Government hits back
Maoist rebels at a memorial for those killed in police encounters in the Nallamalla forest, south of Hyderabad.
THE ban imposed on the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and its seven front organisations in the wake of the August 15 killing of Congress Member of the Legislative Assembly C. Narsi Reddy and 10 others in Narayanpet has had no effect on the scale of naxalite activities in Andhra Pradesh. Yet, it has helped send out a clear signal to the Maoists and their sympathisers that the Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy government will deal with them firmly.
Within days of the imposition of the ban, the police intensified anti-naxalite operations. They arrested former Maoist emissaries in the peace talks, Varavara Rao and G. Kalyan Rao, under provisions of the Andhra Pradesh Public Security Act, which was revived. The two obtained bail but continue to languish in jail as the government has reopened several old cases against them.
At the field level, nearly half of the 40 units of the crack commando forces - the Greyhounds - are being deployed to flush out extremists from their forest hideouts. Each unit has 20 to 25 commandos who are well trained in guerilla warfare. In addition, special parties of the district police have been combing the forests though without any success as their knowledge of the terrain is not as sound as that of the naxalites. Moreover, the inhospitable terrain across the border in Orissa and the Nallamala forests in Mahbubnagar, Kurnool, Prakasam and Guntur districts give the Maoists an edge. On the other hand, Maoist activity in north Telangana, once the hotbed of the movement, is on the wane.
The police say that the number of extremists has come down from 1,200 to 850 since the breakdown of the October 2004 peace talks. Maoists used the lull during the peace talks to recruit cadre but found the level of commitment of the recruits low. Meanwhile, the police strengthened their network of informants in the villages during the talks, a strategy that paid off.
The police have been able to eliminate several militants in a series of encounters since January. A number of youth deserted the CPI (Maoist) or surrendered to the police. Over 600 extremists gave themselves up while another 500 were arrested.
The CPI (Maoist) has six military platoons, 28 area committees, 66 local guerilla squads and 16 action teams. The six platoons, each with 25 men and women, are given the responsibility of taking up activities in Warangal-Khammam, Nalgonda, Guntur, Anantapur, East Godavari-Visakhapatnam and the Nallamala Forest Division.
Renewed naxalite violence and encounters since January have claimed about 300 lives. The dead included 62 political activists and 92 persons the extremists suspected to be informants. Thirty-one of them belonged to the Congress, 22 to the Telugu Desam Party, and three to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The naxalites suffered 122 casualties (which includes 74 Maoists and 22 Janashakti cadre) in 70 encounters. In Warangal district alone 42 extremists were killed in encounters. The killing of Karimnagar (West) district committee secretary, Ramesh, a district committee member, three commanders and five others in an encounter at Manala in Nizamabad district on March 7 dealt a big blow to the Maoists. Ten days later, in another encounter, the organisation lost its Warangal district committee secretary and a North Telangana special zonal committee member D.V.K. Swamy alias Yadanna and three others.
The Singareni Karmika Samkhya (SIKASA), a front organisation of the CPI (Maoist) in the coal belt, which was revived during the peace process, had two of its secretaries killed in encounters in Karimnagar and Adilabad districts.
The Maoists also lost public sympathy when they massacred eight villagers of Vempenta in Kurnool district on March 1. Intervening in a dispute between two sections in the village, they hacked to death members of the upper castes.
As part of their offensive, the police selectively leaked to the Maoist leadership letters written by Varavara Rao in which he had criticised G. Kalyan Rao, Revolutionary Writers' Association (Virasam) president, and balladeer Gadar. Varavara Rao made amends by saying that he wrote them without verifying the facts.
The ban on the Maoists was not without political colour. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), a former constituent in the coalition government in the State, opposed the ban. Its president and Union Labour Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao called on Varavara Rao and Kalyan Rao who are lodged in the Chanchalguda jail in Hyderabad. Writers, poets and intellectuals have protested against the ban on Virasam, alleging that its members were being harassed, a claim that was countered by the police.
The killing of the MLA virtually put the seal on any chance of revival of the peace talks and also caused the emergence of `vigilante' groups. At least three such groups, Narsi Cobras, Kakatiya Cobras and Nallamala Black Cobras, have issued threats to individual rights activists.
Narsi Cobras released a list of 35 targets, including Varavara Rao, Kalyan Rao and Gadar, to avenge the MLA's death. Within a week of the release of the list, K. Kanakachari, a schoolteacher who figured in it, was hacked to death near Mahbubnagar town. Subsequently, the list grew in size with the inclusion of persons who attended the funeral of Kanakachari.
The police have denied any knowledge of the identity of the Cobras. But mass organisations allege that they are the creation of the police to use renegades against naxalite sympathisers.