By Mrinal Kanta Das*
At least eight members of the Venkatapuram ‘area committee’ of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), which operates in the Bhadrachalam area of Khammam District in Telangana, were killed in an encounter with Security Force (SF) personnel along the Telangana-Chhattisgarh border on March 1, 2016. The Telangana Greyhounds had launched the operation after receiving information about the presence of Maoist leaders in the region, resulting in the encounter which took place in the Sakler area of Sukma District in Chhattisgarh State. Along with the dead bodies of the eight slain militants, SF personnel also recovered an AK-47 rifle, three Self-Loading Rifle (SLRs), several .303 rifles, and ammunition from the encounter spot.
Santosh Singh, Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP), Anti-Naxal Operations, Sukma District, disclosed that “As per preliminary information, three men and five women have been killed. The operation was planned and executed by Telangana Greyhounds. Since they were entering our territory, they had asked for some personnel with knowledge of the terrain.”
Among the dead were Gottikukkala Ramesh alias Lachalu, a board member of ‘Awami Jung’, known as ‘Jung’, the internal journal of the party edited by central committee members, and a member of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC). Five others were identified as Yusufbi alias Bhagya, Sujana, Sarakka, Madakambandi and Raju. No information about their respective ‘ranks’ were available. Two of the slain Maoists were yet to be identified.
The Sakler incident further weakens the Maoists’ revival plan in Telangana. Since the formation of Telangana on June 2, 2014, the Maoists have lost several of their top cadres (including those killed on March 1, 2016), who had been entrusted with the revival of the ‘movement’ in Telangana. In addition, at least 50 Maoists have been arrested since the formation of the Telangana State on June 2, 2014. Prominent among these were ‘militia commander’ Madakam Jogaiah (21), who was arrested in Khammam District on February 14, 2015; ‘militia commander’ Ravva Bheemaiah and Paddam Kamaiah, ‘secretary’, Revolutionary People’s Committee (RPC), arrested on April 29, 2015. Similarly, at least 24 others have surrendered before the SFs. Some of the notable surrenders included ‘divisional committee member’ B. Bhikshapathi in Warrangal District on January 20, 2015, and Gajerla Ashok (41) alias Aithu ‘secretary’ of South Bastar District Committee on December 29, 2015.
Unsurprisingly, Maoist-related violence in the State recorded a decline through 2015 even in comparison to the low levels in the preceding year. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, four persons, including two civilians and two Maoists were killed in the State through 2015, as against six fatalities, including four civilians, one SF trooper and one Maoist in 2014 (after the State’s formation on June 2, 2014). The Telangana region of undivided Andhra Pradesh had seen three fatalities in 2014, before June 2. There has been no fatality so far in 2016.
Fatalities were reported from three Districts of Telangana in 2015 – one civilian each from Adilabad and Khammam; and two Maoists in Warangal. In 2014, Khammam accounted for all the four fatalities. Khammam thus recorded the maximum number of fatalities (five) since the formation of the new State.
There were also occasional reports of CPI-Maoist teams being sighted, particularly in Adilabad District. On January 8-9, 2015, four CPI-Maoist teams consisting of 12 members (it was not specified whether it was the combined strength of all the four teams or the individual strength of each team), including ‘area committee’ member Atram Shobhan alias Charles, entered Adilabad District from Chhattisgarh. According to sources, the Maoist teams were moving in Kairiguda, Sonapur and other tribal villages between the Tiryani and Rebbena mandals, and were recruiting people. Similarly, on July 29, 2015, reports indicated that a team of 20 to 25 CPI-Maoist cadres was sighted in the villages in the Vaipet Forest area under Indervelli mandal (administrative unit) of Adilabad District. A few Maoists were also spotted at Parkal and Bhupalpalli in Warangal District and a few places in the Nizamabad District.
Meanwhile, the Maoists engaged in three reported exchange of fire incidents in 2015 in comparison to two such incidents in 2014; one arson incident in comparison to none in 2014; one abduction incident in 2015 in comparison to two in 2014; and one assault incident each in 2015 and 2014. Notably, CPI-Maoist cadres abducted six Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leaders of the Bhadrachalam Division, including constituency in-charge Maane Ramakrishna, from Pusuguppa, a forest fringe village in Charla mandal of Khammam District. News of the alleged abduction emerged on November 19, 2015, when the ruling party leaders had not returned to their homes from Pusuguppa, where they had reportedly gone to attend a meeting on November 18. The other abducted TRS leaders were P. Venkateshwarlu, S. Suresh, Janardhan, Satyanarayana and Ramakrishna. The Maoists later released them on November 21, 2015, and asked them to tell their party leaders to immediately halt combing operations in Khammam and Adilabad Districts of Telangana. No Moist fatality has been recorded thereafter, though only three Maoists have so far been killed in Telangana since its formation. Two were killed in Warangal District in 2015 while one was killed in Khammam in 2014.
33 Maoists were arrested in 2015 in addition to seven in 2014. Till February 28, 2016, another 10 Maoists have already been arrested in the current year. Mounting SF pressure led to the surrender of 13 Maoists in 2015, in addition to 11 in 2014. No Maoist has yet surrendered in Telangana in 2016.
The Maoists were banking on the birth of the Telangana State to revive their movement after they had lost considerable ground in united Andhra Pradesh. Having failed to do so, they continue to espouse several issues to garner mass support. The first and foremost is the issue of the Polavaram Project, a multi-purpose irrigation project across the Godavari River. On February 20, 2015, wall posters of CPI-Maoist Venkatapuram ‘area committee’ opposing the Polavaram project were spotted in the Charla mandal of Khammam District. On August 19, 2015, Viplava Karmika Samkhya (VKS), a CPI-Maoist front organization, sent a pamphlet to a newspaper office in Nalgonda District, warning the management of Oil Country Tubular Limited (OCTL) located at Narketpally, State Ministers T. Harish Rao and Nayani Narasimha Reddy, and Nakrekal Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Vemula Veeresham on the issue of “removing about 500 employees from the company”. Signed by VKS ‘secretary’ Azad, the two-page pamphlet alleged that the State Government led by TRS had colluded with the management of the OCTL.
Meanwhile, the Maoists also claimed to have conducted the first State level meeting in Telangana in February 2015. State intelligence officials, however, rejected the claim, asserting that, instead, the plenary was conducted in Chhattisgarh, bordering Khammam District. An unnamed senior intelligence official disclosed, on March 31, 2015, “It was a State committee plenum. The Maoists couldn’t conduct it in Telangana due to continuous vigil and combing operations. They had to hold it in Chhattisgarh.”
Though SFs have succeeded in containing Maoist activities in Telangana, worries remain. According to a statement of the Telangana Police on March 31, 2015, there were around 75 to 80 Maoist cadres still operating along Telangana’s borders. Reports of some new recruitment continue to filter in. On December 30, 2015, Director General of Police (DGP) Anurag Sharma admitting, “It is sporadic and there is no mass scale recruitment (by Maoists)… due to firm Police action, LWE activities in the State are under effective check. Extremist crime also declined during this year.” Similarly, State Home Minister Nayani Narasimha Reddy claimed on December 3, 2014, “There is no Maoist activity (in Telangana)… We have a peaceful atmosphere here.”
Nevertheless, Khammam District is still listed among the 35-worst Maoist affected Districts spread across seven states of India. Commenting on the Maoist situation Telangana, the then Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Director General (DG) Prakash Mishra warned, on February 19, 2016, that the Maoists were coming back in Telangana: “There could be many reasons (for this), non-application of Standard Operating Procedures or lax policing. The inherent danger is always there, even in Telangana and some places in Andhra Pradesh.”
The Police in the Telangana region of undivided Andhra Pradesh, and now in Telangana, have spearheaded the successful counter-insurgency response against the Maoist, transforming this territory from the very heartland of the rebel movement to an area where they are now struggling for a toe hold. The Andhra Pradesh and Telangana Police have also led extraordinarily successful campaigns across the country – providing intelligence and tactical support to other Forces – to help contain the Maoists and progressively identify and neutralize its leadership. There is, of course, no scope for complacence here; but there is little reason to believe that the Telangana Police are inclined to take their eye off the ball.
* Mrinal Kanta Das
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management