BSF ‘deserts’ commandos after Naxal operation
At least five of Andhra Pradesh’s Greyhounds commando team, which killed nine Maoists, were on Wednesday reportedly abandoned by a BSF helicopter in the rebel-infested Batiguda village in Khammam district. After the IAF sent two Mi-17 helicopters to Batiguda on the Chhattisgarh-Andhra Pradesh border and successfully airlifted 30 of the Greyhounds personnel, the BSF’s lone Mi-17 chopper was tasked to pick up the remaining 10 personnel. “But soon after the BSF helicopter landed and the commandos began to board it, heavily armed Maoists zeroed in on the location and opened fire,” officials from the security agencies said here.
Soon, the Mi-17 was hit by the Maoists’ bullets, two of which reportedly hit the cargo hold area too, prompting the pilots to take off midway through the evacuation process. “The BSF helicopter left behind at least five men and flew out. This happened in the afternoon hours of Wednesday. We have no further information on the fate of the five men,” the officials added. The five men were part of the 40-member commando team that killed nine Maoists, including five women, in an encounter in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district on Tuesday.
On January 18, an IAF Mi-17 helicopter had come under a heavy Maoists ambush in a forest area in Chhattisgarh, where they had flown to evacuate CRPF personnel. The IAF crew, along with two Garud Commando Force personnel, left behind the injured policemen and the chopper in the forest and walked to a police station a few kilometres away. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had sought a report from the Ministry of Defence on the incident. Incidentally, the BSF is directly under the MHA’s administrative control.
Chhattisgarh’s policy problems
It is not often that human rights activists and government observers appear on the same analytical platform. But when they do, it is worth pausing in the churlish dismissal of any criticism of rampant industrialization as anti-national sentiment. I have increasingly encountered such analyses from officials charged with internal security, administrators and police alike, in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal.
These states are well known for their heavy-handed application of both industrial and security policies. Such orientation enables business and politics to walk hand-in-glove. For the purpose of brevity, in this week’s column let’s pick Chhattisgarh, arguably the state with the most roiled political economy and security environment. Security analysts point to the rash of proposed and work-in-progress thermal power, iron and steel and coal-mining projects in this state, in particular such concentration in the three north-central districts of Raigarh, Janjgir-Champa and Korba.
Security concerns extend beyond the usual footprint of twisted land acquisition and shabby resettlement and rehabilitation issues. Indeed, such concerns project Korba and Raigarh as agriculturally among the most productive districts of Chhattisgarh. Security analyses also correctly highlight Janjgir-Champa and Raigarh as geographies for the Mahanadi river system which eventually drains into neighbouring Orissa. They speak of prime agricultural land being acquired for industry, leading to loss of livelihoods, and in other cases pollution affecting output in farms near industrial concentrations. Appropriation of water resources for industry to the detriment of agriculture is red-flagged.
As one report mentions: “Most of the available water from tributaries as well as from the Mahanadi river has been diverted to existing power/iron and steel plants. The under-construction plants are also dependent on water from this river basin.” Several security analysts speak of the fallout of diverting forest and agricultural land in the area for coal blocks, a matter of particular focus especially on account of the central government taking a decision to adopt such proposals for fast-track clearance. Then there is the downstream effect.
As one security analysis read, “Displacement from land and forest, decline in agricultural productivity and a polluted environment will lead to distress amongst the majority of the local population which till now has been unorganized. After the compensation amounts given to the local landowners have finished they will also become part of the discontented masses.” Besides the increasing volume of protests by social activists who generally step in to provide organization to such discontent, there is the additional factor of the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
The Maoists have what can be termed a foothold in Raigarh district, which shares an eastern border with Orissa, and in Jashpur, the adjacent district to its north that shares a border with Orissa and Jharkhand. Some insiders expect Maoists to begin leveraging local discontent for propaganda and recruitment. This is not idle talk. The CPI (Maoist) has for at least the past year worked diligently to secure a corridor that links its stronghold in southern Chhattisgarh with Jharkhand using a funnel that runs through western Orissa.
A part of this funnel, a personnel and material route, is also believed to contain an alternate sanctuary in Orissa for Maoist leadership—I have discussed these in detail in earlier columns. Under pressure in all theatres of their operation, Maoists are naturally looking for fresh grounds to sow and reap. The new industrial hubs of Chhattisgarh can provide that with their proximity to this Maoist pipeline.
Were that to happen, it is not impossible to imagine that businesses, both big and small, would be as inextricably linked to the Maoist political economy as they are in southern Chhattisgarh. Another report has this damning indictment: “Growing agrarian and social unrest is bound to provide an audience as well as a plank for the Maoist ideology… The state government is not prepared to meet the possible challenges.
Neither does it have the foresight or depth to see the future trends.” Some reports specifically name government officials thought to have benefited from the state’s industrial overdrive. It is not difficult to see where this is headed. Instead of fixing the ills of its own policies—industrial, land, and resettlement and rehabilitation, to name a few—the government of Chhattisgarh could well request the deployment of vast numbers of paramilitary forces in central Chhattisgarh.
As has happened in southern Chhattisgarh and elsewhere, a situation of resentment and violence will lead to security forces being deployed. This will be described as a necessary step to reclaim space for governance and peace—governance and peace that was deliberately weakened.
Varavara Rao questions Maoist ‘encounter story’
Were the nine Maoists really slain in an exchange of fire with a joint force of Greyhounds, Police and CRPF at Puvarthi forest area in Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh? Revolutionary Writers’ Association leader Varavara Rao on Wednesday alleged that the police were lying. He felt it was more than likely that the deaths were the result of a covert police operation and suspected that Maoist Khammam, Karimnagar and Warangal region secretary V Sudhakar was in police custody, notwithstanding the police claim that he was among the dead.
Family members of Sudhakar too made it clear his body was not among the dead. Varavara Rao suspected the police were making false claims to torture Sudhakar. He demanded that besides Sudhakar, Maoists Rajireddy, Hari Bhushan and Malla Reddy, who were in the custody of Pamedu police, be produced in court. Varavara Rao visited Bhadrachalam and paid tributes to the slain Maoists and was furious with the Khammam police for not allowing family members to see the mortal remains of the dead Maoists.
The Khammam police had disregarded the direction of the AP High Court and the Human Rights Commission to preserve and hand over the bodies to the family members, he alleged. Varavara Rao said all the nine Maoists were SCs and STs who had spent their lives in the struggle to protect valuable minerals of their forest areas.
He said the Maoists had opposed the handing over of forest wealth to multi-national companies and demanded that the government conduct post-mortem of all the bodies in Bhadrachalam and hand them over to the family members. He said home minister Sabitha Indra Reddy, DGP V Dinesh Reddy and Intelligence DG K Mahender Reddy had turned down his appeal to conduct post-mortem in Bhadrachalam and handover bodies to the families.
Slain Maoists’ bodies shifted to Chhattisgarh amid protests
Tension prevailed at the Government area hospital in Bhadrachalam on Wednesday when relatives of the nine Maoists, who were killed in an encounter with police in Chhattisgarh on Tuesday, staged a demonstration opposing shifting of the bodies to Chhattisgarh.
Civil liberties activists protest
Amid protests by civil liberties activists, who charged the police with killing the nine Maoists in a “covert operation”, the bodies were shifted to Sukma district by road under the supervision of the Chhattisgarh police in the afternoon.
The situation turned tense when family members of some of the slain Maoists insisted that they be allowed to see the bodies and take them home. They wanted post-mortem performed at the local area hospital itself in line with High Court guidelines. Citing jurisdictional limits, the local police maintained that the post-mortem would be conducted in Chhattisgarh and the bodies would be handed over to them thereafter.
In an unexpected development, the father and other family members of the Khammam-Karimnagar-Warangal divisional secretary, Sudhakar, did not identify the bullet-riddled body claimed by the police as that of the senior Maoist leader. However, police officials reiterated that Sudhakar was among those killed in the encounter. Covert operation alleged Talking to media persons, revolutionary writer Varavara Rao accused the police of gunning down the Maoists in a covert operation when the latter fell unconscious after consuming food laced with “poison.”
However, the Officer on Special Duty, Kothagudem, T. Srinivasa Rao, refuted the charges. “Sudhakar was among those killed in the encounter. This has been corroborated by some former naxaltes of the region,” he asserted. Meanwhile, Mulugu MLA Seetakka expressed anguish over the manner in which the bodies were dumped in the mortuary. “All the slain Maoists hailed from weaker sections, mostly from my constituency in Warangal district. It is distressing that the family members are not being allowed to see the bodies,” she added.