By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On February 23, 2021, Police arrested an ‘area committee member (ACM)’ of the of Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), along with a ‘courier’, from Cherla in Khammam District. Munni aka Tellam Munni, the Indravati ‘ACM’ had joined the CPI-Maoist in 2011 and worked as a ‘militia member’ till 2014. She was promoted as an ‘ACM’ in 2018. Fifty gelatin sticks and 50 electric detonators were recovered from their possession.
On February 22, 2021, Police arrested seven CPI-Maoist ‘militia members’, allegedly involved in 18 cases, and recovered explosive materials from their possession, during a combing operation in the Pamunuru Forest area in Mulugu District. The ‘militia members’ were arrested while they were planting explosives with an intention to kill Police personnel in the area.
On February 15, 2021, two CPI-Maoist cadres, identified as Guddi Madvi (28), ‘deputy chief commander’ of the Katekalyan ‘area committee’ and his accomplice ‘commander’ Pele Madvi (26), were arrested from Peniguda village in Bhadradri Kothagudem District. Guddi was involved in a landmine explosion on April 9, 2019, in which five persons, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator from Bastar region, Bhima Mandavi (40) and his four security guards, were killed in a forested patch near Nakulnar Village in Kuwakonda Tehsil (revenue unit) in the Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh. Both Guddi and Pele were involved in several offences, such as planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), damaging property, etc. While Madvi had a reward of INR 850,000 on his head, the bounty on Pele was INR 500,000.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) at least 14 Naxalites (Left Wing Extremists, LWEs) have been arrested in the State in 2021, thus far (data till March 14). During the corresponding period of 2020, not a single Naxalite was arrested. A total of 20 Naxalites were arrested through 2020, in addition to 98 such arrests in 2019. The number of arrests was 54 in 2018, 68 in 2017, and 23 in 2016, 44 in 2015 and 10 in 2014 (since June 2. Telangana was formed on June 2, 2014).
Further, at least 30 LWEs have been killed in the State during this period (June 2, 2014 and March 14, 2021). At least 10 LWEs were killed in 2020, two in 2019, one in 2018, 12 in 2017, two in 2016, two in 2015, and one in 2014. No fatality in this category has been recorded, thus far, in 2021 (data till March 14).
The mounting pressure has resulted in the surrender of 134 LWEs since June 2, 2014 (data till March 14, 2021). At least five Naxalites have already surrendered in 2021. During the corresponding period of 2020, at least two Naxalites had surrendered. The total number of such surrenders through 2020 stood at 50, in addition to nine in 2019. The number of surrenders was 10 in 2018, 23 in 2017, 13 in 2016, 13 in 2015 and 11 in 2014.
LWEs, on the other hand, have failed to inflict any fatality on Security Force personnel.
However, 10 civilians have been killed by LWEs since June 2, 2014 (data till March 14, 2021). Two civilians each were killed in 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2020.
Out of a total of 31 Districts in Telangana, fatalities were recorded in three in 2020 – Bhadradri Kothagudem (seven: one civilian and six LWEs), Mulugu (three: one civilian and one LWE), and Komaram Bheem Asifabad (two). In 2019, fatalities were reported from just one District – Bhadradri Kothagudem (two, both LWEs). Since June 2, 2014, out of total 40 fatalities recorded in the State, 24 were reported from Bhadradri Kothagudem District (four civilians and 20 LWEs), followed by five in Khammam District (four civilians and one LWE), three in Mulugu District (one civilian and two LWEs),
three in Warangal District (all LWEs), two in Komaram Bheem Asifabad District (both LWEs), one each in Adilabad District (civilian), Hyderabad District (LWE) and Nalgonda District (LWE).
On September 21, 2020, Union Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy informed Parliament that eight Districts (Adilabad, Bhadradri Kothagudem, Jayashankar Bhupalpally, Khammam, Komaram Bheem Asifabad, Mancherial, Peddapalle, Warangal Rural) of Telangana are among the 90 Districts in 11 States that are listed as Left-Wing Extremism-affected and are covered under Security Related Expenditure (SRE) Scheme by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA). Moreover, of these eight Districts, Bhadradri Kothagudem, is among the ‘30 worst Maoist-affected’ Districts, across seven States in the country, according to UMHA.
Meanwhile, according to a July 18, 2020, report, to win support and instigate locals, the CPI-Maoist Telangana ‘State committee secretary and spokesperson’, Haribhushan aka Jagan, issued a statement, accusing the Telangana Police of attempting to wipe out the party by targeting innocent adivasis and arresting sympathisers. Jagan alleged,
While our party has been observing self-restraint by not indulging in assaults in the backdrop of COVID-19 pandemic, the security forces of the State and central government have been unleashing a reign of terror in the tribal areas.
Further, demanding that the ‘harassment’ of adivasis and Maoist party sympathisers be stopped, Jagan threatened the leaders of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), stating that they would be punished in the people’s court (Kangaroo courts organised by the Maoists). It is noted that the Maoists still possess the capacity to elicit tremors of sympathy among certain sections of the population.
Further, an August 8, 2020 report, revealed that the Maoists have been barred by their top leadership from carrying out violent activities in Telangana, lest they attract the attention of the SFs. Following the diktat, the Maoists have restricted themselves to reviving links with old contacts and recruiting rural youth in areas where they retain influence.
Meanwhile, to counter the Maoists in the State, the Police released wall posters across the border areas, with information about the Maoist leaders who have been actively leading 12 ‘committees’ in the State.
The 12 ‘committees’ and their leadership reportedly include: Pedapalli ‘area committee’, headed by Kankanala Raji Reddy; Eturnagaram Mahadevpur ‘area committee’, headed by Reena aka Saame; Venkatapuram-Vajedu ‘area committee’, headed by Ungi; Yellandu-Narsampet ‘area committee’, headed by Mangu; Mancherial-Kumaram Bheem ‘area committee’, headed by Mailarapu Aadellu aka Bhaskar; Mangi ‘area committee’, headed by Lingamma; Indravelli ‘area committee’, headed by Vargesh; Chennur-Sirpur ‘area committee’, headed by Narasimha Rao; Cherla Sabari ‘area committee’, headed by Sammakka aka Sarada; Manuguru ‘area committee’, headed by Sudheer aka Ravva Ramla aka Rasool aka Ramaal; Bhadradri Kothagudem-East Godavari Divisional Committee, headed by Sambhaiah aka Gopanna; and Telangana ‘action committee’, headed by Bade Chokkarao aka Damodar.
These ‘area committees’ have been activated and entrusted with the task of recruiting more youth and tribals into the Maoist cadre, which is facing an acute shortage. It is to be noted that the current ‘chief’ of CPI-Maoist, Nambala Keshava Rao aka Basavaraj, had brought in a few organisational and operational changes, reconstituted the ‘Telangana State Committee’ and a dozen ‘area committees’, and entrusted them with the task of reconsolidating their position in rural areas.
The State Director General of Police (DGP), M. Mahender Reddy, appealing to the people to extend non-cooperation to the extremists, thus stated, “We are going to thwart their attempt to regain a foothold in Telangana by all means.” Moreover, the State Police are also trying to inform the people about the allegedly lavish lives the top extremist leaders lead, pushing the areas into backwardness.
Moreover, on August 8, 2020, DGP Reddy disclosed that a special team of 500 Policemen, including units from the specialist force to take on the Maoists, the Greyhounds, had been deployed to flush out the extremists, who had intensified their activities in the tribal habitations of Komaram Bheem Asifabad, Mancherial, Peddapalli, Jayashankar-Bhupalpally, Mahabubabad, Mulugu and Bhadradri Kothagudem.
Additionally, according to a December 24, 2020, report, DGP Reddy conferred with local officials on strategies adopted to wean away tribal youth from the Maoist influence and inaugurated a Police training centre at Mulugu, as well as Battle Obstacle Assault Course tracks at Jakaram village in Mulugu District and Hemachandrapuram near Bhadradri Kothagudem, and a firing range and parade ground at Hemachandrapuram. Also, in a further effort to make Bhadradri Kothagudem a Maoist-free District, the DGP asked the District Police to prepare youth for a Police recruitment drive, which the Government announced (date not specified), with priority being given to local youth in their respective Districts.
Meanwhile, a March 1, 2021, report, revealed that the Telangana Police, in an attempt to gain an upper hand over the Maoists, are adopting the time-tested war tactic of cutting essential supplies to the rebels. Ever since the COVID-19-induced lockdown was lifted, weekly shandies (weekly markets) are being organised in Chhattisgarh villages – Kistaram, Dharmapet and Gollapalli – located along the Telangana border, and the Maoists regularly replenish their grocery and food grain stocks from these shandies. The Police have been keeping a close eye on the movement of goods before they reach Chhattisgarh, as most of the supplies for these shandies go from Telangana. Cherla Police Circle Inspector B. Ashok, thus noted,
We are keeping a close eye on the villages where the shandies are organised and are on the lookout for Maoists’ movements. We have details of those who are taking supplies to shandies and are also updating the lists of customers at the shandies. We hope to smoke out Maoists as they cannot live without supplies for long.
Since the creation of Telangana, there were apprehensions that the Maoists would find conditions in the new State favourable to engineer a comeback. However, the Maoists have failed to establish a significant sway in the State, thus far.
Telangana Police has done exceptionally well in countering Maoist threat, despite facing a shortage of personnel in the Force. According to Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data (as on January 1, 2020), the sanctioned strength for the States’ Police is 78,369 but only 48,877 personnel were in position, yielding a vacancy of 29,492, i.e., 37.63 per cent. Furthermore, Telangana had 130.88 Police personnel per 100,000 population in position (as against a sanctioned ratio of sanctioned is 209.85), significantly below the inadequate national average of 155.78 (sanctioned 195.39). More worryingly, the Police/Area Ratio (number of policemen per 100 square kilometres) was just 43.59, as against the national average of 63.63. Both the State and national averages on the Police/Area ratio were well below the sanctioned strength, at 69.90 and 79.80, respectively.
These critical security gaps in capacities and deployment in the State need urgent attention to ensure enduring peace in the State.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management