Friday, April 10, 2009

Spectre of naxal violence looms

K. Srinivas Reddy

Andhra Pradesh, which was gripped by naxalite violence just a decade ago, is today a role model for other States on successful counter revolutionary warfare. However, the elections may provide an opportunity for the Maoist rebels to prove that they are not totally down and out and still capable of carrying out attacks in the State.

Though the possibility of a Maoist revival is remote in view of dwindling public support, there has been an increased movement of rebels over the last three months in at least 10 districts, seven of them on bordering either Maharashtra, Orissa and Chhattisgarh. Police suspect the increased activity could indicate a plan to strike during the elections.

Remote areas

The vulnerability of both police and politicians is high during elections, with the latter venturing into remote areas for canvassing, unmindful of security alerts. “The possibility of sneak attacks is high. We have information about Maoist action teams moving in the area,” say district police chiefs in naxalite-affected areas.

A naxal action team usually consists of two rebels armed with pistols and revolvers, who mingle with the crowds, choose their targets, and then “shoot and scoot.”

Wary of landmines, the police have taken up ‘demining operations’ on all rural and kuccha roads. But the Maoists have procured handheld drilling machines, which allow mines to be quickly planted on ‘sanitised’ routes. The Khammam district police recently unearthed three mines in Cherla and Chintur mandals on the borders of Chhattisgarh, and the Visakhapatnam police found six landmines in Annavaram, KD Pet and Koyyur forest areas.

The biggest concern for the police is the redeployment of Maoist cadres from Orissa and Chattisgarh, where they had earlier fled because of the police pressure in the last five years. A Maoist guerrilla platoon, comprising 25 heavily armed rebels, led by Bade Nageshwar Rao is reported to be moving in the forest areas of Karimnagar, Khammam and Warangal districts. Two more platoons are on the move in Visakhapatnam agency areas, police say.

Though there has been no violence so far, police believe the rebels could unleash a wave of attacks in the days before the first phase of polling on April 16, when North Telangana and the North Coastal Andhra districts go to the polls.

It is expected that the Maoists will focus on Visakhapatnam, Khammam and Warangal districts, which are adjacent to Orissa and Chattisgarh; the rebels can escape quickly across the border after striking.

Unlike in 2004, the Maoist problem is not an election issue. The previous elections were held soon after the October 1, 2003 Alipiri attack on former Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu. Hoping to cash in on a sympathy wave, Naidu dissolved the Assembly; the Congress too made Naxalism an issue by promising to hold peace talks with them. However, after the talks failed, the government ordered a crackdown.

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