Beyond the urban bling of Hyderabad lies territory that is giving Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy headaches. At a New Delhi conference of chief ministers to discuss internal security, convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in mid-August, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh said he wanted three districts by the state’s border with Orissa to be formally declared Maoist-affected.
Despite several years of anti-rebel operations—a mix of specially trained forces, better weapons, infiltration, better equipped police posts, utter disregard for human rights niceties, and rehabilitation packages for Maoists—the fire burns.
While Maoists have retreated in the north, central and southern parts of the state, the forested, hilly and coastal east tells a different story. Reddy’s key concern is that several power, irrigation and mining projects planned for the east would be in jeopardy. “Maoists find such activities as ideal pastures,” he said.
Maoists do, as these activities typically involve displacement of populations, and the imperfect exercises breed great resentment—rebel tinder. Alongside, Maoists have taken common cause against Special Economic Zones and the effects of globalization, not just in Andhra Pradesh but across the country.
The rebels have bureaus in most states tasked with recruitment, agitation and raising the level of cadre strength and “awareness”. This is to seed rebellion in several ways, a prelude to “protracted war” to gain political power.
This is a lateral expansion of thought and activity to keep up with the times, as it were, extending the Maoists’ traditional turf of fighting for agrarian, tribal and caste issues.
This is the continuation of a process from as far back as 2004, when a definitive Maoist document, Urban Perspective: Our Work in Urban Areas, recommended that “The centres of key industries should be given importance as they have the potential of playing an important role in the People’s War”—what Maoists call their armed movement.
In 2007, Muppala Laxman Rao, the chief of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), stressed another thought from the document. “We have to adopt diverse tactics for mobilizing the urban masses into the revolution,” said Rao, better known by his nom de guerre Ganapathy, “take up their political-economic-social-cultural issues …”
Reddy is described by Maoists, relatively gently, as “mercenary”. His predecessor, N. Chandrababu Naidu of Telugu Desam Party, even five years after losing the chief ministership, is mentioned in Maoist journals as “the known and despicable American stooge”. This is in great part for Naidu’s unabashed worship of Bill Gates, and PowerPoint frenzy to tout “Cyberabad” at both local and global investment seminars even as large swathes of the state lay in tatters; and farmers killed themselves by the thousands, driven by debt and desperation.
Congress’ Reddy learnt from Naidu’s mistakes and opted for more inclusive policies. Among other things, he launched the Indiramma (Mother Indira) project with fanfare in early 2006. A double entendre of pleasing masters and political economy—the acronym expands to Integrated Novel Development in Rural Areas and Model Municipal Areas—it sought to cover every village panchayat in three years and provide what the state has not in decades. Primary education to all; health facilities where there are none; clean water; pucca houses with latrines; electricity connections to all households; roads; and so on.
The halting success of the project, in bits reborn as the Andhra Pradesh Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, contributed to Reddy’s re-election earlier this year. However, his recent remarks are revealing.
Andhra Pradesh has battled post-Naxalbari rebels for three decades. It raised a now-hardened special force, the Greyhounds, to combat rebels. But the stick-and-carrot policy of the state has proved patchy.
Policing and brutal suppression of Maoists has not effectively been replaced in these areas by development works and delivery of dignity to the poor and marginal. And so, these places continue to be deeply vulnerable to Maoist activity. Reddy is understandably nervous about developments in eastern Andhra Pradesh, both for their immediacy and potential to reignite churn elsewhere.
To battle Maoists and other forces such as radical Islamism, Reddy at the New Delhi conference said Andhra Pradesh has established a new force: OCTOPUS. It stands for Organisation for Counter Terrorism and Operations.
The state already has at hand several Union government-controlled paramilitaries, in their acronyms CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force), IRB (India Reserve Battalion), and the newly formed and giddily named CoBRA (Combat Battalion for Resolute Action), aimed at Left-wing rebellion.
As Reddy must realize, acronyms with aggressive intent can only go part of the way.
Sudeep Chakravarti writes on issues related to conflict in South Asia. He is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. He will write a fortnightly column on conflicts that directly affect business. Respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org