Extremist resurgence

Published : Oct 24, 2003 00:00 IST

The skilful tactician may be likened to the Shuai-jan. Now the Shuai-jan is a snake that is found in the ChUng mountains. Strike at its head and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be attacked by head and tail both.

WHAT Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu wrote in his classic treatise The Art of War some 25 centuries ago aptly sums up the resurgence of the Left-wing extremist movement in Andhra Pradesh.

The landmine attack on Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu's car at Tirupati on October 1 brought the Left-wing extremist movement back into sharp focus, disproving the claims of the State government that it had nearly succeeded in driving the People's War (P.W.) guerillas away from the plain areas and confining them to the forest tracts.

In the past few years, the police have been exuberant. They did indeed deal some stunning "military" blows to the P.W. movement. A spate of surrenders following the killing of top cadre/leaders in "encounters" forced the ultra-Left underground party to change drastically its tactics and strategies. The P.W. movement in the north Telangana districts of Andhra Pradesh was a role model not only for the underground activists in the country, but also for the Maoists in Nepal.

The `guerrilla war' in north Telangana was hailed as a beacon of the revolution that was to spread in Andhra Pradesh and also engulf vast areas in neighbouring States. In fact, there was international recognition to the `NT movement' after P.W. representatives attended an international seminar organised by the Workers Party of Belgium in Brussels in 1995. But within five years, the dreams of advancing the guerilla war into the stage of a "mobile war", as enunciated by Mao Zedong, came crashing, as the battle-hardened police changed strategies and hit back.

Faced with several reversals, the P.W. rolled back its squads from the plains of north Telangana, although it never accepted the fact publicly, and attempted to consolidate its position in south Telangana, Rayalaseema and the coastal Andhra districts. Akkiraju Haragopal, a P.W. central committee member, agreed with this correspondent during an interview last year that the movement indeed was at an "ebb" stage in north Telangana. "But it is only a temporary phase. We will adopt suitable tactics and bounce back," he had claimed.

The change in tactics was very much visible at the field level. The squads were confined to jungle tracts and P.W. depended heavily on "action teams" to carry out killings of alleged informants or the "single targets". The focus clearly shifted from being "offensive" to "defensive" and then to being "actively defensive". The initial focus was on saving the squads from the police onslaughts by adopting the "defensive" strategy and once the confusion over the successive military losses was checked, they shifted to the "active defensive" mode. The action teams would hit not only single targets, mostly grassroot-level politicians, but unwary policemen who participated in anti-extremist operations.

The emphasis was on mounting pressure on the ruling party to blunt the police offensive.

If this was the strategy in north Telangana, the State committee, which oversees the revolutionary operations in the rest of the State, concentrated on new areas. Areas abutting the Nallamala forest in Guntur, Prakasam, Mahabubnagar and Kurnool districts came under focus. Issues like severe drought conditions came in handy. With the State administration practically not reaching the undeveloped interior areas, the movement registered a swing, and actions against the police began. Attacks on police stations, killing of villagers considered usurious, and abduction of policemen began occurring and the State government cracked down on them. But in these areas, it faced the biggest problem. The police were simply not geared to meet the new challenge of facing the guerilla, since all the while the police, politicians and government administrators simply believed that the naxalite problem existed only in the north Telangana districts.

It took more than 12 months for the police to react. Motivating the police to take on the naxals was the biggest challenge. Incentives such as "acceleratory promotions" were dispensed with following a High Court order (the Supreme Court stayed it recently), and this acted as a demotivator; and the civil administration was not simply geared to meet the challenge. But a severe repression saw P.W. cadre taking an equally tough stand against the police and their informant network. Within a year or so, these new areas too became killing fields where the P.W. succeeded in sending across an effective message that those opposing the naxalites would not be tolerated. The latest incident involved a bus driver, who fought the naxalites to save his bus from being burnt, being shot dead in Guntur on October 4. The spirited action of the driver, Sambasiva Rao, had won him praise from Chandrababu Naidu.

As the State police tried to match the P.W.'s area-specific strategies, the naxalite group further consolidated its stranglehold in the contiguous areas falling in the neighbouring Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, mainly because of the inadequate response of the civil administrations and a totally disinterested approach by the law enforcement agencies in these States. The P.W.'s presence is also felt in Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, although it did not resort to any violence in some of these States.

The Centre formed a Joint Coordination Committee, consisting of police chiefs of States affected by the naxalite problem, but the periodic meetings have been reduced to a farce. Apart from the official sharing of information, no coherent common strategy appears to have been worked out so far. This is evident in the manner in which different State governments tackled the problem.

As consolidation continued within the country, the P.W. made strident efforts to get international support by attempting to bring together all the revolutionary parties following the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology. By July 2001, its efforts fructified and an umbrella organisation, with nine left-wing extremist organisations active in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, was formed - the Coordination Committees of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA). Records indicate that the parties in CCOMPOSA consisted of the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist P.W., the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), the Revolutionary Communist Centre of India(MLM), the Revolutionary Communist Centre of India(Maoist), the Purba Bangal Sarbahara Party(Maoist Punarghatan Kendra), the Purba Bangla Sarbahara Party, the Bangladesh Samaywadi Party(M-L) from Bangladesh, the Communist Party of Nepal(Maoist) and the Communist Party of Ceylon(Maoist).

In this backdrop, while the military successes achieved by the police in "neutralising" the squads or top cadre of the P.W. in Andhra Pradesh made them exultant, the P.W. silently worked at modifying its strategies and tactics and emerged as a tough revolutionary party capable of taking defeats in its stride. The police agencies appear to have failed in revising their counter-strategies. The biggest flaw on the part of the government appears to be that it laid great emphasis on the "military option" while neglecting the core issues that spawned such violent movements.

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