On November 17, 2023, an Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) trooper was killed in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast triggered by Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres near Bade Gobra village under the Mainpur Police Station area in the Gariyaband District of Chhattisgarh. The incident took place when a polling team escorted by Security Force (SF) personnel was returning after the voting was over in the Bindranawagarh Assembly constituency in Gariyaband District.
On November 14, 2023, a villager (farmer), identified as Doge Ram Timmav, who was injured in an encounter between the Maoists and SFs during combing operations in the forest of Uliya in Kanker District on November 7, succumbed to his injuries. The operation took place when voting for the first phase of the Assembly elections was going on.
On November 7, 2023, a Border Security Force (BSF) constable, Prakash Chandra Sewal (36), who was injured in an IED blast near Rengagondi village under Chhotebethiya Police Station limits in Kanker District on November 6, died. The blast took place when SFs were on their way to set up a polling booth. Two polling officials were also injured in the blast.
On November 4, 2023, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Ratan Dubey, who was on a campaign trail, was hacked to death with sharp-edged weapons by the Maoists in the market area of Kaushalnar village under Jhargati Police Station limits in Narayanpur District. Dubey was the vice president of the BJP’s Narayanpur unit. He was campaigning for Kedar Kashyap, who was contesting from the Narayanpur Assembly seat against Indian National Congress (INC) leader Chandan Kashyap.
On November 1, 2023, Maoists abducted and killed three villagers at Chhotebethiya village under Pakhanjur Police Station limits in Kanker District, accusing them of working for the Police of the neighbouring Maharashtra State. The victims – Kulle Katlam (35), Manoj Kovachi (22), and Dugge Kovachi (27) – were abducted from Chhotebethiya village in Pakhanjur, around 250 kilometres from Raipur. This region is close to the Gadchiroli District in Maharashtra. Maoist leaflets found on the scene accused the trio of being informers for C-60, the Maharashtra Police anti-Maoist force.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), in seven Maoist-linked incidents of killing, at least seven civilians, two SF personnel and three Maoists, were killed between October 13, 2023, the date of notification of the Assembly elections in the state, and November 17, the polling date for the second phase. During this period, apart from these incidents of killing, another four violent incidents (all explosions), were also reported. There was a total of 14 Maoist-linked incidents during this period.
The two-phase elections were held in the state on November 7 and November 17, 2023, The counting of votes is scheduled to take place on December 3, 2023.
During the last state Legislative Assembly elections held between October 16, 2018, the date of notification, and November 20, 2018, the polling date for the second phase, 17 Maoist-linked incidents of killing were recorded, in which at least 33 fatalities were recorded (nine civilians, 10 SF personnel and 14 Maoists). During this period, apart from these killing incidents, five more violent incidents (all incidents of explosion), were also reported.
This time as well, the Maoists issued regular threats and called for a boycott of the elections. Among others, on November 1, 2023, a Maoist press note apparently issued by the 'West Bastar Division Committee' of the CPI-Maoist, which included a warning for polling officials, surfaced in Bijapur District: declaring, inter alia,
Polling is going to be held in the area (Bijapur) on November 7, and you (poll officials and employees) are preparing for it. The West Bastar Division Committee has already issued a statement giving a call to boycott the false elections. Bijapur has 245 polling booths, and you will be coming with EVMs on November 6-7. You will be accompanied by security forces that pose a threat to your lives. Therefore, we appeal to you, keeping your safety in mind, that you should not come.
On October 31, 2023, calling for a boycott of elections in the villages of Sukma, Narayanpur, Kanker and other insurgency-hit regions, the Maoists painted village walls with similar messages of ‘life-threatening step for them’ in red colour. The Maoists also painted messages for poll boycott on the walls of a school in the Arampalli village of Sukma District.
In between, on October 25, 2023, the CPI-Maoist ‘spokesperson’ of the ‘south sub-zonal bureau’, Samta, asked people to “chase away” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidates and oppose those from INC, the two major political parties. He accused both INC and BJP of “giving in to corporate houses”, “fomenting communal and religious hatred”, and exploiting tribals in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, and Odisha. Interestingly, both theses political parties – BJP and INC – have blamed each other of conniving with the Maoists to target the members/supporters, each of the other. Indeed, since January 2023, at least seven political leaders/members of the BJP have been killed in the state in Maoist violence. Moreover, the convoy of INC’s Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Vikram Mandavi was attacked by the Maoists on the outskirts of Bijapur town in Bijapur District on April 18, 2023. However, no casualty was reported. It is pertinent to recall here, that 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 the Sukma District of Chhattisgarh. Five INC leaders, eight INC workers, and eight SF personnel were among the 29 the persons killed. The BJP's Raman Singh was then Chief Minister in the state.
Between 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 targeted Maoist attacks across India.
Despite the violence orchestrated by the Maoists, as well as threats and calls for boycott of elections, at least 68.15 per cent of registered voters cast their vote during the second phase of Elections held on November 17, 2023, in 70 Assembly constituencies spread over 22 districts in the State. These 22 Districts included Balrampur-Ramanujganj, Bilaspur, Dhamtari, Durg, Bemetara, Gariyaband, Gaurela-Pendra-Marwahi, Jashpur, Janjgir-Champa, Manendragarh-Chirmiri-Bharatpur, Korba, Koriya, Mahasamund, Balod, Baloda Bazar-Bhatapara, Mungeli, Raipur, Raigarh, Sakti, Sarangarh-Bhilaigarh, Surajpur and Surguja. During the 2018 Assembly Polls, at least 76.34 per cent voters had cast their vote during the second phase Elections held on November 20, 2018, in 72 Assembly seats spread across 19 Districts comprises of Balrampur, Bilaspur, Dhamtari, Durg, Bemetara, Gariyaband, Jashpur, Janjgir-Champa, Kabirdham, Korba, Koriya, Mahasamund, Balod, Baloda Bazar, Mungeli, Raipur, Raigarh, Surajpur and Surguja.
The first phase of polling was held on November 7, 2023, in 20 Assembly constituency seats spread across 11 districts – Bastar, Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Sukma, Kondagaon, Kanker, Rajnandgaon, Mohla-Manpur-Ambagarh Chowki, Kabirdham, and Khairagarh-Chhuikhadan-Gandai. The first phase recorded a comparable 70.87 per cent polling. During the 2018 Assembly Polls, 18 Assembly constituencies recorded a 76.39 per cent voter turnout in the first phase. These 18 constituencies mostly fell within the perilous 'Bastar Division’ of Chhattisgarh, where the Maoists retain much of their residual capacities and operational capabilities.
Significantly, the average voter turnout stood at 69.51 per cent after the completion of both phases of the 2023 Assembly elections. In 2018, Chhattisgarh had recorded an overall 76.35 per cent polling. The voting per centage in state assembly elections was at 77 per cent in 2013, 70.66 per cent in 2008 and 71.3 per cent in 2003. The voter turnouts in elections – both during the period when the Maoist violence was at its peak (367 fatalities in 2007) in the state and now when it is dwindling (74 fatalities in 2023, till November 19) – clearly suggest strong voter participation and a lack of support to the Maoists over the decades.
The Maoist movement has been substantially contained, though it retains its remaining strength principally in Chhattisgarh, and within the state, in the Bastar Division. SF operations are gradually consolidating dominance, but the problem persists, albeit at a level far below the peak of the insurgency. SFs have more than done their job, and political initiatives are now necessary to bring the insurgency to a final conclusion. Regrettably, there is little evidence that this course will be adopted in the proximate future, especially by the ideology driven right-wing Government at the Centre, whose intercession would be necessary for any headway in such a process.