The ambush by naxalites of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), CPI (Maoist), or Maoists in short, on May 1 in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra, was waiting to happen. Fifteen personnel of Maharashtra police’s Quick Response Team (QRT) lost their lives in the attack. Surely, they had run into a trap. Ahead of the ambush, Maoists had set on fire 36 vehicles engaged in a road construction work. Evidently, the QRT ignored the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and rushed to the spot of arson.
Maoists conduct a Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign (TCOC) from time-to-time, and surely when an election process is under way. The May 1 ambush is a part of the latest round of TCOC. The objective of a TCOC is to strike at the security forces and undertake targeted killing of political leaders.
This phase of the TCOC had likely commenced with the killing of Kidari Sarveswara Rao, a serving Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), representing the Araku constituency in Visakhapatnam district of Andhra Pradesh, and Siveri Soma, former MLA from the same constituency, on September 23, 2018.
Incidents of Violence
On April 9, two days before the commencement of Phase-I of general elections, Bhima Mandavi, MLA from Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, was killed in an attack on his convoy. In two other incidents, on April 4 and 5, four personnel of the Border Security Force (BSF) and one personnel of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), respectively, were killed in Chhattisgarh. Also, on April 17, Maoists had killed a person on election duty in Bandapada, Kandhamal district of Odisha. A few other incidents of violence have also been reported from various Maoist-affected districts in different States. As of February 2019, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs, 90 districts across 11 States are said to be Maoist-affected.
This phase of the TCOC would continue till May-end when the election process would conclude. The security forces would, thus, have to be extremely cautious during the ensuing weeks.
Earlier, too, Maoists had indulged in similar sensational actions during general elections. On April 13, 2009, an estimated 200 Maoists launched an attack on the mines of National Aluminium Corporation (Nalco) in Damanjodi, Koraput district of Odisha, killing 11 personnel of the CISF, while losing four of their cadre. On April 22, they held up a passenger train in Latehar district, for close to six hours. On the same day, the rebels blew up Utari railway station in Palamu district – both in Jharkhand.
Such attacks give immense national and worldwide publicity to Maoists, especially at a time when the media is focused on the general elections. Maoists do not believe in parliamentary politics and consider it a sham. Besides launching sensational attacks, they also routinely issue calls to boycott elections, with limited success though.
At the same time, it is of far more concern that some political leaders strike opportunistic deals with Maoists during election time to further their narrow political interests. As a former Politburo Member of CPI(M), late Koratala Satyanarayana said on June 4, 1997: “In our experience, the political parties that have been in power in the State for the last three or four decades have been trying to utilise or use services of these extremist groups, either to come to power or to perpetuate their power…” Satyanarayana was speaking to the ‘Advocates Committee on Naxalite Terrorism in Andhra Pradesh’, which was formed following an order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court.
This is as much true of Andhra Pradesh as also of the other Maoist-affected States. There have been some instances in which political leaders at various levels have paid money to Maoists for political gains. This is true of all political parties in all the affected States and it would be grossly incorrect to place the blame on any one single political party or leader. For instance, a senior leader of a national party had paid Rs 16 lakh to Maoists during
general elections and went on to become a Minister.
As two former Congress ministers noted before the ‘Advocates Committee’ at that time (1997), theirs’ as well as those from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) ‘buy the support’ of the extremists, at the time of every election. In Odisha, too, political leaders are believed to be paying to Maoists. According to a very reliable official source from Odisha, one political leader in Malkangiri district is said to have paid Rs 3 lakh on one occasion to Maoists.
Similarly, a lawyer interviewed by this researcher claimed that he had evidence of a local MLA paying money to Maoists.
Thus, political leaders find themselves obligated to Maoists. This, in turn, constrains their policy and approach towards the rebels. Maoist violence and the rebels’ numerical strength have largely been on the decline since the past few years but not the volition to commit violence or their lethal capacities. In fact, as one senior journalist told this researcher, Maoists are manufacturing ammunition for INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifles and SLRs (Self Loading Rifles). The rebels are also believed to be working towards developing bullet-proof vests.
It is, therefore, essential that the political leadership should desist from striking opportunistic deals with Maoists and stand firm to defeat their challenge.
(The author is with Hathors Advisory, Hyderabad. [email protected])