On June 21, 2023, a local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Kaka Arjun (52), was killed by Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres at Ilmidi village in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur District. Arjun served as the Sarpanch (head of the Panchayat, village level local self-Government institution) of Ilmidi village Panchayat from 2016 to 2020. His body was found lying on the Kongupalli-Ilmidi Road in Bijapur, more than 400 kilometres from the state capital, Raipur. Arjun was the Secretary of the Scheduled Tribe wing of the BJP in Bijapur.
A pamphlet issued in the name of the ‘Madded Area Committee’ of the CPI-Maoist, taking responsibility for the killing, claimed that Arjun had been working for the BJP since 2014 and was against the Maoists. In the pamphlet, the Maoists also warned that any person who works against the CPI-Maoist would meet a similar fate.
On February 11, 2023, Ramdhar Alami (43), a BJP-supported Sarpanch of Hitameta village between 2015 and 2020, was hacked to death by a group of suspected Maoists at Barsoor in Dantewada District, while he was on his way home to Hitameta village.
On February 10, 2023, Sagar Sahu (47), vice president of BJP’s Narayanpur District, was shot dead at his home in front of his family members, by suspected Maoists in Narayanpur District.
On February 5, 2023, Neelkanth Kakkem (48), the BJP’s divisional head of Awapalli in Bijapur District, was killed when three suspected Maoists stabbed him with sharp weapons in Bijapur District.
On January 16, 2023, Budhram Kartam (35), was found dead near a culvert on National Highway-32, close to Kilepal village, in Jagdalpur, Bastar District. Kartam, a former Sarpanch of Kilepal, was the secretary of the BJP’s Bastar district unit.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least five political leaders or functionaries (all of the BJP) have been killed since the beginning of 2023 (data till June 25, 2023) in Chhattisgarh, all in the Bastar Division. Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on Left Wing Extremism (LWE) violence across India, at least 65 political leaders or functionaries have been killed in Chhattisgarh of which 53 killings were recorded in the Bastar Division. Another 12 killings were reported from three district: eight in Raipur, three in Rajnandgaon and one in Surguja. The Bastar Division comprises seven districts – Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, and Sukma.
During this period, March 6, 2000, and June 25, 2023, at least 360 political leaders or functionaries have been killed and another 49 have sustained injuries in 362 incidents of Maoist attacks targeting political leaders or functionaries, across India.
Meanwhile, soon after the June 21, 2023, killing, Chhattisgarh BJP general secretary O.P. Chaudhary blamed the ruling Congress government in Chhattisgarh asserting,
This targeted political killing of senior BJP office bearer in Bastar division isn't possible without Congress' support to the Naxals. Looks like the party is hand in glove with them to target the BJP leaders.
On the other hand, Chhattisgarh Congress party spokesperson Dhananjay Singh Thakur stated that the killings were highly unfortunate and accused the BJP of politicizing the matter,
It's highly unfortunate as to how BJP is trying to do politics over the killing of its leader. How can one forget that under the Raman Singh tenure in Chhattisgarh, Naxalism had spread massively?
Earlier, on February 13, 2023, after four killings - one in January and three in February - BJP Member of Parliament from Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh) and State Party President Arun Sao demanded an unbiased inquiry by an independent agency into the killing of the four BJP party workers in the Bastar region. Raising the issue in the Lok Sabha (the Lower House of Parliament), Sao argued,
Four of our key members and office bearers have been killed in Bastar in the last one month. It is a clear case of targeted killing and political conspiracy. Our people are left at the mercy of God and the state government is doing nothing for their safety. Through the Lok Sabha, I demand an unbiased investigation by any independent agency into the killing of the BJPs local leaders in Bastar and request the government of India to issue an order to the state government to ensure the safety of people.
On the same day, calling the killings of political leaders or functionaries unfortunate, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister (CM) Bhupesh Baghel noted,
It is true that some BJP leaders have been murdered and it's extremely unfortunate. Naxals are targeting individuals, barging into houses to kill people… this also proves that their power has weakened and they are showing their frustration.
The worst ever attack by the Maoists targeting the political leadership, across all Maoist affected regions in India, was the May 25, 2013, ambush in which 29 persons were killed, and another 30 injured, in the Darbha Ghati region of Sukma District of Chhattisgarh. Five Congress party leaders, eight Congress party workers, and eight Security Force (SF) personnel were among the 29 the persons killed. The BJP's Raman Singh was then Chief Minister in the state.
Soon after the attack, Congress party spokesperson Shailesh Trivedi had said,
It is the BJP which had conspired to kill all the top Congress leaders… The Congress believes that the chief minister and his officials should face the specific test as more facts can surface
More recently, on May 25, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel talking about the investigations in the Darbha Ghati attack alleged that the "the file of Jhiram Valley has been deposited in Raj Bhavan. The BJP is trying to hide something or the other" He asserted, "The day our government comes to power at the Centre, we will clear everything."
It is important, however, to note, that the Maoists do not specifically target any particular political party. They identify particular individuals as inimical to their activities, and carry out such killings to energize discouraged cadres and reinforce their diminishing impact. Statements of collusion with the ruling party in Chhattisgarh have not been borne out in the past, and are likely false in the present as well.
Meanwhile, according to a February 15, 2023, report, in the wake of the killings of party leaders and functionaries in the Bastar region, the Police have urged political leaders to provide advance details of their travel plans in the Maoist-affected areas, so that necessary security can be provided. In a meeting of all political parties organised by the Bastar Police on February 14, 2023, Sundarraj P., Inspector General of Police (IGP), Bastar Range, stated, “The meeting was to sensitise the office bearers of the political parties about the safety protocol to be followed during political rallies/meetings/movement in the Naxal-affected areas.”
Further, on February 16, 2023, Chhattisgarh Director General of Police (DGP) Ashok Juneja wrote a letter to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) requesting it to initiate a probe into the killings of public representatives in the Bastar region.
Maoist violence has declined sharply across the country due to continuous efforts and sacrifices by the SFs. Challenges of the crisis of capacities and capabilities in governance and security persist, and require attention in the Maoist-affected regions. It is, moreover, imperative that the issue of political distrust and incompetence be addressed, in order to create the environment that would enable a complete resolution of the Maoist problem. The lack of trust and opportunistic politics and posturing by the ruling establishment and the opposition parties could provide an impetus to rebel activities, and tends to undermine the efforts of the SFs and the civil administration in the trouble areas.