Spreading terror

Published : Dec 20, 2002 00:00 IST

In response to the death of the people in a landmine blast triggered by the People's War, the Andhra Pradesh government launches an all-out effort to meet the naxalite challenge.

THE landmine blast triggered by activists of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People's War (P.W.), in which 14 people travelling in a state-owned road transport corporation (RTC) bus were killed in Eturunagaram forest area in Warangal district on November 18, has once again brought into focus the plight of civilians caught in the crossfire between the naxalites and the police.

The P.W. activists targeted the bus under the impression that it carried policemen. The action was carried out to avenge the killing of five P.W. activists by the police on November 17. Incidentally, the police team had used another RTC bus and reached their destination safely, barely two hours before the incident.

Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader N. Chandrababu Naidu, who visited Eturunagaram, said that the government was determined to launch an all-out effort to control `naxal elements'. He denounced the violence and criticised the P.W. for its `habitual mistakes and subsequent apologies and explanations of mistaken identities'.

The Opposition parties too joined Chandrababu Naidu in expressing concern over the violence. In a rare show of unanimity, on November 19, the Assembly set aside the listed agenda and discussed the issue of naxalism for over five hours. The resolution, adopted unanimously by the Assembly, condemned the killings and urged P.W. cadres to shun violence and join the mainstream. The resolution has come as a shot in the arm for the TDP government, which had been adopting a tough stand against the naxalites. The continuing crackdown on P.W. cadres had yielded some positive results in the north Telengana districts, where the police managed to `liberate' the plain areas and towns from the naxalites.

The P.W. leadership, which effected major organisational changes after the formation of the People's Guerrilla Army (PGA) two years ago, conceded that the group suffered a setback in the north Telengana areas owing to its failure to defeat the police in the strategic war launched by the latter.

At the macroscopic level, the police success could be attributed to the various government-initiated programmes such as Self-help Groups of women, Vana Samrakshana Samitis (VSS) and Janmabhoomi. Although there have been several instances of such programmes going astray, people by and large recognised the fact that such initiatives can be successful only when they actively participate in them. "There is a sense of involvement among the people in government programmes," said Damodar Gautum Sawang, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Warangal range.

The police have to a large extent succeeded in implementing a counter-revolutionary warfare strategy. The strategy basically has two components mounting an armed offensive to check the movement of armed naxalite cadre and intensifying the WHAM (Winning Hearts and Minds) operations to win the people's support. If one analyses the police's actions over the past five years, it becomes clear that they have adopted the classic military strategy of launching intensive assaults, leaving a flank open to encourage surrenders.

The police force partially succeeded in controlling the naxalites in the north Telengana districts within five years. Having realised that they were getting hit, the P.W. too changed its strategy and tactics. It pulled out its cadre from the plain areas and started operating only in the forest areas. It was while pursuing naxalite cadre operating in the forest areas that the Warangal police encountered a naxalite squad at Ilapur on November 17 and killed five of its members.

The police team led by Officer on Special duty (OSD), Warrangal, Y. Nagi Reddy, went into the forest to collect the bodies of the five naxalites. It was this team that the naxalites planned to attack. With most of the kutcha roads in the forest areas laid with mines, the police invariably travel in RTC buses along with civilian passengers to escape the P.W.'s reprisal attacks. There have also been instances when the naxalites refrained from attacking the buses carrying policemen considering the safety of the civilians.

However, what happened on November 18 also proves that the P.W. cadre did not mind some civilian casualties. The P.W. had warned people in almost all Telengana districts not to travel with police personnel.

Some five years ago, the police began to use two-wheelers to reach interior areas. When the P.W. cadre started attacking them using claymore mines, they discarded two-wheelers and started travelling by foot. But foot patrols were ambushed, and now police personnel largely depend on RTC buses or trek across the jungles if there are no motorable roads.

On the other hand, police personnel in coastal districts, who now bear the brunt of the P.W. the attacks, continue to depend on conventional modes of transport. In mid-October, Circle Inspector, Y. Brahmaiah, and two constables were killed when their jeep was blown up in a landmine blast near Vemavaram village in Guntur district. The naxalites had conducted a `famine raid' an action in which naxalite cadre assisted by hundreds of villagers raided the houses of landlords and other affluent people and seized all properties including grain stocks in the village on the previous night and literally trapped the police personnel, who rushed to the area next day.

"When the Guntur incident occurred, people and the media found fault with Brahmaiah for travelling in a police jeep. The only suggestion anyone could offer was that the police should only travel in RTC buses and not in police jeeps, which are easily identifiable from a distance," said R.S. Praveen Kumar, Superintendent of Police, Karimnagar. He added: "But when the police travel in RTC buses for their safety in Telangana, the naxalites accuse us of using civilians as human shields. Are we not human beings? Can't we travel in buses and, most importantly, for whom are we fighting? How do you think we should move, considering the possibility of vehicles being blasted?"

Nalin Prabhat, Superintendent of Police, Warangal, said: "Even if the policemen were travelling in the ill-fated bus, there would certainly have been an equal number of civilians killed along with us. It only shows that P.W. cadres were ready to kill civilians along with policemen. It was only a quirk of fate that the bus was not carrying any policemen." He added: "Had there been some policemen in the bus, the P.W. would have justified the blast and maintained that it was not their mistake since people had already been warned not to travel with policemen. But everyone knows that P.W. cadre would kill anyone, be it a civilian or a policeman or a politician, without any compunction."

MEANWHILE, in a bid to shift the focus of the Police Department from north Telangana districts, the P.W. stepped up its activity in Guntur, Prakasam, Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam districts. The Central Regional Bureau (CRB) of P.W., which analyses every development and lays down a line of direction to the movement, recently asked the P.W. to step up its activity in the coastal and north coastal districts of the State so that the focus of the police is shifted to these areas. "We should further intensify our activity in these districts to divert the enemy's (state's) attention," a CRB resolution points out.

In the Palnadu belt of Guntur district, where the police are still not prepared enough to meet the naxalite challenge, the P.W. cadre are on a rampage. Apart from conducting `famine raids', they have been attacking public property, including railway station buildings and telephone exchanges.

The police force in the coastal districts, which had hitherto believed that the extremist problem belonged only to Telangana areas, has now woken up to the reality of the naxalite challenge. With most of the naxalite leaders who operated in the Telengana districts earlier now functioning from the coastal districts, the strategy and tactics, which were implemented in Telengana a decade ago, can be now seen employed in the coastal areas.

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