Wednesday, February 02, 2005

INDIA: Maoist - Red Alert


+ Is this really going to be an Indian century? An idea whose time has come? Have you heard the Naxal warning bells yet? The enveloping lawlessness and growing disorders of virtually the entire eastern board constitute a grave and urgent threat not just to development but also the country's stability and integrity. +

Red Alert

There is a Panglossian obduracy in the refusal to acknowledge and address the realities of the Naxal (left wing extremists) threat in India, and the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Y.S. Rajashekhar Reddy's plaintive insistence that his government was "open to continuing talks with the Communist Party of India-Maoist and the Janashakti" reflects the political leadership's abject failure to correctly assess the intent and activities of the Maoists.

The problem is not confined to the Andhra Pradesh state leadership alone, and the same attitude of complacent myopia was visible in defence minister Pranab Mukherjee's claim, on January 29, 2005, that "Naxalite activity in Andhra Pradesh and other parts has caused some concerns but it is manageable and there is no need for anyone to panic. The problem is being dealt with."

The centre's idea of 'dealing with' the problem was articulated during the meeting of the Coordination Committee on Naxalism in August last, where a 'multi-pronged strategy' exhorted the states "not to be deterred in initiating talks with the Naxal groups due to initial setbacks", since, once a semblance of peace is established, "state government officials are able to visit the remote corners of the state to undertake developmental works."

But these pat formulations are being repeatedly challenged from within the government, and even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has gone on record in a letter to the mediators in December 2004, to state that there had been "a virtual collapse of law and order in view of extortion demands, display of arms, encroachments on public and private property and the militant rhetoric of Naxal leaders at rallies and meetings" in Andhra Pradesh.

Earlier, on November 4, 2004, at the Annual Conference of Directors General of Police and heads of Police Organisations at New Delhi, the Prime Minister had warned that the cross-border linkages of the Maoists constituted "an even greater threat to India than militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast." He warned, further, that "Large swathes of tribal territory from Andhra Pradesh in the South to the border of Uttar Pradesh and Bengal in the North and East respectively have become the hunting grounds of Left Wing extremists."

Separately, the then Special Advisor to the Prime Minister (now National Security Advisor) M.K. Narayanan had stated that the Naxalites had created a Compact Revolutionary Zone (CRZ) running from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh. And Jharkhand home minister, Brij Mohan Agarwal, complained that the Naxalites had stepped up violence in his state since peace talks began in Andhra Pradesh.

It must be clear, even from these conflicting claims, that current policy on left wing extremism is not based on, or consistent with, a coherent assessment of the situation on the ground and is, in fact, more an exercise in political evasiveness and wishful thinking.

A closer scrutiny of the situation in Andhra Pradesh is edifying in this context. Through the 1990s, Naxalite activities had been largely restricted to the Telangana region of North Andhra Pradesh (10 districts), and overwhelmingly to the four 'heartland' districts of Adilabad, Karimnagar, Warangal and Khammam. Today, all of the state's 23 districts have been covered by the movement, and there is rising evidence of consolidation in the affluent Coastal Andhra region (nine districts) as well as in the southern Rayalseema region (four districts).

These trends were already visible by late 2002, when the then DGP, P. Ramulu, had disclosed at the Annual Police Officers' conference at Hyderabad, that coastal Andhra was increasingly being targeted by the Communist Party of India, Marxist Leninist, People's War [CPI-ML-PW, also known as the People's War Group (PWG), which merged with the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in September 2004 to create the Communist Party of India - Maoist (CPI-Maoist)]. The DGP was speaking in the wake of attacks on the Anakapalli and Chodavaram police stations, both located in urban areas in the region. During the preceding two years, police sources indicated, coastal Andhra had witnessed 12 landmine blasts, 27 killings of police personnel and 124 other crimes related to Left Wing extremism, at a time when a steep decline was registered in similar crimes in the Telangana region.

The shift has become far more pronounced since then, and is visible in the number of explosions [bombs, landmines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)] carried out by the Naxalites over the past four years (2001-2004).

According to data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, in the year 2001, out of the 46 incidents of explosions across the state, 26 occurred in the Telengana region; 15 in the coastal Andhra region; and five in the Rayalaseema region.

In 2002, out of the total 43 incidents of explosions, 21 were registered in the Telengana region; 17 in the Coastal region; and five in the Rayalaseema region.

In 2003, out of the 53 explosions, just 19 occurred in the Telengana region, while there were 17 each in the Coastal and the Rayalaseema region.

In 2004, while the absolute volume of activity declined dramatically as a result of the 'ceasefire', the skew became more pronounced: out of 17 incidents, the Coastal area witnessed eight, Rayalaseema accounted for five, and Telengana had just four.

These trends are backed up by data relating to other offences as well. According to the Andhra Pradesh Police, in 2001, out of a total of 667 offences committed by the PWG across the state, 499 occurred in the Telengana region (74.81 per cent), 113 in the Coastal region (16.94 per cent), and 55 in the Rayalaseema districts (8.24 per cent). By 2003, out of the 716 offences, 410 were in the Telengana region (57.26 per cent), the Coastal region accounted for 214 (29.88 per cent) and there were 92 offenses in the Rayalaseema districts (12.84 per cent).

Further evidence of consolidation outside the 'heartland' during the 'ceasefire' period came in the shape of activities of the revived 'front organisations' of the extremists, the campaign for political mobilisation in rural areas, the building of martyrs' memorials, the imposition of 'revolutionary taxes', and widespread recruitment and training activities.

Reports of pervasive extortion in the Coastal region were confirmed when Prakasam District Superintendent of Police (SP), Mahesh Chandra Ladda, disclosed that documents recovered after an encounter in the district on January 8, 2005, contained accounts of extortion from, for instance, a power plant (Rs. 800,000), Linga Reddy, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) candidate for the Khammam Assembly seat (Rs. 500,000), Manam Venkata Reddy (Rs. 80,000), beedi leaf contractors (Rs. 60,000), the Forest Department (Rs. 50,000), lorry owners of Giddalur (Rs. 20,000) and the Dornala mandal (administrative block) president (Rs. 5,000).

Worse, on December 1, 2004, Police recovered six landmines in the Nakarekallu mandal of the Guntur district in coastal Andhra. The Naxalites had located the mines at a critical point on a route that all police personnel had to take to enter the Guthikonda forest. Again, on December 29, 2004, the police unearthed two dumps with a huge quantity of high-grade explosives in the vicinity of Koondrapalli village in G.

K. Veedhi mandal in the Visakhapatnam district in coastal Andhra. According to the District SP, S.K. Jain, the explosive material was adequate to blast 70 to 80 vehicles.

These seizures are no more than the tip of the iceberg, and there is evidence that the Naxalites have used the entire period of the 'ceasefire' to lay out a network of mines and IEDs for future use on all major routes in the state. Indeed, the state's DGP, Swaranjit Sen, on January 20, 2005, disclosed that the Naxalites had prepared mines with an estimated 2,000 kilograms of gelatine, and had planted, or were planning to plant, these at various locations across the state. Confirming reports that the Naxalites had, in fact, mined vast stretches of the state, Chief Minister Reddy had stated on December 17, 2004, that "reports suggest that several roads have been extensively mined."

The impression of peace under the 'ceasefire', moreover, is somewhat misleading. DGP Sen also disclosed that the Naxalites had been involved in as many as 1,405 incidents of violence between May 14 and December 31, 2004. These included four murders, nine attempts to murder and six bomb blasts. Further, during the first 18 days of year 2005, they had engaged in 40 violent incidents, including six murders, seven exchanges of fire, one bomb blast and five incidents of arson.

There is, indeed, reason to believe that the levels of Naxalite violence, not only in Andhra Pradesh, but across the country, are somewhat higher than may be generally reflected in the media. Thus, the earlier assessment suggesting that total fatalities linked to left wing extremism in 2004 across the country had fallen dramatically now appears to have been inaccurate, and it is evident that there was very substantial under-reportage of fatalities, particularly in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh [See the table on the RHS].

Despite the 'peace' in Andhra Pradesh, total fatalities in the country, in fact, rose marginally from 513 in 2003 to 518 in 2004, according to data released by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) at the end of November 2004.

The sheer scale and spread of Naxalite violence in India (as of the widening spheres of lawlessness due to other factors) is a direct challenge to the country's vaunting pretensions to superpower status, and its ambitious quest for dramatic economic growth and inclusion in the elite club of the world's 'developed countries'.

One-sided economic and demographic analyses have painted blissful scenarios of India's future, and all this may well come to pass. It would, however, be foolish to believe that these outcomes are either necessary or imminent. The enveloping lawlessness and growing disorders of virtually the entire eastern board of the country constitute a grave and urgent threat to the nation's stability, integrity and development.

Ajai Sahni is Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management. Saji Cherian is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal