NEW DELHI: In a week from now, Chhattisgarh, the state most affected by Naxal violence, is about to go to first phase of Assembly polls. Massive security preparations have been in the works for months. But, the death of Doordarshan cameraman Achyutanand Sahu in a recent Naxal attack on security forces has shown that civilians continue to remain in the crosshairs of the Red extremists.
Statistics on Naxal violence in the poll-bound state shows that civilian casualties have risen here to a five-year high. This, despite two months remaining for this year to finish. Security experts say that the Maoists are desperate to get noticed and want to instill fear among locals in order to stop them from casting their votes.
According to the latest data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 43 civilians were killed in the state till September 23, this year. In 2013, when the last Assembly elections were held in Chhattisgarh, the state saw killings of 48 civilians, including the murder of former state minister Mahendra Karma and then state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel.
With two months left for the year to end, sources say that 2018 may even set a dubious record of highest civilian casualties in the last eight years. Prior to 2013, the maximum civilian killing — 72 — were recorded in the year 2010, which also saw one of the deadliest Maoist attacks in the Dantewada district, when 74 security men were killed.
“The influence areas of Maoists are dwindling, their leadership is getting old and they are hardly able to get educated people to lend credibility to their ideology. So, they are desperate to get attention and that is why there has been an increase in civilian casualties. And because they are against elections, one will always notice a jump in Maoist attacks in the election year,” said a retired director general of CRPF, the paramilitary force which is deployed to combat the Maoists.
Candidates of political parties contesting from the 12 seats of the Bastar, the region worst hit by Maoist violence, have largely kept out of Maoist pockets of influence while campaigning. The government, however, has been claiming a decline in Maoist violence. Earlier this year, 44 districts in the country were removed from the list of Maoist-hit regions and there were only 30 districts on the worst-hit list.
While there has been an increase in civilian casualties, killings of security personnel have seen a slight dip compared to last year. From 59 last year, the figure of casualty of security men has come down to 44. Since 2005, a total of 815 civilians and 1,009 security personnel have been killed by Maoists, according to SATP.