The Community Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres killed at least 15 Policemen of the Quick Response Team (QRT) wing of C-60, the Maharashtra Police counter-insurgency commando unit, and a civilian driver, triggering an IED explosion in the Gadchiroli District of Maharashtra on May 1, 2019.
Referring to the Gadchiroli attack, Gadchiroli Police reportedly stated that the QRT unit was travelling in a private bus, and only Police officials knew of their movements. However, some locals may have spotted the personnel and leaked the information to the Maoists.
Reports indicate that SFs failed to thwart the attack in spite of repeated intelligence inputs. According to media reports, there were 13 alerts in the preceding month identifying specific locations in Gadchiroli in connection with a possible Maoist attack on SFs. The first of these alert was shared March 21.
Despite suffering repeated and severe losses in the past, SFs fell into a visible Maoists' trap once again. The Maoists had set ablaze at least three dozen vehicles belonging to private contractors in the Kurkheda sub-division of Gadchiroli in the morning of May 1. As expected, the QRT stationed at Gadchiroli proceeded towards Kurkheda and were ambushed. An unnamed intelligence officer observed,
Usually in this TCOC [tactical counter offensive campaign] period Maoists coordinate and unite to attack the security forces. In this attack, a trap was laid by setting ablaze the vehicles in that area which increased the movement of security forces...
Since March 10, 2019, when the Election Commission of India announced seven-phases of the nationwide General Elections, CPI-Maoist cadres have carried out three major attacks (each involving three or more fatalities) killing 23 SF personnel, as well as Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Bhima Mandavi in Dantewada, across two States. At least 60 fatalities (12 civilians, 28 SF personnel, 20 Maoists) have been recorded in 26 incidents of killing in the 53 days since March 10, 2019 (data till May 1, 2019).
The latest Maoist attack in Gadchiroli is presumed to be in retaliation for the killing of two senior women Maoist cadres, ‘Divisional Committee Member (DCM)’ and Gatta Dalam (armed squad) ‘commander’ Ramco aka Kamala Manku Narote (45), the wife of another top-ranking Maoist leader Bhaskar Narote, and Sheila aka Manu Dasru Dhurva (28), an ‘area committee member (ACM)’ of Bhamragarh Dalam, by Anti-Naxal Forces, during an encounter in the forests near Koti village in Bhamragad sub-division in Gadchiroli District on April 27. The North/South Gadchiroli Division Committee CPI-Maoist had put up posters condemning the killing, while observing the week as the first anniversary of the killing of at least 40 ‘comrades’ in an encounter by SFs a year ago, on April 22-23, 2018.
A May 2, 2019, media report suspected that Telangana’s Takkelapalli Vasudeva Rao aka Ashanna, who heads both the Dandakaranya action team as well as military intelligence (MI) after joining the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC), following the disbanding of the Central Action Committee, may also be a part of the attack leadership, as he had been spotted near Gadchiroli. According to an unnamed Telangana Police official, “After Nambala Keshava Rao took over, they are not resorting to small action. They are looking for big targets like MLAs and resorting to land mine blasts. Gadchiroli attack is part of the tactic.”
Gadchiroli has been the epicentre of Maoist violence in Maharashtra and at peak in 2009, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal database, at least 87 fatalities were registered in the District, including 52 SF personnel, 23 Maoists and 12 civilians, yielding an adverse SF:Maoist kill ratio of 2.26:1. The current year has recorded 36 Maoist-linked fatalities, including 15 SF personnel, 11 Maoists, and 10 civilians, again an adverse ratio of 1.36:1. Fifty-eight fatalities were recorded through 2018, including two SF personnel, five civilians, and 51 Maoists (a SF-Maoist kill ratio of 1:25.5); adding to 25 fatalities in 2017, including three SF personnel, seven civilians, and 15 Maoists (a SF-Maoist kill ratio of 1:5).
Concerned by the weakening movement, the Maoists replaced Muppala Lakshmana Rao aka Ganapathy, the 71-year-old ‘general secretary’ of the CPI-Maoist, on November 5, 2018, with his ‘second-in-command’ Nambala Keshava Rao aka Basavaraj (63). Basavaraj was heading the CPI-Maoist’s ‘military-wing’, PLGA (People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army), since its inception, and is also suspected to be behind almost all major Maoist attacks that have taken place in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Odisha in the recent past. Basavaraj is an expert in explosives and military techniques and has a good network with arms traders.
Since, the coming of Basavaraj, at least 26 persons, including three civilians, 21 SF personnel and two Naxalites have been killed in 24 incidents of landmine explosion carried out by the Maoists, thus far (data till May 1, 2019). During the corresponding period of the previous years, at least 18 persons, including three civilians and 15 SFs were killed in 20 such incidents. Basavraj has a reputation for greater proclivity to violence than Ganapathy. With him at the helm, more such attacks are expected. The present tragedy is a warning to intelligence and CT agencies across the LWE-affected States of the future attacks.