Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Andhra Pradesh: Down but not out

in Hyderabad

The police crackdown on naxalites has brought down their number in Andhra Pradesh but not their ability to strike.

THE MAOISTS ADMIT that the party has become weak militarily in the Nallamala forest, spread over four districts. A file picture.

NAXALITES in Andhra Pradesh are down but not out. The police offensive in 2005 following the failure of the peace talks in late 2004 has diminished their number considerably but not their capacity to strike. They demonstrated this on September 7 when the Maoists attacked the convoy of former Chief Minister Nedurmalli Janardhana Reddy and his wife, N. Rajyalakshmi, who is the State Minister for Women Development and Child Welfare, in Nellore. Janardhana Reddy was high on the Maoists' hit list ever since he set the police after the erstwhile People's War leaders when he was Chief Minister from December 1990 to October 1992.

The naxals triggered a landmine near Vidyanaga, about 55 km from Nellore, when the couple were on their way to Tirupati where Reddy was to receive an honorary doctorate from Sri Venkateswara University. The explosive device, planted under a culvert on the road, was triggered a few seconds after their car passed the spot. While they escaped narrowly, three people in a car behind theirs were killed and several others were injured.

The police claim that the number of naxalites who carry weapons is about 400 now as against 1,100 in 2004 when the Congress government initiated the peace process. The number was a couple of hundred more during the previous Telugu Desam regime.

The attack on Janardhana Reddy is an indication that the naxals are trying to recover lost ground after the failed peace talks. A document gathered by the police recently after a meeting of the highest body of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) says, "We began to suffer losses soon after the breakdown of talks in 2004. Fortification of all police stations, multilayered in many cases, in all our areas of armed struggle is making it difficult to inflict serious losses on our enemy. We did not adopt the correct tactics to counter the enemy offensive in time. We suffered the heaviest losses in Andhra Pradesh part [meaning Rayalaseema, the extensive Nallamala forest and south Telangana] during the enemy's action plan since November 2005. This led to a gradual decline of the movement, finally resulting in a temporary setback in the State as a whole."

The document blamed the leadership in charge of all the zones of the State for the failure of the Maoist movement. The Maoist organisational structure for the State has three zones: AP State committee area, North Telangana Special Zone and Andhra-Orissa Border (AOB). Each enjoys the status of an independent State committee.

The Intelligence Bureau of the Union Home Ministry concurred with the Maoists' view that they had been pushed back in the State. One of its reports said naxalite violence declined drastically in 2006. "The number of incidents declined by over 65 per cent and the killings by 78 per cent. The violent activities by other Naxalite groups also registered a sharp decline," it says.

Contrary to the claims of the security agencies, the Maoists said that though the party had become weak militarily in the Nallamala forest, spread over four districts, the AP State committee area and North Telangana, their overall presence in the State had improved. In fact, cadre recruitment was on in North Telangana, particularly Warangal and Karimnagar, they said.


OCTOBER 2004: NAXALITE leaders Ramakrishna and Sudhakar with the Andhra Pradesh government delegation led by Home Minister K. Jana Reddy, on the first day of peace talks in Hyderabad.

The cadre was intact in the AOB. Varavara Rao, one of the three representatives of the Maoists (then People's War) in the peace talks, admitted to setbacks in Andhra Pradesh, but said their overall strength had grown as they had expanded their activities to16 States. The cadre's morale was high particularly after the attacks on police camps in Chhattisgarh and the blockades organised in June against Special Economic Zones in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar, he said.

The party withdrew its armed squads in the forest areas for tactical reasons, and its activities were now run by mass organisations whose influence on the people was huge, he said. The party had shifted its military programme from one of carrying out guerrilla warfare to that of mass attacks with the participation of thousands of militia, Varavara Rao added.

The period from July 2004 to January 2005 could be likened to a "golden era" in the recent history of the Maoist movement, comparable only to the "liberal era" during the chief ministership of M. Channa Reddy in the late 1980s. The extremists procured arms and recruited cadre in a big way. They were also accused of amassing wealth from extortions. After the peace talks from October 14 to 18, 2004, a view emerged that the naxalites wanted a second round of negotiations to consolidate their position, but the police restrained the government.

The talks turned the tide against the naxalites as the police were subsequently able to penetrate their most secret hideouts, especially those in the Nallamala forest. Considered impregnable in the past two decades because of its hostile and unbelievably long terrain, the forest has hardly any naxalite activity now. A 100-member naxalite team led by Ramakrishna had emerged and retreated into the Nallamala forest when they participated in the talks.

In 2004, the year of the talks, naxal violence was minimal. About 130 people were killed in the months preceding the peace process. In comparison, 326 people were killed in 2003, 374 in 2005, 191 in 2006 and 55 until September 2 in 2007. Aided by a network of informants, the police cracked down on the extremists in 2006. Maoist sympathisers concede that the informant network and covert operations using renegade naxalites indeed helped the police eliminate several extremists.

Surrendered naxalites helped police flush out extremists. They even provided the stage for the police to finish their job at Gadidagandla near Manthani in Karimnagar and Manala in Nizamabad, said Varavara Rao. Fourteen extremists, including a district committee secretary, two district committee members and three squad leaders, were poisoned by the renegades before the arrival of the Greyhounds, the anti-naxalite police force, he alleged.

The Maoists see no difference between the Telugu Desam and the Congress government. They said 2,000 party cadre were killed in the nine-and-a-half-year rule of the TDP and 250 died during the three years of the Congress government. Among the top cadre killed since the breakdown of talks were two central committee and six state committee members. Rao alleged that one of the central committee members, Wadkapur Chandramouli, and his wife, Vijayalaxmi, were picked up in Jamshedpur and killed in a fake encounter in Visakhapatnam in December last year.

The police admitted that four districts in the State – Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram, Srikakulam and East Godavari – and four in Orissa – Malkangiri, Koraput, Raigada and Gajapati – were still problem areas from the standpoint of naxalite activity.

The AOB area is now led by Modem Balakrishna, who was released from jail a decade ago on the basis of a court order that caused ripples in police circles. He upstaged Sudhakar, one of three top Maoist leaders, to participate in peace talks in his capacity as the AOB secretary. Not surprisingly, the combing operations of the police are focussed in the AOB areas.

Recently, a Greyhounds party was alleged to have raped 11 tribal women at Vakapalli village in Visakhapatnam district during a search operation. The incident hit the headlines as the High Court and the State Human Rights Commission took up the case.

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