By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On March 5, 2021, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres killed a former Maoist ‘militia member’, identified as Korra Pilku (35), branding him a ‘Police informer’, at Kothapalem village in Gudem Kotha (GK) Veedhi Mandal (administrative sub-division) in Visakhapatnam District. A group of Maoists entered the village, dragged Pilku out from his house and hacked him to death. This is the lone Naxal [Left Wing Extremism, LWE]-linked incident of violence recorded in Andhra Pradesh (AP), in 2021, thus far (data till March 28).
There were five fatalities (four civilians and one Maoist) in four separate incidents of killing in 2020 in AP, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP). The State had recorded a total of 14 fatalities (five civilians and nine Maoists) in seven separate incidents of killing in 2019. Thus, there was a decline of 64.28 per cent in overall fatalities in 2020 as compared to 2019.
The last fatality in the Security Forces (SFs) category took place on May 5, 2017, when a Home Guard, identified as Sheikh Valli, was killed in a landmine blast triggered by the Maoists on the Lothugedda junction-Balapam stretch in Visakhapatnam District.
Between 1968 and June 1, 2014 (on June 2, 2014 Telangana was carved out of AP), undivided AP accounted for a total of 6,296 fatalities [2,765 civilians, 560 SF personnel, 2,918 Left Wing Extremists (LWEs), and 53 unspecified fatalities]. Between June 2, 2014, and March 28, 2021, another 57 fatalities [30 civilians, one trooper and 26 Naxalites (LWEs)] have been recorded in the State.
Significantly, the Maoist insurgency in (undivided) AP recorded a high of 508 fatalities, including 198 civilians, 35 SF personnel and 275 Naxalites, in 1998.
In 2020, all the killings were reported from Vishakhapatnam District. In 2019 and 2018, also, all the fatalities were reported from the same District. The last fatality outside Vishakhapatnam was recorded in 2017, when, out of a total nine fatalities in the year, two were recorded in East Godavari – one on February 5 and another on February 27.
In 2020, while the killings were limited to Vishakhapatnam District, other Maoist-linked incidents, including arrests, arms recoveries, arson, extortion, and surrenders, were reported from Anantapur, East Godavari, Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, and West Godavari Districts, as well. The remaining seven Districts of AP remained free of Maoist activities. Similarly, in 2019, while killing was limited to Vishakhapatnam District, other Maoist-linked incidents were reported from East Godavari, Guntur, Srikakulam as well. The remaining nine Districts of AP remained free of Maoist activities.
Data released by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on September 21, 2020, indicated that six Districts [East Godavari, Guntur, Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram, and West Godavari] of Andhra Pradesh were considered to be affected by LWE-violence, among 90 Districts in 11 States, which are also covered under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) Scheme. Moreover, according to data released by UMHA on March 23, 2021, Vishakhapatnam, was among the ‘30 worst Maoist-affected Districts in 7 States’ in the country.
In 2016, eight AP Districts – Anantapur, East Godavari, Guntur, Kurnool, Prakasam, Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam, and Vizianagaram – were among 106 Districts in 10 States identified by the Government of India as LWE-affected Districts in the country.
One of the primary reasons for the dramatic decline in Maoist activities in AP is that the rebels are losing the support of the locals and, indeed, facing grassroots opposition.
For instance, according to a March 7, 2021, report, a large number of tribals, staged a protest at GK Veedhi Mandal in Visakhapatnam District, condemning the March 5, 2021, killing at Kothapalem village. Youths gathered in large number and formed a human chain on the main road at GK Veedhi Mandal and also burnt an effigy of the Maoists, raising slogans against the LWEs, alleging that the latter were neither letting them live peacefully nor allowing the area to be developed. The tribals demanded that the Government take strong action against the Maoists and also warned the rebels against entering their villages.
Some concerns, however, persist.
According to a February 26, 2021, report, in an effort to win support among the locals, the Maoists, have extended their backing to the people and workers agitating against the proposed strategic sale of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP). In a letter released by the CPI-Maoist, the spokesman of the ‘Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC)’, Kailash aka Kailasam, declared that the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant had been ‘achieved’ after people made ‘huge sacrifices.’ As many as 32 persons had been killed, the letter alleged, and added that the sale of steel plant would not be allowed.
Further, according to a January 2, 2021, report, seeing the ongoing Farmers’ Protest as an opportunity to strike the right chord to gather support and sympathy of the locals, CPI-Maoist ‘AOBSZC’ ‘secretary’ Ravi aka Uday aka Ganesh, released a letter extending support to the farmers’ movement. The letter declared that the farmers’ issues could be solved only through people’s revolution, and criticised the Government for trying to dilute the agitation, which was supported by various sections of society. The Farmers’ Protest against the three newly enacted farm laws – The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020 – has been going on since the passing of the Bills in the Parliament on September 2020. The President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, gave his assent to the Bills on September 27, 2020, making them Law.
The ‘AOBSZC’ alleged, further,
Capitalism has turned out to be the cause of all the ills plaguing the world. It is leading to exploitation of the poor and oppressed sections of society. The capitalists are fragmenting the world and sharing the spoils based on their respective power. The capitalist industries are exploiting the natural resources such as timber, coal, gold, iron and bauxite in the backward countries. They are driving out the poor from their lands and forcing them to lead miserable lives in the slums in cities. India is also being influenced by the capitalist policies, and the Modi government, in its second stint, is following a pro-capitalist and anti-poor agenda. State governments such as Chhattisgarh and Odisha are competing with each other to please the capitalists by signing MoUs [Memorandum of Understandings] with them.
It called upon the people to join the ‘struggle against capitalistic forces, which were out to destroy the earth for their selfish goals.’
An August 5, 2020, report, moreover, revealed that the Maoists were taking to cannabis (ganja) cultivation in the agency area of AP to maintain their flow of funds. According to the Police, the nexus between Maoists and cannabis traders came to the fore with the arrest on August 5, 2020, of Kolakani Kamesh from Maddigaruvu area in Gangaraju Madugula Mandal in Visakhapatnam District, with 24 kilograms of ganja, two steel carriages, 10 detonators, nuts and bolts and INR 176,000 in cash. Satish Kumar, Officer on Special Duty (OSD), anti-Maoist operations, stated,
We always knew Maoists collect levy from ganja traders. Now we have come to know that they are into ganja cultivation too.
Indeed, during interrogation, Kamesh accepted that he had been working for the Maoists for four years. He also said that he was contacted by one Maoist couple – Ashok and his wife Lakshmi – who used to supply him with ganja. Giving details of the modus operandi, OSD, Satish Kumar, stated,
He would use the money from the sale to procure food material, medicines, and even explosives for Maoists. They are now engaging local tribals to cultivate ganja.
Despite these worrying developments, the AP Police continue to face critical gaps in capacities and deployment in the State. According to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as on January 1, 2020, the AP Police continued to lag in terms of capacities. As against the sanctioned strength of 73,894 policemen in AP, only 59,553 were in position, creating a deficit of 19.40 per cent. The actual police-population ratio (police personnel per 100,000 population) in AP was 113.68, significantly below the inadequate national average of 155.78. More worryingly, the actual Police/Area Ratio (number of policemen per 100 square kilometres) in AP was just 36.55, against the national average of 63.63. Both the State and national averages on the Police/Area ratio were well below the sanctioned strength, at 45.36 and 79.80, respectively. In addition, the sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State was 144, but just 115 officers were in position, creating a deficit of 20.13 per cent, considerably weakening the executive supervision of the Force.
The AP Police has, no doubt, done incredibly well against the Maoists over the past decades, but the Maoists are certainly not a spent force. It is imperative for the Governments, both at the Central and State levels, to address critical security deficits and strengthen the necessary administrative, developmental and security outreach to consolidate peace in the State.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management