By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On February 15, 2022, a 17-year-old woman Dalam (armed squad) member of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), whose identity has not been disclosed as she is a minor, surrendered before the Police in East Godavari District. She had joined Maoists rank in 2019.
This is the lone incident of surrender in the State recorded in 2022, thus far (data till March 13). According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 18 Naxalites [Left-Wing Extremists] surrendered in 2021 in Andhra Pradesh (AP), in addition to 24 such surrenders in 2020. The total number of such surrenders since March 6, 2000, when SATP started documenting Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-related violence across the country, was 3,706.
Meanwhile, on January 8, 2022, a CPI-Maoist ‘area committee member’, identified as Korra Singru aka Sundarrao aka Palem Sundarrao aka Joyo (52), was arrested by the Sileru Police at Sapparla junction under Sileru Police Station limits in the G.K. Veedhi Mandal (administrative sub-division) in Visakhapatnam District. Korra Singru had joined Naxalite ranks in 2000 and was involved in over 70 offences in the Visakhapatnam and East Godavari Districts of Andhra Pradesh and the neighboring State of Odisha. The Police seized one country made pistol and two detonators from Singru.
This is the lone incident of arrest reported in 2022, thus far. Security Forces (SFs) had arrested a total of five Naxalites in 2021, and nine in 2020. The total of such arrests stands at 1,540 since March 6, 2000.
Though no Naxalite has yet been killed in 2022, six Naxalites were killed in 2021. On June 16, six Maoists were killed in an exchange of fire with the Greyhounds special force of the Andhra Pradesh Police in the Theegalametta Forest in Koyyuru Mandal under the Mampa Police Station area of Visakhapatnam District. In 2020, one Maoist was killed. A total of 916 Naxalites has been killed in the State since March 6, 2000.
The last fatality in the SF category was reported on May 5, 2017, when a Home Guard, identified as Sheikh Valli, was killed in a landmine blast triggered by the CPI-Maoist cadres on the Lothugedda Junction-Balapam stretch in Visakhapatnam District. Between May 5, 2017, and March 11, 2022, SFs have killed 16 Naxalites, and have arrested 62.
The sheer dominance of SFs on the ground has resulted in improved security for civilians. The last civilian fatality in the State was recorded on March 5, 2021, when CPI-Maoist cadres killed a former Maoist ‘militia member,’ Korra Pilku (35), at Kothapalem village in G. K. Veedhi Mandal, Visakhapatnam District. They accused Pilku of being a ‘Police informer’. This was the lone civilian fatality in the State in 2021, the lowest ever fatality recorded in a year since 1968 which had also recorded one fatality. There were four civilian fatalities in 2020.
In 2021, as in 2020, all the killings were reported from the Vishakhapatnam District. The last fatalities outside Vishakhapatnam were recorded in 2017, when, out of a total of nine fatalities in the year, two were recorded in East Godavari District – one on February 27 and another on February 5.
Meanwhile, an analysis of over ground and underground Maoist activities in AP reinforces an assessment of weakening influence. According to the SATP database, Maoist activities were reported from four Districts in 2021 (AP has a total of 26 Districts). Only Visakhapatnam District fell in the ‘moderately affected’ category, while the remaining three Districts – East Godavari, Guntur, and Krishna – were ‘marginally affected.’ By comparison, in 2020, Maoist activities were reported from six Districts, with Visakhapatnam District in the ‘moderately affected’ category, and the remaining five Districts – Anantapur, East Godavari, Srikakulam, Vijayanagar, and West Godavari – ‘marginally affected’.
On June 19, 2021, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) had included Visakhapatnam in its listing of ‘25 Most Affected Districts’ in eight States across India. Moreover, five Districts of the State – East Godavari, Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagar, and West Godavari – are covered under the Centre’s ‘Security Related Expenditure (SRE)’ scheme, which funds focused operations against the ultras. The scheme covers 70 LWE-affected Districts in 10 States across the country.
Further, on September 26, 2021, State Home Minister Mekathoti Sucharitha asserted that Naxalites who were earlier active in five districts – East Godavari, Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagar and West Godavari – were now confined to Visakhapatnam and East Godavari Districts alone, and that LWE numbers had come down from 150 to 50.
Though the Maoist ‘movement’ in the State has weakened significantly, the threat has not been eliminated, as is reflected in UMHA and SATP data, which suggests that the Maoists continue to operate in some areas and continue to make efforts to sustain their ‘movement.’
In a press release on June 30, 2021, V. B. Raj Kamal, Assistant Superintendent of Police, Paderu, asserted that ‘divisional committee member’ Kondru Prabhakar aka Ashok “is arranging funds through ganja trade.” In addition, Srikanth, Baburao, Mohan, Taggupadu Srinu and others were also involved in the ganja trade and were collecting ‘levy’ (extortion money) from contractors.
On July 11, 2021, to keep themselves relevant among the masses, the Maoists extended support to unemployed youth protesting against fewer jobs offered in the job calendar for 2021-2022. Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy had promised 230,000 jobs to solve the unemployment problem in the State, if voted to power. However, on June 18, 2021, almost two years after he came to power (he took oath as Chief Minister on May 30, 2019), the State Government released a ‘job calendar,’ the first of its kind, with just 10,144 jobs, disappointing the unemployed youth. Aruna, the ‘secretary’ of the Maoist’s ‘Visakha East Division Committee’, released an audio tape in Visakhapatnam District, in which she asserted that, since this was a genuine cause, the CPI-Maoist was supporting the youth. Aruna demanded that the State Government release a new job calendar with 230,000 jobs notified, as promised.
On August 10, 2021, the CPI-Maoist gave a call for a State-wide bandh (general shut down strike) in protest against the illegal mining of laterite and bauxite in the Agency areas of Visakhapatnam and East Godavari Districts. The Maoists urged tribals from the affected villages to take a militant stand, to drive away the mining companies and to destroy the trucks and heavy earthmoving equipment that were being used for mining. The Maoists also urged the tribals not to allow the Police to organise volleyball tournaments and medical camps in the interior villages, arguing that, in the garb of these activities, the Police was actually trying to extend road-construction to facilitate mining and aid the illegal mining companies. The Maoists also demanded that the construction of roads in these areas be stopped. Nonetheless, according to the State Police, the August 10, 2021, bandh call evoked an unenthusiastic response in the Visakha Agency region. No untoward incident was reported and all shops and establishments remained open, while public transport functioned as usual. Moreover, there was no response to the bandh in Maoist-prone Mandals such as G.K. Veedhi, Pedabayalu, Munchingput or Chintapalli, in the Visakhapatnam District.
On March 8, 2022, Aruna, issued a threat letter warning Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Kottagulli Bhagya Lakshmi of Paderu Constituency from the Yuvajana Shramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) to resign and leave the party. The letter alleged that Bhagya Lakshmi took lakhs of rupees and gave permission for bauxite mining at Chaparatipalem under the G.K. Veedhi Mandal in Visakhapatnam District.
The AP Police has succeeded in establishing dominance and marginalizing the rebels, despite significant gaps in capacities and deployment in the State. According to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as on January 1, 2020, the AP Police had a strength of 59,553 policemen, as against a sanction of 73,894, yielding a deficit of 19.40 per cent. The Police/Area Ratio (number of policemen per 100 square kilometres) in AP was just 36.55, against the national average of 63.63. Both the State and national averages for the Police/Area ratio were well below sanctioned levels, at 45.36 and 79.80, respectively. The police-population ratio (police personnel per 100,000 population) in AP was 113.68, significantly below the inadequate national average of 155.78. Moreover, the sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State was 144, but just 115 officers were in position. The deficit of 20.13 per cent substantially weakened executive supervision of the Force.
Andhra Pradesh’s excellent performance in dealing with the Maoist menace is visible on the ground, with the rebels losing influence in the most prominent among their erstwhile strongholds. The Maoists are, however, not an entirely spent force, and their activities in bordering States persist, even as their efforts to revive influence and activities in AP continue. These last vestiges of the Maoist ‘revolution’ need yet to be brought under control.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management