New Delhi: At a time when Maoist rebels are expanding their influence elsewhere in India and stepping up attacks, security forces in Andhra Pradesh claim to have finally gained the upper hand over the rebels they have been battling for two decades.
In fact, paramilitary officers and home ministry officials engaged in the fight against Maoists, known as Naxalites, say Andhra Pradesh can serve as an example for other states where the rebels are active.
Naxalites take their name from Naxalbari, a village in West Bengal where a violent peasant movement erupted in the 1960s and spread over the years to other regions of India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described them as the biggest threat to India’s national security.
The Centre last month banned the Communist Party of India (Maoist) under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, terming it a terrorist organization.
“There are disturbances in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar, whereas the Andhra Pradesh police seem to be more in control of the situation,” says director general of the Central Reserve Police Force A.S. Gill.
This is despite the fact that at least a third of the members of the central committee, the apex decision-making body of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), belong to Andhra Pradesh.
According to Gill, relentless counter-attack operations mounted by the state police had helped tame the Naxal menace in Andhra Pradesh. “The state police even made use of the talks with the Naxalites in 2004 to get more information and background on the Maoists. This helped immensely in tracking Naxals in later years,” said the CRPF chief.
“At this point, it would be unwise to talk to the Naxalites as they are relentlessly attacking the police as well as civilians in several states,” he added.
The number of Naxalite attacks in Andhra Pradesh, according to the home ministry, had declined from 577 in 2003 to 92 in 2008, while they have increased from 256 to 620 in Chhattisgarh and from 342 to 484 in Jharkhand, respectively. The number of Naxalite attacks in Orissa increased from 49 to 73 over the same period.
P.V. Ramana, a research fellow with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, says the surrender and rehabilitation policy instituted by the Andhra government in 1997 also played a major role in drawing away recruits from Naxalite groups.
“Over 7,000 Naxalites surrendered since the time the policy was initiated while 2,500 have been rehabilitated and assets worth Rs20 crore have been distributed to them,” he says in a research paper titled A critical evaluation of Andhra Pradesh’s response to the Naxalite challenge.
A paramilitary officer with years of experience in anti-Naxalite operations says the formation of a specialized force called Grey Hounds in 1989 to counter Naxalites was a prescient move by the Andhra Pradesh government.
The Grey Hounds unit, which numbers around 5,000 men, has a separate intelligence wing whose personnel keep tabs on the movement of Naxalite groups.
“Some of the other states facing the Naxalite problem do not even have enough people to man the police stations. That is the first measure that needs to be taken in these states: to recruit more policemen,” said the officer, who didn’t want to be named.
However, a senior official with the intelligence wing in the Andhra Pradesh police, warns that the decline in Naxalite violence may be a temporary lull. According to this officer, Naxalites are still active in the border districts of the state. According to this officer, who also didn’t want to be named, Naxalites are active across the borders in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Orissa.
“It is not as if they have gone to rest or sleep. The Naxals are continuously visiting villages in the border districts,” he said. “They deliver their own justice system and are earning a tremendous amount of revenue from these areas through extortion as these places are heavy on mining.”