Philippines-trained Maoist commander Madvi Hidma was the mastermind of the April 3 attack in central India’s Chhattisgarh state, security officials said. The communist rebels are believed to have laid a trap for security forces by releasing ‘false intelligence’.
At least 22 troopers were killed in the gunfight with as many as 400 Left-wing guerrillas in a hilly forest region, one of the deadliest encounters in recent years.
One security personnel has been taken hostage by the rebels, who said they were ready to negotiate with the government for his release.
The issue of possible intelligence failure is reportedly being examined thoroughly by Indian security agencies although the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) chief Kuldeep Singh ruled this out while speaking to The Indian Express.
Reports suggest that a decision has been made to rope in the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) to enhance intelligence gathering on the Maoist activities in the region. NTRO is a technical intelligence agency that functions under the supervision of India’s National Security Advisor.
NTRO will coordinate with other security agencies in the ongoing anti-Maoist operations called ‘Prahar’ (meaning assault) in central and parts of southern and western India.
There is speculation that Maoist commander Hidma may have deliberately released “false intelligence” giving a vague idea to the forces about the number of cadres present in the area.
According to India Today online, a joint task force of the Chhattisgarh Police’s District Reserve Guard (DRG) and Special Task Force (STF) along with CRPF’s special CoBRA commandos has been engaged in anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region for the past few days.
On ground visuals from the site of Naxal attack at Sukma-Bijapur border in Chhattisgarh; 22 security personnel have lost their lives in the attack pic.twitter.com/sVCoyXIRwN
— ANI (@ANI) April 4, 2021
Among those killed on April 3 included eight DRG personnel, 6 STF and 7 CoBRA commandos and one trooper from CRPF’s Bastariya Battalion. Out of 31 who suffered injuries, the condition of 13 was stated to be critical as of April 5.
Security forces claimed 25-30 casualties on the Maoist side, but it could not be independently verified as the rebels took away the bodies of their comrades before fleeing the scene.
A ‘Well-Planned Ambush’
The April 3 anti-Maoist operation was carried out acting on a tip-off that a group of 50-60 rebels led by Hidma was hiding in a particular location in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district. Another report says more than 150 People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) cadres were waiting to ambush the security forces in an area between Sukma and Bijapur in the state.
The PLGA is the military wing of the proscribed Communist Party of India (Maoist).
Following the intelligence inputs, a combined team of CoBRA, DRG and STF was rushed to the spot. Additional teams were reportedly deployed to attack other possible Maoist hideouts in the area.
As soon as the security forces entered the Red zone, they were fired upon from different directions. The assault was sudden and intense leaving the troops with limited scope to retaliate effectively.
CRPF Director-General Kuldeep Singh later confirmed that the assault was carried out by 400 Naxals who “surprised and ambushed” the security forces in a U-shaped trap. Calling it a “well-planned” attack, Singh said that the Maoists used light machine guns (LMGs), crude rockets, small improvised explosive devices (IEDs) among other weapons.
Hidma, The Elusive Maoist Commander
Security officials said 38-year-old elusive Maoist commander Madvi Hidma, who reportedly carries a bounty of Rs 4 million on his head, was the mastermind of this ambush. The episode highlights how the Left-wing rebels have improved their tactical and combat skills over the years.
Hidma reportedly received guerilla warfare training from militant groups in the Philippines. He planned and executed several attacks in the past.
Hidma, the commander of the PLGA Battalion 1 (Bastar), is said to be the frontrunner for a top post in the organization. According to a Firstpost report, the current Maoist chief Nambala Keshav Rao alias Basava Raju, also heads the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the banned outfit. There is speculation that Raju would relinquish the CMC post and is looking for a leader with superior combat and strategic skills to replace him.
A video has surfaced of a Maoist party in Chhattisgarh taking three of its guerrillas for last rites. These are believed to have been killed in the Minpa encounter in March last year. 17 police personnel died in this fight. pic.twitter.com/QusZVGpt7M
— Rahul Pandita (@rahulpandita) February 22, 2021
The report says if Hidma manages to succeed 63-year-old Raju as the next CMC chief, he would be the first tribal in the Indian Maoist history to secure this top role.
But bagging the top post is easier said than done given there are several contenders for the role including R Srinivas alias Ramanna, P Tirupathi alias Devji, K Sudarshan alias Anand and M Venugopal alias Sonu alias Bhupathi (brother of ex-Naxal leader Kishanji), according to the Firstpost report.
Founded in 2004, CPI (Maoist) is an offshoot of the now-defunct People’s War Group. The Left-wing extremism, or Naxalism which aims to overthrow the government through an “armed people’s movement” has its root in the peasant uprising in West Bengal’s Naxalbari in the 1960s.
As many as 60 districts in eight Indian states have been affected by Maoist violence, which is considered India’s biggest internal security threat. According to government data, out of 670 incidents in 2019, 463, or 69%, occurred in the tribal-dominated Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand states. According to experts, lack of development and extreme poverty in these regions have fueled the growth of Left-wing extremism.