Monday’s killing of 24 Maoists in the Malkangiri forests of Odisha, barely 10 km from the Andhra border, has lent credence to the suspicion that the outlawed extremist outfit was trying to regain entry into Andhra Pradesh.
The rebels have been trying to exploit the growing resentment among local Adivasis against the proposed bauxite mining and construction of the Polavaram multi-purpose irrigation project that would submerge over one lakh acres in the tribal areas.
The Maoists were virtually wiped out from unified Andhra Pradesh after the breakdown of talks with the then YS Rajasekhar Reddy government in October 2004. Several top Maoist leaders were killed in encounters and the remaining brass shifting base to the forests of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Successive governments took several measures to wean away disgruntled youth from joining the Maoists, which resulted in a drastic fall in the number of new recruits into the Maoist party in the last one decade.
However, the Maoists have not given up their attempts to return to Andhra Pradesh, which was once their stronghold. In fact, the Maoist party is dominated mostly by Telugus – there are as many as 275 leaders and cadre of all levels, who are from Telangana and AP. Out of the 17 members in its Central Committee, 11 are Telugus – general secretary Muppala Lakshman Rao alias Ganapathi is from Karimnagar in Telangana. And among the six politburo members, four are from Andhra and Telangana. Besides the general secretary, all key positions such as chief of Central Military Commission, secretary of Dandakaranya Special Zone Committee and spokesperson of Central Committee are all held by the Telugus.
Naturally, the outfit’s top leadership has been desperately trying to regain its hold in the Telugu land. As part of its strategy, the party overtly and covertly supported the movement for separate Telangana state, hoping that a divided state would make their entry easier. While the Maoists belonging to Northern Telangana committee and Dandakaranya special zone committee are active in Khammam on the Telangana-Chhattisgarh border, the Andhra-Odisha border committee has been making its presence felt in the north coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh like Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam. There have been sporadic incidents of Maoist violence in Khammam in Telangana and Visakhapatnam agency areas in Andhra in the last few years.
In the last four or five years, the Maoists have become very active on the Andhra-Odisha border due to permissions given to private bauxite mining companies in Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam tribal belts. They resorted to several kidnappings of public representatives and officials, including young IAS officer Vineel Krishna in 2011, besides killing of a few public representatives and policemen in the border villages. They have also called for frequent shutdown of towns and villages on Andhra-Odisha border and conducted public meetings in the forests in the name of Martyrs’ commemoration meetings.
At the same time, the police forces of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, particularly the Greyhounds police, who are specially trained to deal with Maoists, have been conducting “surgical strikes” on Maoists in Chhattisgarh and Odisha regularly, killing several Maoists in encounters. The killing of Maoist party spokesman Azad and top leader Mallojula Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji is said to be the handiwork of the Greyhound police. Of course, the police forces also suffered heavily in the process – in June 2008, as many as 38 Greyhound police personnel were shot dead by the Maoists, when the former were returning to AP in a boat in Balimela reservoir on Andhra-Odisha border.
With the fast-tracking of the Polavaram irrigation project on Godavari river, boosted by the 100% funding offered by the NDA government as part of the special package to AP, the Maoists have smelt an opportunity there. They feel it is an ideal situation to regain their sway in Telangana and Andhra as the project would displace 1.8 lakh people belonging to 277 villages, mostly the tribal areas in both the states, besides Chhattisgarh and Odisha. As part of reworking their strategy, the top Maoists had gathered in the Malkangiri forests and fell to the bullets of the police.