Pushed on the back foot and confined to a limited forest "patch", Maoist insurgents are desperate for a "big catch" ahead of assembly polls in Chhattisgarh to get wider publicity, security experts and police officials here say.
Five states will witness staggered polling over the next one-and-half months, starting on November 12 from Chhattisgarh's Bastar, the nerve centre of Maoist militancy in India.
Spread over about 40,000 sq km, the iron-ore rich, tribal-dominated and heavily-forested Bastar region has 12 assembly seats. It has been the hideout of top Maoist militants since the late 1980s. The central government has deployed roughly 55,000 paramilitary troopers in Bastar to team up with 25,000 state policemen to eliminate the Maoists.
"Maoists are fighting for their survival in Bastar. Their area of dominance has shrunk significantly, but during the busy election season they want to produce some shock results with a big catch either of politicians, bureaucrats, security personnel, polling parties or media persons who are now flooding Bastar unprotected to cover the elections," a top officer of the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) told IANS.
Others too agree that the Maoists are struggling. "The Maoists are facing their worst days in Bastar. Their recruitment has entirely dried up, the arms supply network has been cut off and, most importantly, the ageing Maoist leaders are suffering from serious diseases and are thus unable to keep the violent movement alive," said Brigadier B.K. Ponwar (retd), director of the Bastar-based Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College (CTJWC).
"The people of Bastar have shunned Maoists. Security forces trained to counter guerrilla warfare have turned the heat on them and the government has taken development to the extreme interiors so Maoists are now looking for soft targets to send out a message that they are still active in Bastar," added Ponwar, whose institution has trained over 34,000 paramilitary and state policemen in the past 14 years in Bastar to "fight a guerrilla like a guerrilla".
Candidates of the political parties who are contesting from the 12 seats of the Bastar region, which is made up of seven districts, have largely kept out of Maoist pockets of influence while campaigning.
Even the star campaigners of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the main opposition Congress have been strongly advised by security agencies to stay out of the extreme interiors and inform the police well in advance while meeting with the local people to seek votes.
Union Minister and BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad too abandoned his scheduled poll campaign in Dantewada district on Oct 29 in the wake of fresh intelligence reports suggesting that Maoists are desperate for "bigger incidents".
Candidates of political parties have hired their own security guards to accompany them on the election campaign in Bastar, policemen in civies are deployed at the venues of their public meetings.
Just how real the threat is was evident on Tuesday when a Maoist ambush killed Doordarshan cameraman Achyuta Nanda Sahu and two policemen in Dantewada district, which is a part of Bastar.
Two other police personnel and a journalist also sustained injuries in the ambush, the second in the last four days, that took place around 11.20 a.m. when a Doordarshan crew was moving with a security patrol for coverage in Aranpur area, Deputy Inspector General of Police P. Sundarraj told the media in Raipur.
(With inputs from agencies.)