Andhra Pradesh is now witnessing a peculiar situation. While its intelligence operatives continue to focus on tracking the top Maoist leadership and succeed many a time by arresting or killing them, their uniformed counterparts on the field appear to have lulled themselves into complacency.
So much so that groups of armed rebels have been quickly darting across the border from Orissa, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh to conduct meetings or resort to some violent actions.
The attitude of the field level officials, who perfunctorily dismissed these incursions earlier as Maoist attempts to make their presence felt, is slowly changing into anxiety, as the rebels began attacking police.
Armed naxalites shot dead a constable of Special Intelligence Branch (SIB) in Vizag agency area on April 26 and made an abortive attempt on a SI in Khammam district last night.
If the police officials are anxious about the movement of naxals in good numbers, panic has already set in among people living in villages on State borders, more so among the grass root level politicians after the rebels held a kangaroo court in Mukunoor village of Karimnagar district last week. They thrashed two local leaders of ruling party and opened fire on one of them, when they attempted to flee.
These incidents might appear to be sporadic and isolated, but there is a method in this madness. It’s a time-tested strategy the rebels are employing now.
Their primary aim is to choke the information flow to the police. This could be achieved by killing those who are suspected to be spies or branding those killed as ‘police informants’.
Simultaneously, the targeted killings or thrashing of grass root level politicians is to create a political vacuum at village level.
The demonstrative violence, as seen in the severe torture of two politicians in Mukunoor praja court is significant as it is meant to terrorise and force the low-level politicians to withdraw from political arena. The warnings issued at praja court that ruling party leaders must resign from the party is to be understood in this angle. Once the politicians at village level are neutralised, the Maoist nominated committees would take over the village level administration.
That would be the first part of setting base for the rebels.
The disturbing similarity in recent incidents reported from Mukunoor or from Khammam border areas, is the presence of a large number of armed Maoist cadres. Though the authorities sought to dismiss the reports as exaggerated, official sources concede in private that, at least 20 Maoists were present in Mukunoor, while nearly 200 were present in Khammam incidents where they blasted a guest house and later attacked a police team led by a sub-inspector. During the peak of naxalite movement in Telangana also Maoist squads never used to camp in a village for a night. “But in Mukunoor, they spent almost the entire night. That shows their confidence levels to take on any police teams”, a senior officer who dealt with Maoist movement in Telangana recalls.
In a way, the success of controlling the Maoist movement and continued accolades being heaped on the police force seemed to have had an adverse impact on the battle-preparedness of the police force.
The unbridled political intervention in posting of police officers, the unchecked corrupt practises in the police department have gradually led to a situation where officers and men who fought the battle with the Maoists with devotion being sidelined.
In addition, most of the officers who were in the forefront of the do-or-die battle waged with the Maoists, are now promoted to higher ranks and moved out of the districts. Courtesy their efforts, these districts have now become ‘comfort zones’ for a different set of officers who got recruited into the police force after the Maoists have been driven out.
“Most of the officers would not even know the definition of protracted people’s war, leave alone studying the Maoist tactics and strategies”, officials admit candidly.
Though the situation is not as bad as a decade ago, Karimnagar, Warangal, and agency areas of Visakhapatnam and East Godavari are the vulnerable areas as the rebels continue to enjoy the relative safety across the borders in Chhattisgarh or Odisha.