The People's War Group is facing growing public disenchantment, and the police have achieved major successes against the naxalite organisation's activities in Andhra Pradesh.
THE naxalite movement led by the People's War Group (PWG) is going through a critical phase in Andhra Pradesh. Acts committed by its underground cadres provoked a series of covert and overt operations by the police against the PWG in recent times. The police inflicted "serious military losses" on the PWG, killing several leaders and at least four underground squad members in separate rounds. Worse, from the PWG's viewpoint, is the growing public disenchantment with its activities, which is a result of the intolerance of its cadres to any sort of public opposition to its methods.
The PWG's excessive reaction to issues has alienated it from the masses. For instance, when women belonging to a tribal community at Pedda Mallapuram in East Godavari district banned the entry of naxalites into their village, the PWG responded violently. A 40-member squad led by its east division secretary raided the village in June. The squad members thrashed the women and shot dead the sarpanch and a mandal parishad territorial constituency member. Although the incident may have helped the PWG to force into submission recalcitrant members of tribal communities, it has reinforced the people's suspicions about naxalites.
Another PWG raid, at Chadmal in Nizamabad district, provided the police with a tactical advantage. Suspecting a former constable, Sardar Singh, of being a police informer, a PWG squad raided his house. As the squad tried to take him away, there was resistance from the people of the village. The squad opened fire with automatic weapons, killing five persons and injuring three, and escaped with one of its members injured.
The incident created an uproar in the North Telengana districts, and the PWG's Nizamabad district leadership apologised for it. But the apology has not satisfied the people of the village who were until recently staunch PWG supporters. The State Government used the opportunity to step up its anti-naxalite propaganda. Home Minister A. Madhava Reddy and State Planning Board Vice-Chairman M. Venkateshwar Rao visited the villages.
These incidents assume significance as they occurred against the backdrop of a conscious attempt by the PWG leadership to convince the intelligentsia that it was indeed tolerant of criticism. A circular from the PWG central committee in March cautioned its cadres against rash acts that deprived them of public sympathy. Cadres were urged to be more tolerant towards criticism and to be careful while dealing with suspected police informers. It was suggested that informants be given a chance to mend their ways and that physical attacks be resorted to only when other tactics failed. The circular admitted that a majority of such "enemies" who had been punished succumbed to injuries. Concern was also expressed about a change in the people's attitude towards naxalites; the leadership warned that the people had begun to think that there was not much of a difference between "police raj" and "naxal raj".
The cadres appear to have ignored the guidelines set by the leadership. The recent incidents indicate that not only has public support for the naxalite cause waned, but possibly a chasm had developed between the PWG leadership and the cadres.
THE police have evolved an effective strategy to counter the naxalites. In covert operations, disillusioned naxalites are coopted to attack and kill top naxalite leaders. In April, the police infiltrated the Karimnagar unit of the PWG with one such recruit, Jadala Nagaraju, who shot dead Malkapur Bhaskar, a member of the North Telengana Special Zonal Committee (NTSZC) and returned to the police with a couple of weapons. A week earlier, another naxalite, Somla Naik, a member of the Krishna Patti dalam, killed three of his colleagues and surrendered to the police with five weapons.
The PWG initiated measures to check such infiltration and "exposed" the police operation after its cadres "arrested" four residents of a village in Karimnagar district. The Karimnagar squads interrogated the captives and made them confess before mediapersons that they had connived with the police to poison food meant for a dalam. Infiltration is a tactic normally employed in extremist and anti-extremist operations, and the naxalites of the PWG have received more severe jolts than they have given. In 1993, Kattula Sammaiah, a member of a Huzurabad squad, killed three naxalites and surrendered himself to the police.
The PWG has dismissed the police strategy as nothing new in revolutionary warfare. However, the fact remains that the covert police operations have created doubts about the commitment of the underground naxalites, some of whom were in jail before they joined the PWG. The police have also formed an effective information network, which has yielded results.
Last year, the police were a demoralised lot after being made sitting ducks in stunning assaults by cadres of the PWG in its strongholds. In November 1996, 16 policemen were killed in a PWG raid on the Sirpur Utnoor police station in Adilabad district. Three months later, 16 policemen were killed in another PWG assault, on the Karakagudem police station in Khammam district. Morale was high among PWG cadres in the North Telengana districts, which were designated as a guerilla zone. The police received another blow in May 1997, when 24 naxalites raided a microwave transmission station at Veeravelli in Nalgonda district and snatched 11 guns from an armed police picket.
Even as the police tried to gather reinforcements, they suffered another blow when PWG cadres raided the G. Narsapur police station in Adilabad district and snatched four guns and killed a civilian.
The successive raids by naxalites had a devastating effect on the morale of the force. Although the police managed to engage the armed squads in gun battles in forest areas, the PWG evidently had an upper hand.
Matters looked up for the police when constables manning sentry posts repulsed an attack on the Pedda Kothapally police station in Mahabubnagar district last October. Although a 30-member naxalite team had planned the operation meticulously, the police personnel killed a naxalite and injured two or three others. This incident is now described as the turning point in anti-extremist operations in the State. Since then, the police have inflicted heavy losses on the PWG in several operations.
Enthused by the success, in Mahabubnagar the police launched intensive combing operations and within a month tracked down the Kalwakurthy squad. In a fierce gun battle, the police shot dead the dalam commander and injured three women naxalites.
The naxalites hit back with renewed vigour. In Medak district, they lured a police team into a landmine trap. The blast, near Shivampet village, resulted in the death of Deputy Superintendent of Police A. Balasubramaniam and seven constables. The constables who survived fought bitterly and prevented the naxalites from snatching their weapons. The PWG struck again in Visakhapatnam district. In August 1997, the naxalites trapped a police team and in a landmine blast, killed eight persons.
Since the beginning of this year, the police stepped up their anti-extremist operations, based on precise information supplied by the network. The first major attack on the PWG came in February in Nizamabad district. Police teams ambushed the Banswada dalam and killed all its seven members. Within a week or so, the police tracked the Annasagar squad in the Venkatadripet area and killed seven more naxalites. Jadala Nagaraju's surrender two months later showed that the police had gained an upper hand. The killing of four Radical Students' Union (RSU) leaders in Warangal town and three members of the Parkal sub-dalam elsewhere in the district followed.
The police see the raids conducted on PWG training camps in the dense forests of Kothaguda and Bombayigudem in Warangal district in July as a major success. On both occasions, the police reached camps where cadres were being trained in military practices. In August, the police raided another military training camp, in Srikakulam district.
Precise information helped the "Grey Hounds" team advance into the jungles near Parvatipuram in Vizianagaram district. In a gun battle, 11 naxalites and three policemen were killed.
Police officers involved in anti-extremist operations assert that after these setbacks it will be difficult for the PWG to advance to the stage of revolution from the guerilla zone in North Telengana and that the PWG will have to shelve its plans to establish more guerilla zones in Nallamala, East Region and south Telengana.