Rejuvenated strategies

Published : Jul 21, 2001 00:00 IST

The People's War group and the Andhra Pradesh police have both renewed their strategies to wear the other out.

THE spectre of violence haunting several districts of Andhra Pradesh since last year is proof of the left extremist Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist People's War (P.W.) group's determination to consolidate its stranglehold. The violence has been mostly concentrated in the north Telengana districts. Police personnel, people suspected to be police informers and district and mandal level political leaders, particularly those belonging to the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and its ally the Bharatiya Janata Party, have become the most common targets of P.W. action teams.

The State police, which has geared up for an all-out assault on the extremist group, has managed to inflict some stunning blows. One of the biggest losses the P.W. suffered at the hands of the police was the elimination of the six-member Kanagal dalam (squad) at Devapally village in Nalgonda district on June 9. Earlier in the day, P.W. cadres had blasted a landmine, killing a sub-inspector and a constable at Bandelamuru village in Rangareddy district, about 70 km from the State capital, Hyderabad.

Before the P.W. cadres could recover from the blow, the police in Nalgonda district struck again. This time they encircled a hillock on which a naxalite team had taken shelter. The seven-hour-long gun battle on June 19 led to the killing of eight naxalites and an 18-month-old girl, stated to be the daughter of a village resident who had gone to meet the naxalites. Among the eight persons killed was a district committee secretary of the organisation, Diwakar.

Any policeman, of course, is a marked man now. Hitherto the extremists targeted only police officers and men who took an active part in anti-extremist operations. This year, P.W. action teams have shot dead as many as 12 policemen, six TDP activists, one senior leader of the BJP (in Nizamabad district), and 17 civilians (read informers). Eleven persons, six of them members of the People's Guerilla Army (PGA) whom P.W. cadres accused of joining hands with the police and trying to kill top leaders, were also killed.

Cadres of the P.W. also abducted eight persons, most of them Lambadas (people belonging to a nomadic tribe), and took into custody six of their own colleagues and 'interrogated' them. These 14 persons were paraded before a team of journalists who were invited for a press conference in the jungle. The captives confessed to presspersons that they had planned to kill top naxalite leaders but had later surrendered themselves.

Ten of the captive men were shot dead immediately after the press team left, while four others were thrashed severely. One of them later succumbed to their injuries. What dismayed the police was that six of the slain 'coverts' (as the P.W. calls them) were underground naxalites.

THE genesis for the renewed violence lay in the alleged encounter between the police and the naxalites in the Koyyur forest area of Karimnagar district on December 2, 1999. Three "central committee" members of the P.W., Nalla Adi Reddy, Y. Santosh Reddy and Seelam Naresh, were shot dead by the police in an 'encounter' that shook the P.W., until then believed to be impenetrable and invincible. The P.W. was quick to point out that the leaders were picked up in Bangalore and shot dead in Karimnagar in a stage-managed encounter.

It was the biggest ever loss suffered for the P.W. Its thinktank therefore decided to concentrate on the deficiencies in its well-oiled underground network. To its shock, the P.W. leadership discovered that it was a "den" keeper who had helped the police in the operation. Then on, it seems, the P.W. concentrated on breaking the informer network. Outside the organisation, it focussed on civilians helping the police. The spate of killings has to be understood against this backdrop. Within the organisation, another exercise was under way - to identify infiltrators.

Coming in the wake of the panchayat elections (11 districts went to the polls on July 12 and the rest on July 15), the twin efforts of the P.W. to check infiltrators and also mount attacks on the district- and mandal-level political leaders have led to a sharp rise in violence. Caught in the web of underground politics is the mainline political party, the TDP, which has been accusing its principal rival, the two-month-old Telengana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), of accepting support from the P.W.

A circular that the P.W. leadership issued to the cadres recently gives a rare insight into the redefined strategies and tactics of the P.W. after the Koyyur setback. Most of the field tactics that are evident in the present actions of P.W. cadres can be traced to this circular. The circular, it is believed, was put up for discussion at the special congress of the P.W., conducted during March/April and was approved by the Central Committee, the P.W.'s decision-making body.

The most amazing aspect of the circular is that it identifies and analyses the strongpoints of the 'enemy' - that is, the State represented by the police - and suggests counter-strategies and tactics to be followed by the cadres 'to advance the protracted armed struggle' for achieving the new democratic revolution. The analysis of the counter-extremist operations launched by the State police is summed up in 16 points. Amazingly, the circular admits that "the enemy had mounted an all-out offensive during last two years and had succeeded in weakening us through military offensive. The enemy succeeded in making many (underground cadres) surrender." The most important observation was that "the enemy had succeeded in attracting a section of people through reforms (initiated by the government)".

The reforms include the formation of a Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) of the governments of different States facing the extremist problem and of a Joint Operational Command (JOC), the banning of naxalite organisations, effective surrender policies, the formation of special intelligence branches (SIB) to deal exclusively with extremism, increased financial assistance from the Centre to the States, the introduction of 'draconian' laws, the formation of 'civil vigilante' groups to attack naxalite sympathisers, covert operations (infiltration of naxalite groups), the adoption of villages, the formation of grama rakshaka dalams by the police, the sale of lands that had been lying fallow after P.W. cadres hoisted red flags in them, the formation of maitri sanghams in villages, counselling for parents of underground naxalite cadres and a 'retreat' scheme in the Police Department to identify the mistakes made in anti-extremist operations.

After analysing the strongpoints of the State's operations, the P.W. leadership directed its cadres to mete out 'stringent' punishment to informers. The change in tactics indicates that the P.W. action teams would concentrate on hitting 'single targets'. (In naxalite parlance, a single target could be a policeman or an officer or a politician). Observers say that attacks on policemen, politicians and informers have increased in the Telengana districts after this circular was released.

In addition to such general instructions, the P.W.'s central leadership exhorted the cadres to take up "armed resistance as a campaign" all over the State. Its firm belief that such a campaign would lead to confusion in the 'enemy camp' and pave the way for increased safety to its underground cadres is said to be the principal factor behind the recent upsurge of violence.

How do the police try to counter the naxalite problem? The authorities assert that the people are vexed with the 'mindless' violence perpetrated by the P.W. A top intelligence officer commented on the police strategy thus: "If people are vexed with the P.W., information about the movement of the squads would naturally flow. It is only a matter of time before we eliminate the P.W. menace."

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