By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On June 9, 2023, the Police arrested the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) Pamedu Local Organising Squad (LOS) ‘commander’, Gotta Bujji alias Kamala alias Laxmi (29), at the Taliperu Dam in the Cherla Mandal (administrative sub division) of Bhadradri Kothagudem District. Bujji, a native of Cherpalli village under Bhupalapatnam Police Station of the Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh, came to the Taliperu Dam area along with other Maoists and ‘militia’ (people’s army of the Maoists) members with the intention of killing the police personnel. Bujji’s associates fled from the spot on encountering the Police. Police seized one electric detonator, five gelatin sticks, four batteries, and two 50 metre bundles of Cordex wire.
On June 6, 2023, the Police arrested three CPI-Maoist cadres – Poonem Nageswara Rao, Devasuri Mallikarjuna Rao and Palle Pogula aliasUmashankar – during vehicle checks at Devanagaram under the Cherla Mandal in the Bhadradri Kothagudem District. Ten gelatin sticks, 160 meters of cordex wire, five electric detonators, one drone camera and one lathe machine were seized from the arrested couriers.
On May 22, 2023, Police arrested five cadres of the CPI-Maoist and five ‘militia’ members from the Mulakanapalli Forest area in the Dummugudem Mandal (administrative division) of Bhadradri Kothagudem District. Superintendent of Police (SP), Vineeth G., disclosed that the Police seized 500 detonators, 600 slurry sticks, 90 bundles of cordex wire, two motorcycles, a tractor and a pick-up truck, from the arrestees. The arrestees had procured the material at the directions of the top Maoist leadership. The material was intended for the manufacture of landmines, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and rocket launchers.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 28 Maoists/associates have been arrested during search operations and combing raids in the Bhadradri Kothagudem District since the beginning of the current year (all data till June 18, 2023). During the corresponding period of 2022, four Maoists had been arrested. Another 16 arrests were made during the remaining days of 2022. Since June 2, 2014, when Telangana was created and the district came into being, to June 18, 2023; at least 211 Maoists have been arrested in the district.
Further, two Maoists have surrendered in Bhadradri Kothagudem in the current year (data till June 18, 2023). 14 surrenders took place in the corresponding period of 2022, and another six during the remaining days of 2022. 132 surrenders took place in 2021. Since 2014, at least 222 Maoists have surrendered in the district.
Meanwhile, a total of two Maoists have been killed in Bhadradri Kothagudem in the current year. During the corresponding period of 2022, there was no Maoist fatality recorded, nor in the remaining period of 2022. Since 2014, a total of 23 Maoists has been killed in the district.
Since its formation in 2014, the Security Forces (SFs) have maintained their supremacy on the ground in their fight against the Maoists and have not lost any of their personnel in the district.
Despite SF dominance, the district has recorded at least five civilian deaths since 2014. The last civilian killing was reported on August 30, 2022, when CPI-Maoist cadres hacked the deputy Sarpanch (head of the Panchayat, village level local self-Government institution) of Kurnapally Gram Panchayat to death, branding him as a ‘police informer’. Kurnapally is located in the Cherla Mandal of Bhadradri Kothagudem District. In addition to the one civilian killing of 2022, killings were recorded in 2020 (one), 2018 (two) and 2017 (one).
Bhadradri Kothagudem was one among the ‘25 Most Affected Districts’, from eight States across India, released by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on June 19, 2021. Moreover, Bhadradri Kothagudem, along with five other Districts of Telangana (Adilabad, Jayashankar-Bhupalpally, Komaram Bheem, Mancherial and Mulugu), is also included among the 70 LWE-affected Districts in 10 States across India, covered under the Centre’s Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme, which funds focused operations against the Naxalites.
Bhadradri Kothagudem, a predominantly tribal district, is the easternmost district of Telangana, sharing borders with the Bijapur and Sukma Districts (Chhattisgarh State) in the north and northeast; East Godavari District to the east; Khammam District and West Godavari District to the south and southeast; and Mahabubabad District and Mulugu District to the west and northwest. The district occupies an area of 7,483 square kilometres, with 4,286.98 square kilometres, or about 57.29 per cent of its total geographical area, under forest cover, spreading over Bhadrachalam, Manuguru, Bergampahad, Kothagudem, and Yellandu. The physiography of the district comprises plains, hills, and mountains. Administratively, the district comprises 377 revenue villages, 23 Revenue Mandals and two Revenue Divisions – Kothagudem and Bhadrachalam. The district headquarters is located at Kothagudem town. Sharing its borders with the worst Naxal [Left Wing Extremism, LWE]-affected state, Chhattisgarh, to the north and northeast, and other LWE-affected districts of Telangana to the east, west and south, has made Bhadradri Kothagudem a significant guerilla safe haven.
Not surprisingly, despite having failed to make any significant inroads, the Maoists continue in their efforts to secure the district as a safe harbour. The recent recoveries on June 6, 2023 [one drone camera, ten gelatin sticks, 160 meters of cordex wire, five electric detonators, and one lathe machine], and May 22, 2023 [500 detonators, 600 slurry sticks, 90 bundles of cordex wire], underline the persistence of such efforts.
Moreover, on June 6, 2023, concerned over the recovery of the drone, SP Vineeth G. stated that it was for the first time that Police in Telangana seized a drone camera that was on its way to Maoists, and noted,
Had the drone camera fallen into the hands of Maoists, it could have posed a great threat to security forces, as Maoists could have gathered details of vital security installations using it.
Further, in order to gather the sympathy of the tribal population, the Maoists are raising issues concerning the common people and appealing to them to revolt. Thus, on March 8, 2023, the CPI-Maoist released a letter in which the banned outfit accused the Communist Party of India (CPI) and Congress leaders of encroaching on lands. CPI-Maoist ‘secretary’ for Bhadradri Kothagudem-Alluri Sitarama Raju (BK-ASR) division committee, Koyyada Sambaiah alias Azad, alleged that CPI leader Ravulapalli Ramprasad, Bogala Srinivas Reddy of the Congress, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader Kodali Srinivas, and Bhadrachalam Mandal Revenue Officer Srinivas, encroached 4.15 acres of government land in survey No. 111/5 at ITDA Bhadrachalam. Alleging that Ravulapalli Ramprasad encroached a total of six acres of private land, of which three acres belonged to Vasireddy Duragaiah of Bhadrachalam, and the rest was owned by Christian organisations. Ramprasad registered the encroached land as a pattawith the help of government officials and local Congress Member of the Legislative Assembly Podem Veeraiah. Azad called upon the locals to revolt against encroachers and take back the illegally occupied lands. He even made an appeal to the tribals to take up arms and assured them that the Maoist party would support them in their struggle.
On May 2, 2023, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Paritosh Pankaj, also noted that CPI-Maoist leaders are resorting to acts of violence in Bhadradri Kothagudem District:
Maoists were committing criminal offences to show their presence and harassing the innocent tribal people of the agency areas. The Naxals have become obstacles to development. The top leaders of the Maoist party were compelling their lower-level cadres to commit illegal activities with the aim of extorting money and troubling innocent tribals in many ways for their selfish interests. Minor boys and girls were being tortured by the Naxals forcing them to join the Maoist party.
Moreover, the ASP noted that many cadres, attracted by ‘Operation Chayutha’, were planning to surrender, but were being prevented from doing so by the top Maoist leadership. Significantly, ‘Operation Chayutha’ is an initiative by the district Police to encourage underground Naxalites [Left Wing Extremists] who want to surrender and lead a normal life, to approach their nearest Police Station or district officials either through their family members or in person. The district Police would make arrangements for their rehabilitation on behalf of the government.
According to an April 6, 2023, report, as many as 14 cadres from the district were currently working for the CPI-Maoist in Bhadradri Kothagudem District. SP Vineeth stated that, previously, 28 people from the district worked in the Maoist party and their number had come down because of the efforts being made by the State Government and Bhadradri Kothagudem Police to wean the people away from Maoist influence in the district. The family members of the underground Maoists have to take the responsibility of encouraging the Maoists to surrender in order to lead a normal life.
The Bhadradri Kothagudem District of Telangana is an area where the Maoists continue to seek to establish a stronghold. Sustained SF operations, combined with effective administrative decisions, can ensure that the gains of recent years are consolidated further, and the threat of this enduring insurgency is finally ended.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management