By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
Orchestrating their first incident of violence of the current year, on January 4, 2023, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres killed a tribal, Soyam Subbaiah, after branding him a ‘police informer’, in the Juvvigudem village of Chintur Mandal (administrative sub-division) in Alluri Sitarama Raju District. About 10 Maoists, suspected to have come from the Konta area in Chhattisgarh, went to the house of the victim in Juvvigudem, and allegedly thrashed him to death. A letter purportedly left by the Maoists, read, “Subbaiah was an active police informer and we wanted to punish him.’’ It was also alleged that Subbaiah was working as a ‘police informer’ for the past five years and that the Maoists had warned him to mend his ways several times, but in vain.
This is the lone incident of killing in Andhra Pradesh recorded in 2023, thus far (data till January 15).
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), one civilian was killed through 2022 in Andhra Pradesh. There was one such killing in 2021 as well. A total of 32 such killings have been reported since June 2, 2014, when Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated, to create the new state of Telangana. A high of five civilian fatalities were recorded in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019, while a low of one fatality has been recorded in 2021 and 2022. There were three fatalities in 2018 and four in 2020. Significantly, since March 6, 2000, when SATP started documenting Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-related violence across the country, undivided Andhra Pradesh has registered 548 civilian fatalities, including a high of 132 in 2005.
Security Forces (SFs) have not suffered any losses over the past five years. The last fatality recorded in this category was on May 5, 2017, when a Home Guard, identified as Sheikh Valli, was killed in a landmine blast triggered by CPI-Maoist cadres on the Lothugedda Junction-Balapam stretch in Visakhapatnam District. This, in fact, was the lone SF fatality recorded in Andhra Pradesh since June 2, 2014. Since March 6, 2000, undivided AP registered 133 SF fatalities, including a high of 41 in 2001.
Though, the Maoist did not suffer any loss through 2022, six Maoists were killed in 2021. A total of 32 such killings have been reported since June 2, 2014. A high of nine Maoist fatalities was recorded in 2019, while a low of one fatality was recorded in 2020. Since March 6, 2000, total Maoist fatalities stand at 916, including a high of 165 in 2003.
While SF dominance in the state had been significantly consolidated on the ground before the bifurcation of the state in June 2014, it has been further strengthened since.
Meanwhile, in 2022, SFs arrested five Naxalites (Left Wing Extremists), in addition to five such arrests in 2021, according to the SATP database. Significantly, since March 6, 2000, the total number of arrests stands at 1,544. Continuing SF pressure also resulted in the surrender of 106 Naxalites in 2022, in addition to 18 in 2021. Since March 6, 2000, total surrenders stand at 3,811. On December 7, 2022, a woman Maoist cadre, along with other 34-armed ‘jan militia’ (people’s army of the Maoists) members of Pedabayalu-Korukonda Area Committee of the CPI-Maoist, surrendered before the Police in Alluri Sitarama Raju District.
Other parameters of violence also indicate declining Maoist activities in the State, as in all other Maoist-affected regions in India. The Maoists did not exchange fire with SFs in 2022, while there were at least three such incidents in 2021. The last such incident was reported on September 23, 2021. The State did not record any incident of explosion in 2022, as well as in 2021. The last incident of explosion was recorded on August 3, 2020, in which two civilians were killed. The Maoists could not issue any bandh (shut down strike) call in 2022, while there was one such call in 2021.
On May 19, 2022, K.V. Rajendra Nath Reddy, the Director General of Police (DGP) of Andhra Pradesh remarked that ‘Operation Parivarthana’ (Transformation) had hit the CPI-Maoist extremism hard. The DGP observed,
‘Operation Parivarthana’ has impacted on CPI-Maoist movement in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra as Ganja (Marijuana) cultivation was among the sources of income for the CPI-Maoists.
The Police of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha had launched the ‘Operation Parivarthana’ in November 2021, in which more than 400 teams conducted raids in the forests and destroyed ganja plantations in about 7,500 acres worth more than 9,000 crores in 313 villages in the Andhra-Odisha Border (AOB) region. About 1,500 persons involved in the trade were arrested and 580 cases were registered.
An analysis of over ground and underground Maoist activities in Andhra Pradesh confirms their waning influence in the State. According to the SATP database, Maoist activities were reported from three Districts in 2022 (Andhra Pradesh has a total of 26 Districts). Only the Alluri Sitharama Raju District fell in the ‘moderately affected’ category, while the remaining two Districts – East Godavari and Visakhapatnam – were ‘marginally affected.’ By comparison, in 2021, Maoist activities were reported from four Districts, with Visakhapatnam District in the ‘moderately affected’ category, and the remaining three Districts – East Godavari, Guntur, and Krishna – ‘marginally affected’.
Meanwhile, in a notification issued by the LWE division of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), on December 8, 2022, Alluri Sitharama Raju, East Godavari, Parvathipuram Manyam, Srikakulam and Vishakhapatnam Districts have been categorised as LWE-affected districts of the State. These five districts will now be provided special central funds, as earmarked under the Security-related Expenditure (SRE) scheme for LWE-hit States, for the financial year 2022-23. In the notification, Alluri Sitharama Raju has been categorised as the “most affected LWE district” of Andhra Pradesh.
Earlier, the last UMHA notification of June 2021 listed five LWE-affected districts in Andhra Pradesh – East Godavari, Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and West Godavari, while Visakhapatnam was also included in the list of the ‘25 Most Affected Districts’ from eight States across India.
Meanwhile, on December 19, 2022, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed a chargesheet against five people before the NIA Special Court in Vijayawada in a case relating to the radicalisation and recruitment of youth to the CPI-Maoist. The case, initially registered by the Pedabayalu Police Station of Visakhapatnam, was later reregistered by NIA on June 3, 2022, based on the complaint filed regarding the recruitment of a girl, Radha. The allegation in the complaint indicated that Dongari Devendra, Dubasi Swapna, and Chukka Shilpa motivated Radha to join the Chaitanya Mahila Sangham (CMS) and subsequently radicalised and recruited her to the CPI-Maoist, under the leadership of Maoists, R.K. (since deceased), Uday, and Aruna. An unnamed spokesperson of the NIA disclosed,
‘Investigation has revealed that the accused persons; Dongari Devendra, Dubasi Swapna, and Chukka Shilpa had indeed attracted gullible young girls to CMS on the pretext of social work. Later, depending on their dedication to the organisation, such girls would be identified and sent to the proscribed organisation CPI (Maoist). The investigation has also revealed that the accused persons had recruited a few other girls to the CPI (Maoist) and had attempted to recruit many others. The investigation has also revealed that the accused Devendra had taken Radha to the forests under the pretext of rendering medical assistance to someone and that Uday and Aruna coerced the missing girl Radha to join the proscribed organisation. The role of the CMS, a charitable organisation, and other leaders of CMS, in the larger conspiracy, is being probed into. Further investigations in the case are in progress.
Despite setbacks, the Maoists continue with their efforts at revival.
Through 2022, Police recovered arms/ammunition/explosives dumps on at least four occasions, in addition to two such incidents in 2021. On September 8, 2022, Police seized a huge Maoist cache during combing operation in Alluri Sitharama Raju District. The recoveries included 20 kilograms of cordtex, 15 electric detonators, 15 non-electric detonators, safety fuse bundle, eight kilograms of gunpowder, one kilogram of other explosive material and three electric chargers used in explosives. The details of Maoists’ plans for extortion, steps to eliminate ‘police informers’, blocking of road works and blasting of cell towers were found in files recovered from the dump. Maoists from Pedabayalu, Korukonda and Galikonda areas were suspected to have kept the dump before fleeing to Chhattisgarh.
On May 8, 2022, the CPI-Maoist in the State appealed to the public in Visakhapatnam District to condemn the alleged extortion activities by former Maoists Mahesh and Kumari. A letter released by Aruna, ‘secretary’ of CPI-Maoist’s Visakha-East Division Committee, stated that Mahesh and Kumari worked for the outfit for a few years. However, the former Maoists had taken to working against the outfit. If the extortion continued, the letter warned, the party would teach them a lesson. Clearly, the letter was intended to win the people’s confidence and support.
The January 4, 2023, killing, meanwhile, is an effort to terrorize those who ‘disobey’ Maoist decrees.
The Andhra Pradesh successes against the Maoist are the more astonishing in view of the fact that they are overwhelmingly the result of State Police initiatives, more so as the State Police is significantly short of resources. According to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as on January 1, 2021, the State Police continued to face critical gaps in capacities and deployment. As against the sanctioned strength of 75,365 policemen in AP, only 60,752 were in position, creating a deficit of 19.38 per cent. The actual police-population ratio (police personnel per 100,000 population) in AP was just 115.35, significantly below the inadequate national average of 152.51. Both the State and national averages on the police-population ratio were well below the sanctioned strength, at 143.09 and 193.95, respectively. Shockingly, the actual Police/Area Ratio (number of policemen per 100 square kilometres) in AP was just 37.29, against the national average of 62.96. Both the State and national averages on the Police/Area ratio were well below the sanctioned strength, at 46.26 and 80.07, respectively. In addition, the sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State was 144, but just 111 officers were in position, creating a deficit of 22.91 per cent, considerably weakening the executive supervision of the Force.
The ground domination of the SFs has forced the Maoists to be on the back foot in the State, as in the rest of the country. However, residual elements of the ‘movement’ in the State persist. The Andhra Pradesh Police has led an exemplary campaign to marginalize the Maoist threat in what was at one time the Maoist heartland. While it is unlikely that the extremists will be able to revive their influence in the State, the complete elimination of the movement remains an unfulfilled necessity for the restoration of peace.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management