By Indrajit Sharma*
On August 3, 2020, two civilians, identified as Mondipalli Ajay Kumar and Mondipalli Mohan Rao, were killed in a landmine explosion near Chintalaveedhi, located in the interior part of the ‘Andhra-Odisha Border (AOB)’ region, in Visakhapatnam District of Andhra Pradesh. According to the Police, the two tribal youth ventured into the forest in search of cattle when they inadvertently stepped on a landmine, planted by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), leading to their death on the spot.
On July 26, 2020, a CPI-Maoist cadre was killed in an exchange of fire with the Security Forces (SFs) at Gangaraju Madugula, in the AOB region, in Visakhapatnam District.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the AOB region – comprising of four north coastal Districts of Andhra Pradesh (East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam) and the five Districts of southern Odisha (Malkangiri, Koraput, Rayagada, Gajapati and Ganjam) – have recorded five Maoist-linked fatalities (three civilians and two Maoists) in the current year, thus far (data till August 16, 2020). During the corresponding period in 2019, the AOB region had recorded 12 fatalities (five civilians and seven Maoists). Maoist-linked fatalities in the AOB region stood at 23 (seven civilians, one trooper, and 15 Maoists) through 2019.
Since 2001, when the ‘Andhra-Orissa Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC)’ was formed, the AOB region has recorded 820 fatalities (314 civilians, 219 SF personnel, 273 Left Wing Extremists (LWEs) and 14 Not Specified, data till August 16, 2020). A high of 96 fatalities was recorded in 2008, while a low of 13 was recorded in 2004. Overall fatalities in the region have followed a cyclical trend.
Fatalities in the AOB Region
|Year||Civilians||Security Forces||Left Wing Extremists||Not Specified||Total|
The Security situation in the region has, however, seen a constant improvement over the past few years. Civilian fatalities, a key index of security in an area/region, have fallen, on year on year basis, since 2017. As against 22 fatalities recorded in this category in 2016, there were 21 fatalities in 2017, nine in 2018, seven in 2019, and three in 2020 (data till August 16, 2020).
During these years (2017-2020), SFs have also made considerable gains on the ground. The SF:LWE kill ratio since 2017 stands at 1:3.18, much higher than the overall ratio of 1:24, albeit at much lower levels of total fatalities. Significantly, in the 10 years, between 2001 and 2010, the ratio was in favour of the Maoists, at 1.49:1.
SFs have arrested two Maoists in the region in the current year (data till August 16, 2020), in addition to 21 in 2019, 60 in 2018, and 32 in 2017. Mounting SF pressure has also resulted in the surrender of 23 Maoists in the current year, in addition to 43 in 2019, 51 in 2018, and 102 in 2017.
The twin encounters in the Bejingi Forest area between Ramgarh and Panasput in Malkangiri District on October 24 and 27, 2016, resulting in the death of 28 and two Maoist cadres, respectively, dealt a major blow to the outfit in the AOB region.
Among the nine Districts of the AOB region, Malkangiri recorded the highest of 349 fatalities (135 civilians, 108 SF personnel, 105 LWEs and one Not Specified) followed by Koraput, with 173 fatalities (72 civilians, 54 SF personnel, 44 LWEs and three Not Specified); Vishakhapatnam, 152 fatalities (67 civilians, 19 SF personnel, 63 LWEs and three Not Specified); Rayagada, 57 fatalities (19 civilians, 10 SF personnel, 27 LWEs and one Not Specified); East Godavari, 34 fatalities (five civilians, 11 SF personnel, 13 LWEs and five Not Specified); Vizianagaram, 23 fatalities (seven civilians, six SF personnel, nine LWEs and one Not Specified); Gajapati, 22 fatalities (two civilians, 10 SF personnel and 10 LWEs); Srikakulam, six fatalities (four civilians, one SF trooper and one LWE); and Ganjam, four fatalities (thee civilians and one LWE).
The AOB region has for long served as a safe haven for the Maoists because of its terrain and dense forest cover. Part of the region adjoins the geographical spread popularly known as Swabhiman Anchal, earlier called as the ‘cut-off area’, which falls in the east of the Balimela river sandwiched between Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. The ‘cut-off’ area was a long-time sanctuary and stronghold for the Maoists.
Nonetheless, of late, this Maoist safe haven has been eroding with a steady decline in their presence as well as a growing crisis in leadership. A June 13, 2020, report observes that CPI-Maoist cadres in the erstwhile ‘cut-off’ area of AOB were facing a leadership crisis, as the link between the cadre base and the main leadership has reportedly been severed. According to the report, after the October 2016 twin encounters, the Andhra Pradesh Police have been on the offensive. This was well supported by the Odisha Government, which not only increased the footprint of its Special Operations Group (SOG) and District Voluntary Force (DVF) in the ‘cut-off area’, but also increased the presence of the Border Security Force (BSF) by setting up new camps in Jayapayi, Hantalaguda and Darlabeda. On the Andhra Pradesh side, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has set up two new outposts at Nurmati and Rudakota.
Further, according to Superintendent of Police (SP), Visakhapatnam District of Andhra Pradesh, Attada Babujee, with the coming up of the armed outposts and BSF camps and increased surveillance and combing, the Maoists have been pushed back to a small pocket to the north of the ‘cut-off area’. Fearing exposure, the main leaders such as Akkiraju Haragopal aka Ramakrishna aka R.K., ‘Central Committee’ member; Gajarla Ravi aka Uday aka Ganesh, ‘secretary AOBSZC’; and Chalapathi, Central Committee member, have reportedly moved to the Gumma region of Odisha.
150-odd villages of Kudumulu Gumma Block (administrative unit) were separated from the rest of the Block by the Balimela Reservoir and were consequently called the ‘cut-off area’. However, with the inauguration of the Gurupriya Setu (bridge) on July 26, 2018, the area and its more than 20,000 people got connected to the mainland of Malkangiri District. According to a July 26, 2020, report, with the efforts of the District administration, the development outreach was being extended to the remotest corners of the area. The region is now known as Swabhiman Anchal (Self-respect Zone). The collector of Malkangiri, Manish Agarwal, observed,
The Gurupriya bridge has facilitated the construction of several kilometres of roads inside Swabhiman Anchal. Bus and ambulance services have been introduced in the area. Also, the administration has dug more than 250 tube-wells, electrified villages and strengthened the primary education system and healthcare in the area on a priority basis.
Moreover, a June 28, 2020, report noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had hit the Maoists hard, as the usual supply routes for procuring their rations through the interior villages in the AOB region have been sealed. An unnamed Police officer observes,
Naxal movement along the borders is very common. Because of the difficult terrain, the Andhra-Odisha border area is a haven for their activities. Maoists get their essentials from weekly markets or towns. Since vehicular movement is restricted, Maoists are entirely dependent on villagers who are now reluctant to go out of their homes amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
The recent crises faced by the Maoists have been capitalized on by the SFs as well as the administration, which have been focusing on developing the area.
On June 19, 2020, the Director General of Police of Odisha, Abhay, asserted that the CPI-Maoist violence is on the decline in the Swabhiman Anchal in the region. The DGP noted,
Three security vacuums have been filled up in the erstwhile cut-off region in the last six months. They include enhancing Police presence in the region, operationalization of BSF camps in Jantapai, Hantalguda, and Darlabeda and accelerating development works.
More recently, on 24 July 2020, DGP Abhay said that “apart from carrying out anti-Maoist operations, development activities in the affected areas have also helped curb Naxal activities.” The officer further added that seven major roads are under construction in Malkangiri. Currently, as a part of the focused initiatives of the Odisha Government to usher development, road connectivity has been given top priority and several road projects have been taken up in the area. These are:
Badapada to Jantapayi (work completed)Jantapayi to Jodambo (Single layer BT completed)Jodambo to Guarasethu to Panasput (work is being started)Janturayi to Gajalmamudi (metalling work underway)Darlabeda to Kutunipadar (metalling work going on)Jantapayi to Papermetal to Dhuliput to Singabaram (metalling work in progress) andHantalguda to Kalibandha to Bandhaguda (metalling and BT work in progress).
Nonetheless, worries still persist. A July 31, 2020, report highlighted that, despite strict vigilance by SFs, the Maoists observed their ‘Martyrs Week’ (July 28 – August 3) in a grand way at a “martyrs’ pylon” close to the Andhra Pradesh borders in the AOB region and paid tributes to their ‘martyrs’. They conducted a meeting with the people of around 15 villages in the ‘cut-off area’ of Malkangiri, in which their top leader and ‘AOBSZC secretary’ Gajarla Ravi aka Uday aka Ganesh addressed the gathering.
Earlier, on July 23, 2020, the ‘East Division Committee secretary’ of CPI-Maoist, Aruna aka Venkata Ravi Chaitanya, while giving a call to the public to observe ‘Martyr’s Week’, conveyed that the ‘East Division’ would continue to fight for the people’s rights and support the people’s movements. Following this, on July 25, 2020, the Maoists dug up a road between Tamilawada and Chintagupa to disrupt vehicular movement of SFs in the Visakhapatnam District of Andhra Pradesh.
Further, according to a July 28, 2020, report, the ‘Koraput-Visakha Secretary’, Benu, released an audio message in which he talked about the alleged atrocities of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha Governments and urged the local masses to join the Maoist ‘revolution’.
The AOB region remains a significant shelter zone for the Maoists and they are currently desperate to make every effort to keep the remaining safe havens in the region intact. SFs of both Andhra Pradesh and Odisha need to continue to act in coordination and sustain their offensives to transform the AOB region into a Maoist free zone.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management