By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
At least 10 cadres of the ‘Telangana State Committee (TSC)’ of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) were killed in an encounter near the Pujari Kanker Forest under the Pamed Police Station limits in the Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh, along the Telangana-Chhattisgarh border, on March 1, 2018. According to reports, acting on tip-off about a ‘big meeting’ of CPI-Maoists in the area, personnel from the Greyhounds [the elite anti-Maoist force of the Telangana and Andhra Pradesh Police] and Chhattisgarh Police started a combing operation. The combing team came across an estimated 50 to 100 CPI-Maoist cadres and asked them to surrender, but the Maoists opened fire. In the retaliatory fire, Security Forces (SFs) killed 10 Maoists, while the remaining rebel force managed to escape. B. Susheel Kumar, a Greyhounds commando, also lost his life in the encounter.
The dead Maoists include member of the North Telangana Special Zonal Committee (NTSZC) and ‘action team commander’, Dadaboina Swamy aka Prabhakar (53) of Ramapeta village under Kazipet Mandal (administrative sub-division) of Warangal District (Telangana); member of the ‘Central Regional Committee (CRC) Doctor’s team’ and ‘Area Committee Member (ACM)’, Rame aka Pande of Gollapalli in Karimnagar District (Telangana); member of the ‘CRC Doctor’s team’ and ‘A-Section Commander’, Mallesh aka Baman of Dunga Indravati in Bhairamgarh, Bijapur District (Chhattisgarh); ‘CRC Dalam (armed squad) member’ Kosi of Rangaigudem in Dornapal, Dantewada District (Chhattisgarh); and Dalam members – Ithu of Thippapuram in Jayashankar, Bhupalpally District (Telangana); Kamala of West Bastar (Chhattisgarh); Pedda Budri of Sukma District (Chhattisgarh); Ratna of Bijapur District (Chhattisgarh); Sukki of Gangloor, Dantewada District (Chhattisgarh); and Somidi of Sukma District (Chhattisgarh). The Police also recovered one AK-47 rifle, one SLR (Self-Loading Rifle), two single bore rifles, five INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) assault rifles, one .303 rifle, one pistol, three claymore mines, two solar plates, seven kit bags, a Sony radio, empty cartridges, live ammunition of different calibres, Naxal [Left Wing Extremism (LWE)] literature and cash amounting to INR 41,000 from the encounter site.
The Telangana Maoists had suffered similarly when at least eight cadres of the Venkatapuram ‘area committee’ of the CPI-Maoist, which operates in the Bhadrachalam area of Khammam District in Telangana, were killed in a similar encounter with 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 bodies of the eight slain militants, SF personnel also had recovered an AK-47 rifle, three SLRs, several .303 rifles and ammunition, from the encounter spot.
While these two incidents of major losses for the Naxalites [Left Wing Extremists (LWEs)] in Telangana took place in Chhattisgarh’s territory, along the Telangana-Chhattisgarh Border, the biggest loss to the Naxalites inside Telangana occurred on December 14, 2017, when nine cadres of the Chandra Pulla Reddy Bata faction of the Communist Party of India–Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML, Chandra Pulla Reddy Bata faction) were killed in an encounter with the Police in the Mellamadugu Forest area under the Tekulapally Mandal in the Bhadradri Kothagudem District. Police recovered one SLR, three other rifles, two guns, and some other materials.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), through 2017, SFs killed at least 11 Naxalites. This included two cadres of the New Democracy faction of the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML-New Democracy) who were killed in an encounter with the Police in the Sidharam forest area of Tekulapalli Mandal in Bhadradri Kothagudem District on September 21, 2017.
In 2016, SFs killed one Naxalite in Telangana. On August 8, 2016, Naxal ‘renegade’ Mohammed Nayeemuddin aka Nayeem aka Balanna, was killed in an exchange of fire with the Police in Shadnagar Town of Mahbubnagar District.
Since, the formation of Telangana on June 2, 2014, the State has recorded a total of 15 Naxalite deaths: none in 2018 (data till March 11), 11 in 2017, one in 2016, two in 2015, and one in 2014.
SFs have not suffered a single fatality during this period.
Moreover, SFs have arrested 156 Naxalites since the formation of the State: 17 in 2018, 75 in 2017, 24 in 2016, 33 in 2015, and seven in 2014. Some of the prominent cadres arrested in 2018 include: CPI-ML-New Democracy’s Mahabubabad Division ‘secretary’ Bandaru Ilaiah aka Veeranna (50), in Mahabubabad District on February 8, 2018; ‘squad commander’ of the Chandranna faction of the CPI-ML-New Democracy, Mora Ravi (35), at Reddygudem village in Palvancha Mandal in Bhadradri Kothagudem District on Febrauary1, 2018; and Madivi Pande aka Susheela aka Laxmi, working as protection ‘platoon commander’ of the CPI-Maoist’s ‘central committee (CC) member’ Katakam Sudharshan aka Anand aka Duladadha, at Venkatapuram in the Jayashankar-Bhupalpally District, on January 5, 2018.
Mounting SF pressure has resulted in the surrender of 60 Naxalites since the formation of the State: two in 2018, 23 in 2017, 11 in 2016, 13 in 2015, and 11 in 2014. Most recently, Ubba Mohan aka Sunil, CPI-Maoist’s ‘Sabari Area Local Organising Squad (LOS) commander’ surrendered to the Police in Bhadrachalam in Bhadradri-Kothagudem District on January 30, 2018.
Not surprisingly, Naxal (LWE)-linked violence has remained under check right since the formation of the State. Telangana has recorded seven civilian deaths till date: two each in 2014, 2015 and 2017; and one fatality in the current year. No such fatality was recorded through 2016. Most recently, on January 27, 2018, CPI-Maoist cadres killed P. Jogaiah, a former Maoist cadre, suspecting him of being a ‘Police informer’, in Veerapuram village of Bhadradri Kothagudem District.
Other parameters of violence also indicate a progressive weakening of the LWE movement. Overall Naxal-linked violence has been declining. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), Telangana accounted for five incidents in 2017 as against seven in 2016, 11 in 2015, and 14 in 2014. Only one incident of arson was recorded in 2017, as against two such incidents reported in 2016
Moreover, while the Maoists called for bandhs (general shutdowns) on five occasions in 2016, they issued just one such call in 2017. According to SATP data, LWE-related incidents of violence were reported from five Districts (Bhadradri Kothagudem, Jayashankar Bhupalpally, Khammam, Mahabubabad, and Suryapet) in 2017. In 2016, violent incidents were reported from nine Districts (Adilabad, Bhadradri Kothagudem, Jayashankar Bhupalpally, Khammam, Mehboobnagar, Nalgonda, Nirmal, Rajanna Sircilla and Warangal).
Some worries, nevertheless, persist. A March 22, 2017, report indicated that the CPI-Maoist leadership, while taking stock of losses suffered in encounters along the Telangana-Chhattisgarh border, planned to recruit new cadres and couriers, offering huge amounts, and had started recruitment near the border region. The Maoists were focusing particularly on Guttikoyas (a scheduled tribal community hailing from Chhattisgarh, who had escaped from the conflict zone in Chhattisgarh and settled in the border villages of the Khammam and Warangal Districts in Telangana), as well as unemployed tribals.
Citing intelligence inputs on possible Maoist attacks on three irrigation projects in Telangana, the UMHA deployed three companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) for their protection; one at the Kaleswaram Lift Irrigation Project at Medigadda in Karimnagar District; a second at the Tupakulagudem Barrage; and the third ready for deployment in the Adilabad or Khammam District, depending on emerging requirements.
A July 31, 2017, report disclosed further that the ‘Telangana State Committee (TSC)’ of the CPI-Maoist party, with the Adilabad District Committee, Khammam District Committee, Khammam-Karimnagar-Warangal Divisional Committee, a Special Guerrilla Squad and 92 cadres (18 are from the State and the remaining 74 from Chhattisgarh), had been tasked to intensify activities in the Andhra-Odisha Border (AOB) region as well.
Eight Districts of Telangana (Adilabad, Karimnagar, Khammam, Medak, Mehboobnagar, Nalgonda, Warangal, and Nizamabad) are included in a list of 106 Maoist-affected Districts from 10 States across India, released by the UMHA on July 18, 2017. Of these 106 Districts, 35 from seven States were categorized as ‘worst LWE affected Districts’. Khammam in Telangana is among these ‘worst’ Districts. Telangana has a total of 31 Districts.
The State’s successes against the Maoists notwithstanding, significant problems remain at the policy level. At least 16,044 Police posts were vacant in the State as on January 1, 2017, against a sanctioned strength of 63,064, a deficit of 25.44 per cent, according to the latest data provided by the Bureau of Police Research and Development [BPR&D]. Moreover, against the sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State at 139, just 97 officers were in position, considerably weakening decision-making in the Force. The police-population ratio (Policemen per hundred thousand population) in the State was 130.71 per 100,000, even lower than the appallingly low national average of 137.11 [over 220 Policemen per 100,000 population are considered necessary even for ‘peacetime policing’], according to BPR&D, as on January 1, 2016 [Disaggregated data of population/area for Andhra Pradesh & Telangana not available for 2017].
Anxious efforts by the Maoists to engineer a revival in their erstwhile areas of dominance in Telangana, the worst affected region at one time in the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh, have failed abysmally. However, their residual capacities cannot be simply ignored. With significant areas of Maoist dominance in neighbouring areas of Chhattisgarh and Odisha, vulnerabilities persist, and there is urgent need to address existing lacunae.
* Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management