Raipur: For the first time in 20 years since Chhattisgarh became a state, the Maoist-hit Bastar region did not witness any hoisting of black flags on Independence Day, according to the state police. Senior police officers have claimed that this is an indication the Maoists are losing their hold over villagers, who have increasing confidence in the security forces and the government.
Until last year, the officers said, they would get reports of Maoists hoisting black flags in some of the 400 villages in the seven districts of Bastar that were considered their stronghold, but no such incident has come to light far this year. They say security forces’ persistent attempts to win the villagers’ confidence and their all-out offensive against Maoists has put the rebels on the defensive.
Another factor they point to is the development work done by the government in the past few years, combined with zero complaints about human rights violations in the last couple of years, which they claimed has detached villagers from the Maoist ideology.
Bastar’s Inspector General of Police Sundar Raj P. told ThePrint: “It’s true that no black flag hoisting was reported from any part of the Maoist areas on Independence Day. In the last few years, there has been a sharp decline in these kinds of activities. People in the interior villages of the erstwhile Maoist stronghold areas are also enthusiastically celebrating national festivals like Independence Day and Republic Day.
The IG, who heads anti-Maoist operations, added: “It is a positive development, which indicates strengthening of the bond between the villagers, local administration and security forces.”
Improvements in worst-hit districts
Abhishek Pallava, SP of Dantewada, said there are around 40-50 villages with a strong Naxal or Maoist presence in the district, but none of them reported the unfurling of black flags on 15 August.
“It’s a clear indication that the Maoists are losing their grip or popularity among villagers. Their cadre members are leaving. More than 100 of the 1,600 Naxalites identified have surrendered before the security forces in the past two and a half months. This is definitely a big positive change,” Pallava said.
In a significant development, he added, Dantewada’s Marjum village hoisted the Tricolour for the first time in 73 years Saturday, with the villagers showcasing their enthusiasm for Independence Day celebrations.
Another Maoist-hit district, Narayanpur, also reported zero black flags this year, said the police.
“Security forces are required to be more alert on 14 and 15 August every year as incidents of black flag-hoisting are reported during this period. But area nomination police and central security forces have been frequently visiting and helping the victims of Naxalites for the past two or three years,” said Narayanpur SP Mohit Garg.
“There have been no complaints of human rights violations against security forces in the past couple of years, and developmental works taken up by the local administration has been instrumental in helping villagers to shun Naxals,” he said.
Sukma SP Shalabh Kumar concurred. “There are several areas where Naxals now fear coming to villagers. They have also realised that many villages have slipped out of their hands in the past few years. There is perceptible change in the thinking of villagers,” he said.
“This was possible mainly for two reasons. One, area domination by security forces, and two, persistent interaction with the villagers to make them aware of the importance of not supporting Maoists,” said Kumar.