India: Tactical Reprisals – Analysis
By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On July 12, 2019, Nalluri Srinivas Rao (40), a leader of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), the ruling party in the neighbouring state of Telangana, was allegedly bludgeoned to death with a boulder by Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres at Puttapadu village in the Sukma District of Chhattisgarh. Srinivas was allegedly abducted by a 15-member Maoist team from his house in Kothur village under Charla Mandal (administrative sub-division) in the Bhadrachalam agency of Bhadradri-Kothagudem District, Telangana, on July 8.
A letter signed by Saradakka aka Jajjari aka Sammakka aka Sarakka, ‘secretary’ of the CPI-Maoist ‘Charla-Sabari area committee’, left behind at the site of the killing, alleged that Srinivas was working in tandem with the Police and giving information about Maoist movements to the Police. The Maoists also alleged in the note, “Rao had a close nexus with Special Branch police and campaigned against the Maoist party.”
Interestingly, the letter also alleged that Srinivas had grabbed land from Adivasis (tribals), and had been tipping off State intelligence units, resulting in the arrest of some civil rights’ activists. However, on July 10, two days after the abduction, pamphlets by the Adivasi associations surfaced at Tegada, Kaliveru, Satyanarayanapuram, R. Kothagudem, Kudunur, Chintaguppa and Lenin Colony villages in Charla Mandal in the Bhadradri Kothagudem District stating,
|It was unjust on part of Maoists to abduct such a person. In case Srinivas Rao has committed any wrong, Maoists would have given him a prior warning but no such thing happened. Hence, he should be released without causing any harm to his life.|
This incident of killing of a political leader has several precedents in the trajectory of Maoist violence. Indeed, a spurt in political killings has been witnessed in Naxal [Left Wing Extremism, LWE] violence across the country. In the current year itself, such incidents include:
June 19: CPI-Maoist cadres killed Santosh Punem, a Samajwadi Party (SP) leader, after abducting him in the Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh. Santosh, a contractor by profession, was abducted by the Maoists from his construction site situated in Marimalla village under the Ilmidi Police Station area. The road between Lodhed and Marimalla was under construction under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY, Prime Minister’s Village Roads Plan) scheme, and Punem had gone to supervise this work when he was abducted and killed.
May 25: An Indian National Congress (INC) leader was hacked to death by CPI-Maoist cadres at Kistapar under the Bhairamgarh Police Station in Bijapur District, Chhattisgarh. The deceased, identified as Sahadev Samrath (30), was dragged out of his house and hacked by the Maoists just a few kilometres away from the local Police Station. He was also branded a ‘police informer’ by the Maoists.
April 9: A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator from the Bastar region, Bhima Mandavi (40) and his four security personnel were killed, as Maoist cadres targeted the convoy in which he was travelling, in a forested patch near Nakulnar Village in the Kuwakonda Tehsil (revenue unit) in the Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh. Mandavi was the elected Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Dantewada in December 2018, and was the only BJP MLA in the Bastar Division, since 2003.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least four political leaders have been killed in five incidents of Maoist attack on political leadership across India since the beginning of 2019 (data till July 21, 2019). During the corresponding period in 2018, no such incident was registered. However, at least two political leaders were killed in one incident in the remaining period of 2018. On September 23, 2018, CPI-Maoist cadres gunned down Kidari Sarveswara Rao, an MLA from the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Siveru Soma, a former MLA, also belonging to TDP, near Livitiput village in Dumbriguda Mandal in the agency area of the Visakhapatnam District of Andhra Pradesh.
At least 152 political leaders have been killed in 195 incidents of Maoist attacks on the leadership across India since the time of CPI-Maoist’s formation in 2004 (data till July 21, 2019). At peak in 2009, the number of such incidents stood at 44, in which at least 31 political leaders were assassinated by the Naxalites.
An overview of the geographical distribution of such incidents indicates that, since the formation of CPI-Maoist, West Bengal has registered at least 74 incidents of attacks on political leaders, resulting in 62 fatalities, and ranked first among eight States where such incidents were recorded over this period. Andhra Pradesh, with 32 such incidents and 21 fatalities, ranked second; Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, with 28 such incidents each, and 27 and 21 fatalities, respectively, ranked third; Bihar and Odisha, with 14 such incidents each, and five and 12 fatalities, respectively, ranked fourth; Maharashtra, with four incidents and three fatalities, ranked fifth; and Karnataka, with one such incident and one fatality, was sixth.
Prominently, in 1998, cadres of the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) – People’s War (also, the People’s War Group, PWG) carried out an attack targeting the then Chief Minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu, while he was campaigning for the Metpally Assembly by-election near Kathlapur village in the Karimnagar District of Andhra Pradesh. Naidu survived the attack, but Police personnel present on the spot sustained severe injuries.
Importantly, the worst ever attack by the Maoists targeting the political leadership, across all Maoist affected regions in India, was the May 25, 2013, ambush in which 29 persons were killed, and another 30 injured, some of them critically, in the swarming attack by Maoist cadres in the Darbha Ghati region of Sukma District, Chhattisgarh. Five INC leaders, eight INC workers, and eight SF personnel were among 29 the persons killed. The INC leaders killed included Mahendra Karma, senior Congress leader and the controversial architect of the armed Salwa Judum (anti-Maoist ‘people’s movement’ in Chhattisgarh); the then INC state President, Nandkumar Patel; his son Dinesh Patel, the then Youth Congress leader; former MLA Uday Mudaliyar; and former Union Minister Vidya Charan Shukla. The Maoists who targeted their political victims alone, reportedly did not execute the Policemen after the crossfire ended. The Darbha Ghati attack wiped out a major section of the then State Congress leadership.
High-profile ambushes targeting political leaders help the Maoists energise their dispirited cadres, attract new cadres to their ranks, and reinforce their waning influence. Further, the Maoists justify such killings, claiming they have brought the perpetrators of crimes against the people to justice.
On July 10, 2019, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, G. Kishan Reddy, replying to a question in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of India’s Parliament), claimed that there has been a consistent decline in both LWE violence and the geographical spread of LWE influence. While, violent incidents have declined from a high of 2,258 in 2009 to 833 in 2018, resultant fatalities have declined steadily from 1,005 in 2010 to 240 in 2018. He also stated that the reduction in the geographical spread of LWE is evident in the decline in the number of Districts reporting violence to 60 in 2018. There were a total of 223 Maoist-affected districts in 2008, as per UMHA data.
Despite the reverses the Maoists have suffered across the country, however, it is clear that the Maoists have not given up, nor have they lost their capacities to strike against high value targets.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate; Institute for Conflict Management