Thursday, June 17, 2021

Is a COVID-19 outbreak forcing Maoists in Telangana-Chhattisgarh to surrender?

Maoists holding guns and flags in their hands

Gadham Madhukar, locally known among the naxals as Sobrai, was caught by the police in Telangana’s Warangal district on June 2. The communication chief of the Maoists, in the South Bastar region, Sobrai was caught when he was on his way to get treated for COVID-19. He was produced in front of the magistrate and then sent for treatment to a hospital. However, he died in the hospital while undergoing treatment. Sobrai had been closely associated with the Maoists for nearly three decades and had rose through the ranks. A heavy bounty was promised to anyone who would reveal his whereabouts. But Sobrai was not the only Maoist to have been infected by the coronavirus infection.

According to the police, a meeting of more than 5000 members was organized in the forests of Bijapur, in Chhattisgarh, around 50 kms from the Telangana border, in the first week of June. Despite knowing that several of the leaders had contracted COVID-19, they insisted that the villagers should attend the meeting. Police claim that those who don’t attend such meetings are imposed a fine of Rs 500. According to information received by the police, other than Maoist troops, many of the tribal people who attended the meeting too contracted COVID-19. 

On June 15, 19 people who were committee members of the CPI(Maoist), an outlawed Maoist group, surrendered before the police and the 141 Battalion of the CRPF in Telangana’s Bhadradri Kothagudem district.  Out of the 19 members, 3 were women. All 19 of them worked for the Cherla area committee of the banned Maoist party.  In the last few months, around 30-40 Maoists have surrendered. Many of them were COVID-19 positive when they surrendered. The police are now expecting that another 20-30 Maoists will surrender in the near future.

CPI (Maoist) South Bastar tech team commander Kurasam Gangaiah, who was locally known as Aithu, also similarly succumbed due to COVID-19. The 28-year-old was a native of Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district. The police say that two Maoist members, who worked as a courier and a militia member were intercepted in Manuguru town, during a regular vehicle checking drive. On interrogation, they revealed that they were returning after admitting an important Maoist leader in hospital.

Speaking to TNM, Sunil Dutt, Bhadradri Kothagudem SP said both Sobrai and Gangaiah’s deaths were due to the failed leadership of the Maoist leaders. “Based on the information gathered, by the time police reached the Khammam hospital, Gangaiah was declared dead. The Maoist leadership is responsible for both Sobrai and Gangaiah’s death. They failed to provide medical attention to their members when they contracted COVID-19,” said Dutt.  

The SP added that the members weren’t cared for during the pandemic. “The Police have been doing regular community works in the Maoist-affected areas. They were being forcibly called for meetings and they weren’t taken care of during the pandemic. They were not even allowed to come forward for treatment. All this convinced them to leave the communist party and surrender,” he claimed.

Pappanna, known locally as Badru, is a commander of company-2 of the battalion. The police say they have information that he has presently contracted COVID-19 and that he is not being allowed to leave for treatment.  

“We appeal to all Maoist leaders, militia members and sympathisers to come forward and surrender before the government. All of us know how things have been turning out in Maoist areas, especially in areas bordering Chhattisgarh. The previous month also we had apprehended many militia members who were COVID-19 positive. The middle leadership has shirked away from the responsibility. They have kept the villagers in the jungles without treatment and facilities. We request them to come forward and surrender,” urged Dutt.

Ginugu Narsimha Reddy who is popularly known as Jampanna, and was a central committee member of the CPI(Maoist), however disagrees with the police version. “For years now the police have been picking up people from the villages and claiming that Maoists have surrendered, for publicity. In my opinion, I don’t think COVID-19 can alone be a reason for anyone to surrender. Deep inside the jungles, the virus has still not penetrated and the situation isn’t like how it is being portrayed. People in forests are used to surviving diseases like malaria. The Maoists leaders have also stated that they have had no loss due to the pandemic, but this may not be entirely true. The Maoists don’t care about fevers."

Jampanna had surrendered along with his wife before the Telangana police in December 2017.  

Speaking of the massive meeting that was organized in the first week of June, Jampanna said, “It is possible that such a meeting was organized. Meetings have been happening in protest against the police camps that have been recently setup. It is also possible that many may have contracted the virus from the meeting.”

Throwing light on the police’s claim that members are not allowed to travel for medical treatment by the leadership, Jampanna said, “That has been the culture. Be it fever, fractures or even a bullet injury, the party doesn’t send members out and they are treated there itself. Some may be unwell for months, but they are not allowed to go out. This is because it is too risky. It is to avoid consequences of being captured. Unless it is really a special case, members are discouraged from leaving the camp.”

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