Andhra Pradesh: Maoists: Waning Support
By Fakir Mohan Pradhan
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management
Communist Party of India - Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres, along with a large number of armed militia members and sympathisers, attacked and destroyed an Ashram (hermitage) of a local spiritual guru, Jaggamdora Simhachalam aka Satyanarayana, at Gurramveedhi village in the G. Madugula mandal (administrative unit) of Vishakhapatnam District, Andhra Pradesh, in the night of January 17, 2015. Simhachalam was not at his Ashram at the time of the attack. Maoists beat up six persons present in the Ashram and set afire furniture, vehicles and a shed.
Claiming responsibility for the incident the Korukonda 'local area committee', left pamphlets and hung a banner saying that the Ashram was attacked in retaliation to the killing of Sharath and militia member P. Ganapathi on October 19, 2014, and that Simhachalam would not be spared.
'Divisional committee member' Sindri China Ranga Rao aka Sharath and P. Ganapathi were lynched by locals while Maoists were taking Simhachalam to a praja court ('people's court') near Korukonda Shandy, after killing G. Sanjeeva Rao on ‘charges’ of being a Police informer. Another Maoist militia member, Korra Nageswara Rao, was also believed to have been killed in this incident, but, as facts emerged later, he survived after being dumped in a nearby stream, and subsequently escaped. On November 27, he was seen talking to the media during a memorial meeting held by the Maoists in the Vishakhapatnam Agency area.
The Maoists’ revenge attack notwithstanding, the lynching incident in what was long a Maoist stronghold indicates that even the residual strength of the Maoists in Andhra Pradesh is waning. Further, on January 21, 2015, 34 Maoist sympathisers surrendered before the Police at Rajavommangi in East Godavari District. It is significant that, after a protracted political slug fest and acrimonious protests, Andhra Pradesh was officially bifurcated to create the new State of Telangana on June 2, 2014. According to the arrangement, Hyderabad will remain the joint capital for both the States for ten years, after which Andhra Pradesh will have its own capital and Hyderabad will be transferred entirely to Telangana. The residuary Andhra Pradesh has 13 Districts and Telangana has 10. Most of the Maoist affected Districts in the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh have gone to Telangana.
According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), in the undivided Andhra Pradesh, by the end of 2013, Maoist activity appeared to have been substantially confined to Visakhapatnam and Khammam Districts, while Karimnagar, Warangal, Srikakulam, Nalgonda, Mahabubnagar, East and West Godavari Districts remained marginally affected. The residual State of Andhra Pradesh, inherited just one District, Visakhapatnam, with moderate Maoist activity and three Districts - East Godavari, West Godavari and Srikakulam – with marginal Maoist activity. However, seven mandals of the erstwhile Khammam District, which had a considerable Maoist presence, have been added to East and West Godavari District.
According to SATP data, the present (residual) Andhra Pradesh has recorded 10 fatalities, including five civilians and five Maoists, in LWE related incidents of violence in 2014, as compared to eight fatalities including six civilians and two Maoists in 2013 in the same areas. This suggests that Andhra Pradesh has sustained the advantage it had secured against the Maoists before the division of the State. While civilian fatalities remain comparable, Maoist fatalities have gone up from two to five. There were no SF fatalities in either year.
In terms of spatial distribution, fatalities in 2014 were reported from three Districts – Vishakhapatnam (three civilians and two Maoists), Prakasam (three Maoists) and East Godavari (two civilians). In 2013, fatalities were reported from three Districts of the comparable area of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh - Vishakhapatnam (four civilians and one Maoist), East Godavari (two civilians) and Nellore (one Maoist).
Two major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) were recorded in 2014 - one in Prakasam (three Maoists killed in an encounter with SFs on June 19 and another in Vishakhapatnam (one civilian and two Maoists, on October 19). The Maoists had engineered just one major incident in 2013, killing three tribals in the Lakkavaram forest area in G.K. Veedhi mandal of Visakhapatnam District on February 19. No major incidents were reported in 2012 and 2011 in the residual Andhra Pradesh areas.
Maoists engineered one swarming attack (involving 50 or more cadres/militia members) each in 2014 and 2013. On January 27, 2014, 20 CPI-Maoist cadres accompanied by an estimated 50 militia members triggered blasts at two coffee pulping units and a godown of the Andhra Pradesh Forest Development Corporation's coffee pulping yard at Chapagedda in GK Veedhi mandal in Visakhapatnam District. Earlier on July 6, 2013, some 20 CPI-Maoist cadres along with about 70 militia members raided the house of a former chairman of the Agriculture Marketing Committee of Chintapalli mandal, Vantala Subba Rao in his native Bayalu Kinchangi village under Choudapalli Panchayat of Visakhapatnam District.
The Maoists were involved in at least two exchanges of fire, two explosions, four incidents of arson and gave calls for bandhs (general shutdown strikes) on two occasions in 2014; in 2013 they were involved in at least three exchanges of fire, one explosion, one incident of arson, four cases of assault and gave calls for bandhs on three occasions.
The Maoists held a meeting on November 27, 2014, in memory of the cadres lynched in the October 19 incident. The meeting was organised somewhere near the location of the incident, and people from 33 villages under the Balapam Gram Panchayat were asked to attend. The meeting was reportedly addressed by the party's 'east division secretary' Kailasam, and many top leaders at the State level were also present. Reports suggest that more than a hundred party functionaries attended. Kailasam announced that coffee plantations at Siribala, RV Nagar and Chapagedda would be distributed to the Girijans (tribals) soon, since the party believed that the forest wealth belonged to the Girijans. Six coffee plantations had been 'allocated' by the Maoists to the Girijans in the past.
Overall, Maoist activities appear to have been substantially confined to Visakhapatnam District, while East and West Godavari and Srikakulam Districts remain marginally affected. However, with the transfer of seven mandals from the Khammam District of the Telangana region, close to the troubled Chhattisgarh border, to the residual Andhra Pradesh State, the East and West Godavari Districts may see an increase in Maoist activities in the foreseeable future.
On December 29, 2014, Andhra Pradesh Director General of Police (DGP) J.V. Ramudu disclosed that Police had arrested 75 Naxalites (left wing extremists), while another 93 surrendered through 2014. Maoists were involved in over a dozen reported crimes during the year, including the killing of four civilians. Five Maoists were shot dead in exchange of fire in different places and the Police seized 17 weapons from their possession. However, giving an assessment of Maoist activities in Visakhapatnam District, particularly in the Agency area, Superintendent of Police (SP) Koya Praveen stated, on December 29, 2014, that a total of 83 persons had been arrested during the year, including nine extremists, 28 militia members and 46 sympathisers, as against 66 persons, including three extremists, 32 militia members and 31 sympathisers in 2013. The arrests included an active member of the CPI-Maoist Galikonda ‘area committee’, identified as Pangi Bhaskara Rao, and of the Kalimela ‘area committee’, Korra Santhi.
On August 22, 2014, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu, during a discussion in the State Assembly, disclosed that 83 underground Maoist cadres from Andhra Pradesh had been identified as active, of whom 61 were known to be operating in the State, while the remaining were operating from Chhattisgarh and other States. Interestingly, while giving an assessment of Maoist numbers, Visakhapatnam Superintendent of Police Koya Praveen noted that, while it was not possible to give the exact number, it was estimated that the East Visakha Joint Division chief Chalapathi and his deputy Bakuri Venkata Ramana alias Ganesh were moving around with about 40 to 50 hardcore cadres, each. Similarly, Galikonda area committee heads Ravi and Sharat and Korukonda area committee leaders Naveen and Kiran led groups of at least 30 Maoist cadres each. Praveen added, “The figures are excluding the local militia members and sympathisers.” Further, “The weaponry depends on the rank. It is reported that leaders such as Ravi and Naveen, have at least five to six AK 47 assault rifles in their group and supported by a good number of .303 Lee Enfield rifles. They also carry landmines and claymore mines.”
Since concerns persist, Andhra Pradesh is gearing up to tackle the residual Maoist presence. A special company of armed Police is to be set up for the seven mandals of Khammam which were merged into Andhra Pradesh, and the Centre has cleared this proposal. The Government is also considering the setting up of a special Police Sub-division for these seven mandals. According to Andhra Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister China Rajappa, of the 13 Districts in the State, only eight Districts have armed battalions. West Godavari, Prakasam, Chittoor, Krishna and Srikakulam Districts do not have any armed battalions and proposals have been sent to the Centre seeking approval for five such battalions. The Centre has sanctioned two battalions with one of these to be set up at Vijayawada and another in one of the Rayalaseema Districts. Reports indicate that the State was awaiting sanction of another two battalions.
Vishakhapatnam District Police is upgrading its existing Police Stations to make them attack-proof. Superintendent of Police Praveen observed, in this connection, "At Chintapalli and GK Veedhi, about 80 per cent of the work is over. At Hukumpeta, we are midway through. They should be ready in a couple of months." Another six Police Stations have been identified for similar upgradation, and work is to commence shortly.
According to the latest available data, the Andhra Pradesh Police as on December 31, 2013, before bifurcation of the State, had a Police-population ratio of 123 per 100,000 (actual strength, National Crime Records Bureau data]. This reflected a deficit of 22,950 personnel against sanctioned strength, with 11 vacancies in the ranks of DG/ Addl.DG / IG / DIG, 142 vacancies in SSP/SP/Addl.SP/ ASP/ Dy.SP ranks (though there was a surplus of 13 in the Armed Police in these ranks), 3,172 vacancies in the Inspector, Sub Inspector and Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) ranks, and 19,625 vacancies in personnel below ASI rank.
However, DGP Ramudu, on December 22, 2014, asserted that existing numbers in the residual Andhra Pradesh State were sufficient in the officer cadres. In fact, the Department was forcing Police Stations to accommodate a higher number of Inspector rank officers than required. But the Police was facing a shortage of constables and sub-inspectors, and a proposal to recruit 8,000 constables was pending approval.
Further, the [State] Cabinet Sub-committee on the Naxalite problem, headed by Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu, has recommended the raising of a tribal battalion, recruited from the Girijan youth of East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam, exclusively to counter the Maoist insurgency along the Andhra-Odisha-Chhattisgarh border. The recommendation is aimed at discouraging discontented tribal youth from joining the Maoists. Significant tribal dislocation is expected as a result of the Polavaram project. The Indira Sagar Project is a multipurpose major terminal reservoir project located on river Godavari near the Ramayyapet village of Polavaram Mandal in West Godavari District. An estimated 44,574 residential households, involving a total population of 177,275 persons, of which around 50 per cent are tribals, are likely to be displaced by the project. According to Union Environment Minister of State (Independent Charge) Prakash Javadekar, an area of 3427.52 hectares of forest land in Andhra Pradesh alone is projected to be inundated, and 276 villages in Andhra Pradesh, four villages in Chhattisgarh and eight villages in Odisha are likely to be submerged. The Odisha State has opposed the project as it maintains that the project is likely to submerge tribal villages in Malkangiri District.
Seven months have passed since the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, with no obvious increase in Maoist activities. While this is too short a period to assess the impact of the division on the Maoist movement in the State, there is no reason to believe that there would be any radical discontinuity with the recent past. Nevertheless, concerns persist, especially in view of the administrative uncertainty regarding the location of the State's capital, which is causing some heartburn among sections of the population in the Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions. The sooner administrative issues are settled down, the better it will be for the State, and the closer the focus on the Maoist problem.