By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On February 5, 2017, a group of about four to six armed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres shot dead a tribal, identified as Parsika Pullaiah (40), at Alligudem village under Chintooru mandal (administrative unit) in East Godavari District. When the villagers tried to prevent the Maoists from killing Pullaiah, they were reportedly told, the Maoists would not spare any ‘informer’. This is the lone Naxal [Left Wing Extremism (LWE)]-linked violent incident reported in the State thus far in 2017 (data till February 12).
Indeed, the security situation in the State in terms of LWE violence has improved considerably over the past years, and these gains have been further consolidated through 2016. Significantly, the State recorded lowest number of civilian fatalities (five) in such violence since 1968, when three civilians were killed, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database. The highest ever civilian fatalities in LWE-linked violence in Andhra Pradesh stood at 218 in 1991.
Significantly, as in 2015, there was no fatality among Security Forces (SFs) in 2016, though the number of Left Wing Extremists (LWEs) killed increased from two in 2015 to five in 2016. The highest ever fatalities, at 56, among SF personnel were registered way back in 1992, while LWEs had suffered their maximum loss, 275, in 1998. The dramatic decline in fatalities in both these categories clearly suggests that the Maoists are no more on the offensive in the State and have their backs to the wall. SFs also arrested 17 LWEs through 2016, in addition to 44 such arrests in 2015. Continuing SF pressure resulted in the surrender of 26 LWEs in 2016, in addition to 133 in 2015.
Other parameters of violence were also indicative of significant gains. According to data provided by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), LWE-linked incidents in Andhra Pradesh decreased from 35 in 2015 to 17 in 2016. The State reported 577 such incidents in 2003.
There was no major incident (involving three or more fatalities) of civilian killing through 2016, as in the preceding two years (SATP data). The last such incident took place on February 19, 2013, when three tribals were killed by the Maoists in the Lakkavaram Forest area in G.K. Veedhi mandal in Visakhapatnam District.
The Maoists were involved in at least four incidents of exchange of fire with SFs in 2016, as against eight such incidents in 2015. There was just one attack on an economic target through 2016, as compared to five such attacks in 2015. Further, the Maoists were able to organise only one Praja court (Kangaroo Court) in 2016, in Visakhapatnam District; as against two in 2015. The Maoists gave bandh (total shut down) calls on three occasions in 2016, as against six such calls in 2015.
Unsurprisingly, on December 31, 2016, stating that Left Wing Extremism had declined to an all-time low in Andhra Pradesh, the one-time stronghold of the Naxalite movement, Director General of Police (DGP) Nanduri Sambasiva Rao noted, “The Left Wing Extremism (LWE) ideology is losing relevance and the Andhra Pradesh Police has succeeded in controlling Naxalite activities in the State.”
A residual threat, nevertheless, lingers. The State recorded more incidents of civilian killing in 2016 as compared to 2015 – four in 2015 and five in 2016 – though civilian fatalities declined from six in 2015 to five in 2016. Moreover, civilian killings were reported from three Districts: Vishakhapatnam (three), Vizianagaram (one), and East Godavari (one) in 2016, as compared to two Districts: East Godavari (three) and Vishakhapatnam (three) in 2015. Indeed, DGP Rao acknowledged, on December 31, 2016, “Naxalite movements are continuing in Visakhapatnam Rural, East Godavari and Vizianagaram Districts.” The DGP also disclosed that 105 extremists were operating in the State, of whom 45 were from Andhra Pradesh and 60 from other States.
In the meantime, according to the latest data provided by the Bureau of Police Research and Development [BPR&D], as on January 1, 2016, the police-population ratio (policemen per hundred thousand population) in the State stood at precarious 95.74 per 100,000, as compared to a national average of 137.11 which is, itself, abysmally low. [Over 220 policemen per 100,000 population are considered necessary for ‘peacetime policing’]. At least 9,587 Police posts are vacant in the State, against a sanctioned strength of 59,174. Also, the sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State is 144, but just 124 officers were in position, considerably weakening decision-making in the Force.
Though the Andhra Pradesh Police has done incredibly well against the Maoists over the past decade , despite existing deficits, it is imperative for the Governments, both at the Central and State levels, to strengthen and improve the quality of the SFs, and resources available to address potential threats. Andhra Pradesh Districts that border the Maoist-affected areas of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Odisha, remain vulnerable to attacks from these relatively safe areas. The Maoists have demonstrated a historical tenacity that leaves no space whatsoever for complacence, especially since many proximate areas across the State boundary remain highly affected by the LWE threat.
* Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management