By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
In the most successful operation ever conducted by the Security Forces (SFs) against the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), since the formation of the outfit in September 2004, SFs killed at least 24 CPI-Maoist cadres in two successive encounters in the Bejingi forest area, between Ramgarh and Panasput, in the Malkangiri District of Odisha on October 24, 2016. One Greyhound [the elite anti-Maoist force of the Andhra Pradesh (AP) Police] commando, Mohammed Abu Bakar, was also killed during the operation, while another commando was injured. A large quantity of arms and ammunition, including four AK-47 rifles, 10.303 rifles, three Self-Loading Rifles (SLRs), two INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifles, and four SBBL (Smooth Bore Breech Loading) guns were recovered from the encounter site. Police also recovered about 50 kit bags, one laptop, INR 216,000 in cash and a large quantity of Maoist literature. Another four Maoists were killed during the subsequent combing operation in the same area on October 25. Two Maoists were also killed in the same area on October 27, yielding a total of 30 Maoists killed in a quick succession of SF operations in the region.
Following a tip-off about movement of the Maoists in the area which falls along the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha Border (AOB), Odisha Police sought the help of the AP Police and, subsequently, a combined team of AP Police, Greyhounds, Odisha Police Special Operations Group (SOG) and the District Volunteer Force (DVF, mostly comprising ex-service men) carried out the operation. Between 50 and 60 Maoists were reportedly holding a ‘plenary session’, which was also attended by the Maoist Central Committee (CC) member Akkiraju Hargopal aka Ramakrishna aka RK, the ‘secretary’ of the Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) and overall in-charge of Maoist activity in the region. The Maoists had assembled there to discuss their tactical counter offensive campaign (TCOC) against the SFs and were reportedly planning ‘something big’ to revive their movement in the region.
On October 26, 2016, Odisha State Home Secretary, Asit Tripathy disclosed that, of the 28 bodies recovered by the Police, 18 had been identified. Those killed included Bakuri Venkata Ramana Murthy aka Ganesh aka Prasad aka Ramireddy, ‘official spokesman’ of AOBSZC and ‘secretary’ of east division unit of the party; Chemella Krishnaiah aka Bhaskar aka Daya, ‘secretary’ of the Koraput-Srikakulam ‘joint division’ of the AOBSZC; Gamelli Kesava Rao aka Birsu, ‘area commander’ of First Central Regional Committee (CRC) and ‘divisional committee secretary’ of the Koraput-Srikakulam ‘division’; Anna Parthi Dasu aka Madhu (50), member of the inner protection team around Bakuri Venkata Ramana Murthy and ‘divisional committee member’ (DCM), technical team of West Godavari; Geddam Suvarnaraju aka Kiran (38), brother-in-law of Madhu; Prabhakar Kapukka alias PKM aka Devendra, DCM; Latha aka Jyothi aka Padma, DCM and wife of Dubashi Shankar aka Mahendra, ‘Special Zonal Committee Member’, (SZCM), of the Hyderabad area; Rajesh aka Bimal, ‘area commander’ of First CRC and DCM from Chhattisgarh; Mamata aka Banajalas Nirmala aka Boddu Kundanalu Maru (DCM of Third CRC of the party and wife of Suresh, SZCM of the Srikakulam area); Yamalapalli Simhachalam aka Murali aka Krishna aka Hari, key member of Central Committee member RK’s protection team and DCM of the Vizianagaram District; Kameswari aka Swarna aka Swaroopa aka Ricky, part of cadre supply team and DCM of Pedabayalu; Kilo Sita aka Swetha, part of cadre supply team and ‘area committee member’ (ACM) of Pedabayalu; Budri, woman bodyguard of RK’s inner protection team and ACM from Chhattisgarh; and key members in RK’s security cordon, Munna aka Akkiraju Prithvi aka Shivaji (27), an ACM of Malkangiri’s cut-off area Local Guerrilla Squad (LGS), and Raino aka Sunil aka Jalmuri Srinu Babu, DCM of Third CRC of the party. Ganesh and Daya carried a reward of INR two million each.
The second most successful operation in terms of fatalities among Maoists across India was the November 23, 2010, incident in which 20 CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an encounter with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and State Police personnel near Aasrampura village of the Jagargunda area in the Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh. There were three earlier operations in which 20 Maoists had been killed: On February 17, 2008, at least 20 CPI-Maoist cadres were killed during ongoing combing operations by SFs in the border area of the Nayagarh-Ganjam-Kandhamal Districts of Odisha; on July 9, 2007, at least 24 SF personnel and 20 CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in a gun battle that occurred when a joint team of the CRPF and Chhattisgarh Police were combing the Elampatti-Regadgatta forest area of Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh; and on June 24, 2005, SFs killed at least 20 CPI-Maoist cadres during a nightlong operation in the East Champaran and Sheohar Districts of Bihar.
The most successful previous operation in the AOB region in terms of fatalities among Maoists had been carried out in September 2013, in Malkangiri District. On September 14, 2013, at least 14 Maoists were killed in an encounter with the State Police SOG and the DVF near Silakota village under the Podia Block of Malkangiri District. However, no senior Maoist leader was killed in that encounter. A CPI-Maoist ‘divisional committee’ member, identified as Rakesh, who was present at the encounter site, had managed to escape.
The AOB region comprises of nine Districts –East Godavari, Khammam, Srikakulam, Vishakhapatnam and Vizianagaram Districts of AP; and Gajapati, Koraput Malkangiri and Rayagada of Odisha. Presently, Khammam is a part of Telangana. Between September 21, 2004 and October 2016, the region witnessed at least 715 Maoist-related fatalities, including 298 civilians, 147 SFs and 270 Maoists. During the same period, 7,254 such fatalities, including 2,926 civilians, 1,847 SFs and 2,481 Maoists, had been recorded across India. The AOB region has thus accounted for almost 10 per cent of the total Maoist-related fatalities during this period across India.
The AOB region has long been one of the Maoists’ strongholds. A small part of the region situated at the tri-junction of three states – AP, Chhattisgarh and Odisha– acts as a bridge for the Maoists to cross freely from one State to the other. This served as a ‘safe haven’ for the Maoists, as the region’s difficult terrain made it tougher for SFs to carry out combing operations. According to an unnamed senior Police officer involved in anti-Maoist operations, “It is very difficult to enter the cut-off area located in AOB. The area is covered with thick forests and water bodies are in full spate during monsoon and now. Maoists who consider AOB as a safe zone conduct plenary and plenums during this chosen season (sic).”
The Maoist ‘movement’ is presently facing severe challenges across India due to various factors, the primary among which has been successful intelligence-based operations launched by SFs, and spearheaded by the AP Police Special Intelligence Branch (SIB) over the past years, which have helped neutralize top cadres among the extremists. According to the partial database compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), between 2010 and 2016 (till October 30), at least 775 Maoist leadership elements have been neutralized (93 killed, 434 arrested, 248 surrendered). According to UMHA data, the total number of LWE cadres arrested between 2010 and 2015 stood at 11,608. During the same period at least 633 LWE cadres surrendered. From a peak of 1,180 Maoist-linked fatalities across India in 2010, the fatalities came down to 215 in 2015. Unsurprisingly, the ‘movement’ is also waning in the AOB region. Overall fatalities in Maoist violence in the region witnessed sharp decline from a peak of 93 in 2010 to 35 in 2015.
Meanwhile, the AP Government gave permission to private bauxite mining companies in the Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam tribal belts of AP in 2008 to set up a mining-cum-refinery project. This irked the tribals and provided an opportunity to the Maoists to expand their base. They resorted to several abductions of public representatives and officials, including Vineel Krishna, the then District Collector of Malkangiri, in 2011, besides killing a few public representatives and Policemen in the border villages. The Maoists have also called for frequent shutdowns in the towns and villages of the AOB area and conducted ‘public meetings’ in the forests. Nevertheless, they have failed in their efforts to revive their ‘movement’.
Documents recovered at the encounter site in Malkangiri on October 24-25, 2016, indicate that the Maoists are deeply concerned about the status of their ‘movement’ in the AOB region and were desperate to do ‘something big’. The loss of leadership elements of the region during the encounter, however, has served a body blow to the outfit and will impact severely on their operational capabilities.
* Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management