By Ajit Kumar Singh*
Two cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) were killed in an exchange of fire with a combing party comprising Greyhounds personnel and the Vishakhapatnam District Police near Revulakota village in Koyyuru Mandal (administrative unit) under Mampa Police Station limits in the Vishakhapatnam District of Andhra Pradesh (AP) on February 21, 2016. There was no casualty on the Police side and Police recovered two 12 bore single barrel guns, some cartridges and two kit bags containing two mobile phones, uniforms and Maoist literature from the site of the encounter. Reports indicate that the slain duo belonged to CPI-Maoist’s Galikonda ‘area committee’.
Earlier, on January 2, 2016, Maoists had killed a villager, identified as Pangi Sivayya, in Visakhapatnam District. The Maoists had taken away Sivayya from his home in Boosiputtu village to Sariapalli, a nearby village, and had beaten him to death, branding him a ‘Police informer’. In another incident, on the same day, a local leader of the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and a former Sarpanch (head of the Gram Panchayat, the village level local self Government institution) of Jerrela in the Visakha Agency of Vishakhapatnam District, Sagina Venkataramana (32), was hacked to death by CPI-Maoist cadres.
These three incidents account for Maoist-related killings reported from AP in 2016 (data till February 26, 2016), resulting in four fatalities (two civilians and two Maoists).
Through 2015, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) AP had recorded eight Maoist-linked fatalities, including six civilians and two Maoists. In 2014, the State recorded 12 such deaths, including six civilians, one (Security Force) SF trooper and five Maoists.
Significantly, at the peak of Maoist insurgency in 1998, undivided AP had registered 508 fatalities, including 198 civilians, 35 SF personnel and 275 Left Wing Extremists (LWEs). Fatalities in LWE-related violence in the State recorded constant declines since 2006, barring spikes in 2010 and 2013. Telangana was carved out of AP on June 2, 2014, after which the truncated State has recorded 10 fatalities, including six civilians, one trooper, and three LWEs.
In 2015, killings were reported from two districts of AP – Vishakhapatnam and East Godavari, with an identical tally of three civilians and one militant in each. In 2014, fatalities were reported from four Districts, including Vishakhapatnam (5), East Godavari (1), Prakasam (3) and Khammam (3). Three fatalities were reported in Khammam till June 1, 2014, when it was part of AP. Thereafter, it recorded another four fatalities through 2014, as part of the new Telangana State.
According to the SATP database, through 2015, Maoist activities were substantially confined to the Visakhapatnam and East Godavari Districts, where fatalities were also recorded. Though no fatalities were reported from Vizainagaram, Prakasam, Kurnool, and Chittoor Districts, a few Maoist-related incidents indicated a continuing marginal Maoist presence. The remaining seven Districts of AP remained free of Maoist activities. The residuary Andhra Pradesh has 13 Districts, while 10 Districts of undivided AP went to Telangana. Seven of these Telangana Districts recorded some Maoist activities, including three (Adilabad, Khammam, Warangal) which recorded fatalities.
Other parameters of violence also indicated that Maoist activities were on the wane in the State, as in all other Maoist-affected regions in India. Incidents of killing declined from eight in 2014 to seven in 2015. The Stated did not record a single major incident (involving three or more fatalities) in 2015, while there were two major incidents in 2014. In one such incident, on October 19, 2014, a group of irate tribals had lynched two CPI-Maoist cadres, after the Maoists killed a villager, Gemmeli Sanjeeva Rao, at Veeravaram village in Chintapalli mandal of Visakhapatnam District. The State did not record any incident of explosion in 2015, while two such incidents, without any casualty, were recorded in 2014.
Meanwhile, according to partial data recorded by SATP, SFs arrested 44 Maoists in 2015, adding to the 55 arrested in 2014. Mounting SF pressure also led to 133 Maoists surrendering in 2015, in addition to 130 such surrenders in 2014. However, Andhra Pradesh Director General of Police (DGP), J.V. Ramudu on December 31, 2015, disclosed that 100 ultras surrendered in 2015 and 96 were arrested. He thus concluded, “Left-Wing Extremism in Andhra Pradesh has been effectively controlled. The Maoists committed 24 offences in 2015 whereas two of them died in exchange of fire.”
Nevertheless, residual threats persist. The Maoists engineered two swarming attacks (involving 50 or more cadres/militia members) in 2015, as against one such incident in 2014. In one such incident, about 400 Maoists, militia members and sympathisers entered Gobrapada village under Rangabayalu panchayat in Munchingput mandal of Visakhapatnam District at around 10pm on July 24, 2015. They first assaulted Pangi Ramanna (27), Pangi Dobulu (60) and Vanthala Sadhuram (15) and later took Ramanna into the deep forests. His body was recovered the next day. In addition, the Maoists were involved in at least eight incidents of exchange of fire with SFs in 2015, as against just two in 2014.
Further, according to a January 13, 2016, report, CPI-Maoist has reportedly set up another ‘division’ in the Andhra Odisha Border (AOB) region to restore their hold in the Srikakulam District of AP, and the Gunupur and Gudari forest areas and Rayagada in Odisha. According to unconfirmed reports, the new ‘division’ has been named ‘Odisha-Srikakulam Division’.
Meanwhile, Vishakhapatnam District continues to remain among the 35 worst Maoist-affected Districts in the country. On January 6, 2016, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) approved a grant of INR 10 billion for these Districts, spread across seven States, to carry out priority development works and augment facilities to fight the Maoists. The Maoists’ surviving presence in the District was among the factors that forced the TDP-led State Government on November 16, 2015, to put on hold its order of November 5, 2015, to allow bauxite-mining in Visakhapatnam and Vizainagaram Districts. The Maoists, along with the tribal people of the areas, had vehemently opposed the decision. Significantly, the Maoist threat was also the reason behind raising the security cover of Panchayat Raj Minister Ch. Ayyanna Patrudu, who had claimed he had received threats from the Maoists. Further, a poster and a pamphlet left behind near the dead body of Sagina Venkataramana (killed on January 2, 2016, in Vishakhapatnam District) alleged that Venkataramana was responsible for the resolution in favour of bauxite mining, allegedly passed on the basis of forged signatures, and this was the reason for his killing. All four fatalities in 2016, so far, have been reported from Vishakhapatnam District.
Despite these threats, it appears unlikely that the Maoists will succeed in regaining lost ground in AP in the foreseeable future. On November 13, 2015, though, DGP Ramudu admitted that the Maoists could use the issue of bauxite mining to regain their lost hold in the Visakhapatnam Agency, but asserted, in the same breath, that the Police was geared up o tackle any increase of activity by the Maoists if and when the Government decides to allow bauxite mining.
Similarly, on February 21, 2016, State Home Minister N. Chinarajappa, admitting to the presence of Maoists along the border of Andhra Pradesh with Odisha and Chhattisgarh, particularly after bifurcation of the State, asserted, “We will not allow the Maoists to gain strength in the areas of Polavaram or Visakhapatnam Agency. Tribal people’s consent will be taken before proceeding with the Polavaram and bauxite mining projects. An action plan has been prepared on tackling the Maoists, particularly in the areas between Chintur of East Godavari District and Visakhapatnam District. We have already sought allocation of an additional battalion of the BSF [Border Security Force]. We will use the central forces wherever their services are required.” [The Polavaram Project is a multi-purpose irrigation project across the Godavari River]. As of August 12, 2015, there were 16 Companies of Central Armed Police Forces in Andhra Pradesh.
Media reports in August 2015 indicated that there were 14,000 vacancies in the AP Police, as against a sanctioned strength of 69,796. The Government had called for the filling up of 7,000 vacancies in financial year 2015-16, but no further details on this proposed recruitment are available. The sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State is 144, but 129 officers were in position.
The AP Police fought a successful war against a rampaging Maoist insurgency, and has established an enduring peace in the State. Any neglect of Policing at the present stage will create opportunities for the Maoists to escalate their activities. The rebels are presently under extreme pressure, but are certainly not a spent force.
* Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management