By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On January 18, 2022, three Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres were killed in an encounter with the Police in the Karriguttalu Forest area under the Venkatapuram (Nuguru) Mandal (administrative sub-division) in the Mulugu District of Telangana, close to the Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh. The slain Maoists were identified as Venkatapuram-Wazedu ‘area committee secretary’, who hails from Chhattisgarh; Madakam Singe aka Shanta, Kommula Naresh aka Buchanna, Yellandu-Narsampet ‘squad commander’, from Jaggaihapet village under the Regonda Mandal in Jayashankar Bhupalpally District, and Kovasi Mooyal aka Kailas of Cheekupal village in Dantewada District, Chhattisgarh. A constable of the Greyhounds, Telangana’s elite anti-Naxal [Left Wing Extremism, LWE] squad, sustained injuries in the encounter. One SLR [Self Loading Rifle], one INSAS [Indian Small Arms System] assault rifle, 10 Rocket Launchers, and other materials were recovered from the encounter site.
This is the lone LWE-linked incident of killing recorded in the State in the current year, thus far (data till January 23, 2022).
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), through 2021, Telangana State recorded two incidents of killing resulting in four fatalities (all Maoists). In 2020, there were 12 fatalities in seven incidents of killing, including two civilians and 10 Naxalites (Left Wing Extremists, LWEs).
The last civilian killing was reported on October 25, 2020, when CPI-Maoist cadres killed a villager, identified as N. Eshwar of Mallampalli in Mulugu District, at Gorukonda village in the Charla Mandal in Bhadrachalam Agency in Bhadradri Kothagudem District, accusing him of being a ‘police informer.’ A letter making this allegation was left beside the body.
Since the formation of the State on June 2, 2014, Telangana has recorded a total of 47 fatalities (37 Naxalites and 10 civilians). On the other hand, SFs have not suffered a single loss in the State since its formation. Of the 10 civilians killed, thus far, the Naxalites branded nine as ‘police informers.’ The tenth, a farmer identified as Rayala Bhaskar (55), was killed on August 16, 2017, at Narsampet village in Palwancha Mandal in Khammam District, by 15 cadres of one group of the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist-New Democracy because the deceased had reportedly sought the help of members of another group of the same outfit to resolve an internal issue in his village (Narsampet).
Apart from killing 37 Naxalites, SFs have arrested 378 since the formation of the State: 61 in 2021, 20 in 2020, 98 in 2019, 54 in 2018, 68 in 2017, 23 in 2016, 44 in 2015, and 10 in 2014. Some of the prominent arrests in 2021 include: CPI-Maoist Communications ‘chief’ in the Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh and senior leader of the ‘Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC)’, identified as Sobroi aka Gaddam Madhukar aka Mohan, who carried a reward of INR 800,000 on his head, arrested by Telangana Police along with one CPI-Maoist courier from Peddammagadda Cross Road in the Warangal District of Telangana, on June 2; a ‘deputy commander’, identified as Sodi Deva (24), arrested during combing operations in the forests near Geesarelli village under the Cherla Mandal in Bhadradri Kothagudem District, on April 23; CPI-Maoist’s Indravati ‘area committee member,’ Paddam Munni aka Tellam Munni, along with a Maoist courier, arrested from the Cherla bus stand in Khammam District, on February 23; and CPI-Maoist’s Katekalyan ‘area committee’ ‘deputy chief commander’ Guddi Madvi (28) and Pele Madvi (26), a ‘commander’, arrested from Peniguda village in Bhadradri Kothagudem District, on February 15.
The continuing SF pressure has resulted in the surrender of 267 Naxalites since the formation of the State: 138 in 2021, 50 in 2020, nine in 2019, 10 in 2018, 23 in 2017, 13 in 2016, 13 in 2015, and 11 in 2014. Most recently, senior CPI-Maoist leader and ‘district committee member,’ Jajjeri Samakka aka Sharadakka (45), surrendered in the Hyderabad District of Telangana on September 17, 2021.
Geographically, the LWE-linked fatalities in 2021 were reported from Mulugu (three Maoists) and Bhadradri Kothagudem (one Maoist). In 2020, fatalities were reported from Bhadradri Kothagudem (one civilian and six Maoists), Mulugu (one civilian and two Maoists) and Komaram Bheem (two Maoists). Unsurprisingly, Bhadradri Kothagudem is among the ‘25 Most Affected Districts’ from eight States across India, identified by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), while, Bhadradri Kothagudem, Komaram Bheem and Mulugu, along with Adilabad, Jayashankar Bhupalpally, and Mancherial, are covered under the ‘Security Related Expenditure (SRE)’ scheme for conducting focused operations against the ultras, among 70 LWE-affected Districts in 10 States across the country. Telangana has a total of 31 Districts.
Moreover, according to SATP data for 2021, based on assessments of underground and over-ground activities of the Naxalites, two Districts – Bhadradri Kothagudem and Mulugu – remained in the moderately affected category; while, six Districts – Hyderabad, Jayashankar Bhupalpally, Khammam, Peddapally, Rajanna-Sircilla, and Yadadri Bhongir, were marginally affected. In 2020, three Districts – Bhadradri Kothagudem, Komaram Bheem, and Mulugu – were moderately affected; while, seven Districts – Adilabad, Hyderabad, Jayashankar Bhupalpally, Khammam, Mahabubabad, Nalgonda, and Warangal, were marginally affected.
Indeed, the Maoists have failed to make deep inroads inside Telangana since the formation of the State. According to a December 28, 2021, report, some CPI-Maoist leaders from Telangana had found it expedient to hide in Chhattisgarh, using the tribals there to protect them, as they could not stand find a secure safe haven in their own State.
The Maoists are facing public ire as well. On December 19, 2021, pamphlets were seen in large numbers in several villages in the Charla zone in Bhadradri Kothagudem District in which tribal groups posed 25 questions, which included: If the Maoists are there to change the lives of poor tribals, what has changed in our lives because of you? How many more must die without being able to go to the roads or to hospitals for treatment? Want to stay in the dark for a while longer? Why are the roads not paved for our woods? Water Jungle Land for You. For Us? Why are bombs in the woods not letting us turn around? Why should we be intimidated and taken to the meetings you put on? How long should you and your party live in fear like this?
Yet, the menace is far from over. Director General of Police (DGP), M. Mahender Reddy stated on December 31, 2021,
Maoist’s activities were confined to the bordering areas between Telangana and neighbouring Chhattisgarh. Out of more than 100 district committee members, 70 per cent are from Chhattisgarh and the remaining 30 percent are from Telangana but all are staying and operating from Chhattisgarh area.
DGP Reddy, however, asserted, “The desperate efforts of CPI (Maoist) to revive the movement in Telangana are being effectively thwarted by the state police.”
On September 26, 2021, Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao indicated that the outlawed groups operating from Chhattisgarh had been attempting to regroup, and wanted the Centre to step up vigil and deploy forces wherever required.
Meanwhile, the Maoists continue with their efforts to win public support. Most recently, on January 3, 2022, the CPI-Maoist extended its support to protests against the GO (Government Order) 317, which was introduced on December 6, 2021, pertaining to the introduction of a zonal system in the allocation of jobs under Telangana Public Employment system. A letter purportedly released by the CPI-Maoist ‘Central Committee’ ‘spokesperson’ Jagan at Venkatapuram demanded that the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) Government withdraw GO 317. The letter also urged people to support the employees’ protests until the Government withdrew the order.
Earlier, on January 2, 2022, Venkatesh, ‘secretary’ of the JMWP (Jayashankar, Mahabubabad, Warangal and Peddapally) Division Committee of the CPI-Maoist, in a letter issued to the media, warned the sand mafia in Mulugu District, and alleged that the mafia was looting riverbed sand belonging to the Adivasi Sand Society in the Godavari basin. The letter read,
Change your method for now. Ignoring the warnings in the letter will not be tolerated. Contractors Prabhakar Chaudhary and Pillutla Sreenu are warned that if they do not change, they will be punished by the people.
SFs have spearheaded a successful counter-insurgency response against the Maoists, foiling all their efforts to successfully implement their ‘revival plan’ in their erstwhile areas of dominance in Telangana. It is important to emphasize, here, that Telangana was long the Naxalite heartland, the area most affected by the Maoist movement, certainly since its revival in the 1980s, and well into the 2000s.
Nevertheless, some areas of neglect remain at the policy level. At least 29,492 Police posts were vacant in the State as on January 1, 2020, against a sanctioned strength of 78,369 – a deficit of 37.63 per cent – according to the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D). Moreover, against the sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State at 139, just 105 were in position, considerably weakening decision-making in the Force. Moreover, the police-population ratio (Policemen per hundred thousand population) in the State was 130.88 per 100,000, even lower than the appallingly low national average of 155.78 [over 220 Policemen per 100,000 population are considered the benchmark even for ‘peacetime policing’].
The State Government can afford no measure of complacency, and it is imperative to address existing lacunae in the enforcement apparatus, to ensure that the Maoists are not able to regroup and re-establish their networks in a region they long dominated.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management