATP data). As far as operational areas are concerned, the CPI-Maoist has a presence in all parts of Bihar, with the primary support base located in the lower castes and poor peasantry.

The objective of the Jehanabad attack was multi-fold: to free their comrades lodged in the jail, including ‘state committee’ leader Ajay Kanu alias Dev Kumar; to abduct/kill Ranvir Sena activists; to loot arms and ammunition from the troops; and, most significantly, to send a signal to the authorities and the people that they were capable of carrying out such large-scale incursions. It is important to note, further, that, at the time of the attack, Bihar had been under governor’s rule – the state’s affairs being controlled directly by the centre – for over nine months and a massive security exercise was under way for the conduct of the Assembly elections.

After having called for a boycott of the Assembly elections in Bihar, the CPI-Maoist had unexpectedly been lying low. This was the more significant, since the 57 constituencies in which elections were held on October 18 were spread across 12 Maoist-affected Districts in central and south Bihar. Provisional reports indicate that there was a 45 per cent voter turnout, thus suggesting a defiance of the Maoists’ diktat. But the attack on the night of the third phase was clearly meant to send a message that the Maoists are strong enough to strike. Bihar had a four-phased polling (October 18 and 26; November 13 and 19) for a total of 243 seats, out of which at least 50 constituencies are regarded as being vulnerable to Maoist violence. Incidentally, Jehanabad saw peaceful polling on October 18 in the first phase.

State apathy to the Maoist dynamic in Bihar, over the years, has meant that illegal arms factories are flourishing in many districts. There are over 1,500 illegal arms manufacturing units in Bihar and most of them are located in the Nalanda, Nawada, Gaya and Munger districts. A general breakdown of law and order, the proliferation of criminal gangs and militias, the criminalisation of politics and an ill-equipped police force has contributed to the continuous consolidation of Naxalites in the state.

Law enforcement agencies, particularly the police, face an acute shortage of manpower and resources. For instance, there are currently 12,000 vacancies in the state for posts of police constables. An Inspector General of Police indicated in April 2005 that the force has been facing an severe deficiency of sub-inspectors and constables, as no fresh appointments have been made after 1994.

The Crime in India – 2003 report, published by the National Crime Records Bureau, indicates that Bihar has a ratio of 1:1,652 in terms of actual police strength to the estimated mid-year population of 2003, the worst in the country. By comparison, Andhra Pradesh has a ratio of 1:1052; Chhattisgarh, 1:1061, Jharkhand (formerly part of Bihar), 1:1333; and Orissa, 1:1072.

According to a police official in Jehanabad, there is no separate counter-insurgency wing, which is why all major offensives lose steam after a while. The Special Task Force set up a few years ago to counter the Maoists has either been engaged in VIP security or posted in ‘peaceful areas’. In a submission before the Patna High Court earlier this year, the Bihar Police disclosed that approximately 20,000 individuals, including politicians, present and former bureaucrats and people from other walks of life, have been provided police house guards or bodyguards or both.

The 80,000-strong police force in Bihar also lacks access to modern weaponry like anti-landmine vehicles, bulletproof vests and bomb disposal equipment. According to the Bihar Police Association, a majority of about 300 police stations, 92 police pickets and hundreds of police outposts in the Maoist-affected districts are facing severe infrastructure shortages. Bihar Police establishments and personnel have witnessed 43 Maoist attacks between January 2003 and November 2005, in which over 150 police personnel have died and hundreds of firearms have been looted.

The Maoist ‘success’ at Jehanabad is bound to echo in other parts of India with the rebels’ Central Committee having reportedly called for another round of their 'tactical counter offensive campaign' in ‘weak states’. The Jehanabad incident is an indication of, and a warning against, the continuous neglect of a critical aspect of governance – the state’s monopoly on the use of force.

In Bihar and elsewhere in places witnessing a retreat of governance, the state has abdicated its responsibilities on this count. In Bihar, specifically, power is now overwhelmingly wielded by the upper caste landowners with their militias, criminal syndicates in association with their political masters, or by the Maoists – all of which are uniformly aligned against the authority of the state and the interests of its citizenry. The loss of geographical space to subversive and violent non-state actors will have to be reversed immediately if the state is to reclaim its authority and restore order.

Nihar Nayak Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal

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