Hidma’s battalion operates in districts of South Bastar, Bijapur, Sukma and Dantewada, the epicenter of clashes between the Maoists and security forces.
Hidma is the shadowy, almost mythical commander of the Maoists Peoples Liberation Guerilla Army Battalion 1 and a member of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee that leads the Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh. Hidma’s battalion operates in districts of South Bastar, Bijapur, Sukma and Dantewada, the epicenter of clashes between the Maoists and security forces. From Tadmetla where 76 CRPF jawans were killed, to the Jhiram Ghati attack of 2013 which wiped out the Congress leadership in Chhattisgarh, to more recent attacks in Bhejji, Burkapal, Minpa and now Tarrem, the police say Hidma was present, and led the attacks in almost each and every one. He carries a reward of Rs 25 lakh on his head from the Chhattisgarh government, and Rs 20 lakh from other states and agencies.
On the personal front, details of Hidma’s life are very sketchy. There are photographs of him, but those are few and far between. He is between 35 and 45 years of age, wiry and slender, with a thin moustache, and carries an AK-47. What is clear is that he is a local tribal, born in Puverti village, deep in the jungles, under the Jagargunda police station limits, near the border of Bijapur and Sukma. Even his name and his aliases are often under a cloud of doubt. Some police documents show his first name as “Mandavi”, others as “Madvi”. For the police personnel on the ground though, he is simply Hidma, the man they must catch.
Why is Hidma important to the Maoist organisation?
Much of the extent of Hidma’s influence on the organisation is pieced together by journalists specialising in the field, and the security apparatus from the accounts of Maoists that have surrendered or have been arrested. They talk of almost two distinct identities. One is the commander and master executioner of attacks who has built his reputation on successfully carrying out the biggest casualties on the police. Multiple surrendered Maoists talk of his expertise not only in the planning of attacks, but also a growing understanding of technology, and anticipation of movement of movements of the security forces. They also talk of his calm when under fire — he is present during operations and speaks on equal terms with the cadre.
The second important element of Hidma’s identity, is what he means to the local cadre. Most of the top cadre of the Maoists in Chhattisgarh, from the Central Committee to even DKSZC secretary Sujata, are largely from Telangana. But the Maoist cadre that actually participate in these attacks are local adivasis, and Hidma is one of them, having risen through the ranks.
So much so, that there has been much chatter of elevating him to the Central Committee, or giving him complete charge of Dandakaranya after the death of Ramanna from illness. In that sense, Hidma is a folk hero for the Maoist cadre, and stories are built around him. One story that is popular among the Maoists, narrated to the police by surrendered cadre, is how despite being such a high profile catch, Hidma has gone to the Kistaram local bazaar in normal attire braving the heavy police deployment just to show his courage and raise morale. In the Maoist hierarchy, he still might be lower than Sujata or even Central Committee members, but his word is law.
Why is he such an important target for security forces?
Police officials say while the Maoists do impart training on ideology at the Bal Sangham level, continuing as a routine part of training as a Maoist cadre even later, the adivasi cadre is clearly less ideologically strong than the Maoist leadership coming largely from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. For them, Hidma is an inspiration, and if he were to leave the battleground, it would break the back of the organisation in the area.
Why is it so difficult to catch him?
Given his profile, security personnel tracking Hidma say he carries three rings of security in concentric circles. He stays away from the roads deep inside the jungles, moving with units of his battalion, unless he is emerging for an operation, always with a purpose. Having grown up in the jungles, and roamed around the area for many years, he has an intricate knowledge of the terrain and the demography, which makes him difficult to track.
The lack of phone networks in many parts of the jungles of Sukma, Bijaour and Dantewada means any human intelligence is always some days old. Even when the forces know where he will be, the lack of road networks means it takes very long to reach there, particularly because battalion 1 is the most weaponised of the Maoists, which is why the forces too have to carry heavy protective and offensive equipment that slows them down, especially traversing dense foliage, rivers, streams in the harsh summer.
Then there is the issue with the three-layer security, which means it has proven difficult to catch him unawares. Maoist spotters in the outer ring often spot the forces, and engage with fire, allowing Hidma to control the operation from close by, but unharmed, and eventually escape.
The police claim that once they did come close to Hidma. In June 2017, after two successive big attacks in Bhejji and Burkapal that left 38 jawans dead, the security forces launched a massive joint operation called Operation Prahaar, which aimed to engage with Maoists in Tondamarka, long thought of as unreachable and an ostensible Maoist “capital” in Sukma. The police claimed that between 7 and 18 were killed, they also suggested at the time that Hidma had been grievously hurt, even possibly killed, and was taken away in a tractor with gunshot wounds. Whether he was injured or not is still unanswered and the Maoists publicly denied this in Bastar, but we know now that Hidma is alive and kicking. And his future is central to the future of the conflict in Bastar