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Naxalite Mayhem in Nayagarh

Nihar R Nayak is Research Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • February 28, 2008

    In a meticulously planned offensive, reminiscent of the February 2004 attack at Koraput in Orissa, around 360 highly trained armed cadres belonging to the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) also known as Naxalites, including women cadres, carried out simultaneous attack on district armory, police training school armory, and the police stations of Nayagarh town, Nuagoan, Dasapalla and the Mahipur police outpost in Nayagarh district in Orissa. Nearly 15 police personnel including a civilian were killed and 5 others injured in the attack. The attack was allegedly planned by the Central Military Commission of the CPI-Maoists and executed with active coordination of Bansadhra division of Orissa State committee.

    The rebels approached the town from two directions with all available vehicles including cargo trucks, bus, Jeeps and motorbikes. Before the attack, they had disconnected all communication lines, disrupted power supply and blocked all entry points to the town. Eyewitness sources informed that before launching the attack, the Naxalites asked the people to stay indoors, making it clear that their intention was to decamp with huge arms and ammunitions. The Naxalites seized around 1, 200 arms including 500 .303 rifle, 400 Insas rifles, 3 light machine guns, 20 AK-47s and 70 self-loading rifles. The seizure also included more than one lakh bullets from armory and police stations in five trucks and a bus which they had hijacked. The naxalites virtually siege the town for two hours by blocking all entry roads, including National Highway 224, to the Nayagarh town. Adequately armed, the rebels were believed to have retreated in separate directions to nearest wildlife sanctuaries like Satkosia and Sunabeda in the west, Mahanadi Bisapally and Balukhand sanctuary in south-west and south.

    Though Nayagarh district had been unaffected by the Naxalite, they are relatively active in neighbouring Gajapati and parts of Kandhamal district. However, in 2006 a local news paper reported about a possible Maoists movement in the Nayagarh forests. In fact, the Naxalites had sent a message to the then District Magistrate on possible attacks in the district in 2005. The district police, however, did not pay attention. Nayagarh is the home town of the CPI-Maoist Orissa State Committee secretary, Sabysachi Panda. Despite all ominous signs, the district administration failed to anticipate any Naxalite attack on the police stations and armory.

    The events of 15 February indicate that a well entrenched Maoist ‘sleeper armed squad’ was operational in Nayagarah for a long time. The anatomy of the attack prove that the Maoist have changed their strategy by not undertaking any prior attacks in a particular area where they want to procure arms and funds. Since the affected states have decided to disarm police stations located in interior areas, Maoists have begun targeting only those police stations that have arms cache. As a result, such attacks are on expected lines. Clearly, the rebels were aware of the deployment of the security forces on Assembly duty. The Naxalites have even penetrated the intelligence system with their sympathisers. These sympathisers might have purposefully leaked the Assembly duty information to the Naxalites. This indicates that the Naxalites have carefully studied the force deployment of the Orissa police with the knowledge that Nayagarh district, earlier with Bhubaneswar, is now under the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), Cuttack. The distance between the reserve battalion located in Cuttack city and Nayagarh made the task easy for the Naxalites.

    The incident puts the spotlight on the police force. Such a calibrated attack requires coordinated planning, probably spanning a month. Since there were no reports of any squads operating in the district, Maoist sympathisers, in all probability, would have played a key role in collating social and strategic information like class and caste structure of the local people, roads, forests, presence of staffs in the police stations, locations of police stations, sentry position, building structure, inventory of armory and its locations. Interestingly, unlike the Koraput attack, the Maoist did not take the help of militia. On the other hand, the use of transport vehicles throughout the operations was quite alarming. The Maoists also applied divergent tactics by engaging security forces in arranging of fake meetings and training camps in Gajapati, Malkangiri and Koraput.

    The Naxalites are extending their reach to coastal districts after consolidating position in southern and northern districts in Orissa. The Nayagarh incident not only demonstrates the enormous inefficiency of the State machinery but also points to an emergence of a new mobile warfare strategy in other Naxal affected states too. One important aspect of the attack was the complete dominance of the armed squads with practically no help from the militia. The looted arms will in all likelihood be used in new areas like the Dandkaranya region. It is to be noted that the movement has been sustained for more than 40 years with poor governance, weak federal laws and lack of political will strongly contributing to its growth. Unless a balanced development plan is formulated taking into account the democratic institutions, human development and security agencies, the problem would remain unresolved.