The son of an Indian Central Reserve Police Force officer lights his funeral pyre in Sathiala village, 45km from Amritsar, on April 25, 2017. Raghbir Singh was killed in an attack by about 300 Maoists in Chhattisgarh. He was one of 25 troops killed in an ambush. They were security for the building of a new road opposed by the Maoists. Photo: AFP/ Narinder Nanu

Five militants from the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-M) have been killed in recent encounters with the police in India’s eastern Odisha state, according to reports by the Delhi-based website South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP).

On May 13, four CPI-M activists, including two women, were killed and another militant died in an encounter with police the following day. The police reportedly captured eight assault rifles from the militants and all the activists belonged to the same Odisha-based CPI-M division of guerrilla fighters.

According to data collected by SATP, that particular unit is responsible for a number of attacks in the state, including the killing of a civilian contractor on February 16.

Meanwhile, seven security personnel were killed by an improvised explosive device that blew up their vehicle as they passed through a village in Dantewada district in neighboring Chhatisgarh on Sunday May 20. The men were on a patrol in the remote area.

Maoist rebels snatched automatic rifles after the attack, police sources said.

Over 700 killed in Odisha in last decade

During the decade from February 2008 to May 2018, Odisha had a total of 712 fatalities, nearly half of whom (310) were civilians, while 189 came from the security forces and 213 were Maoists. 

More than 600 people were killed in the whole country in Maoist-related violence in 2016-2017. Most Maoist fighters are equipped with weapons looted from government armories or smuggled in from Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The CPI-M was founded in September 2004 through a merger of two other Maoist groups. It is active mainly in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jarkhand, Telengana, Maharashtra and West Bengal. Many of its combatants come from downtrodden tribal groups in those states while the leaders are mostly intellectual ideologues.

The total armed strength of the Maoist rebels is estimated at around 8,000 and their aim is to overthrow the Indian government and replace it with a communist regime.

The CPI-M has not managed to garner any significant support outside the tribal belt in central India where it is active, but there are reports suggesting that it is trying to establish footholds in India’s volatile northeast, mainly in tribal districts of Assam and perhaps also Manipur.