Tackling Maoism: lessons from Andhra Pradesh

In the 1990s, only 15 of India’s 630 districts suffered from Maoist incidents, but today over 200 districts are affected. Despite big increases in anti-terrorism outlays, Maoists have become much stronger in most states. The big exception is Andhra Pradesh, where Maoist incidents fell from 576 in 2005 to 62 in 2009, Maoist killings from 211 to 17, and police deaths from 25 to zero.

Andhra Pradesh has had a specialized anti-Maoist force, Greyhounds, since the 1980s. But for decades politicians avoided cracking down: they opted for peace talks with the Maoists which the latter used to regroup and re-arm. In the 1990s the Maoists expanded stridently, controlling large areas in the northern districts and Srisailam forest belt. The houses and relatives of MLAs were attacked with impunity, and in some places none dared campaign during elections.

What has changed in the last fie years? State Economic Advisor Somayajulu claims that economic development and welfare have transformed the situation. Massive irrigation, construction and welfare programmes have created so much employment and income that Maoism has lost its attraction for once-unemployed youths. The casual labour wage in the state is now well above the minimum wage of Rs 120/day, which itself has doubled in five years. Welfare schemes, notably rice at Rs 2/kilo, have provided safety nets. So, says Somayajulu, economic progress and welfare have spearheaded the state’s success against Maoism.

Chief Minister Rosiah disagrees. Yes, higher wages and employment have helped, he says, but purposive police action has been the key. He fears that a newly-created Telengana state will have a smaller police and economic resources, and lack the strength to combat the Maoists, who have taken refuge across the state border in Chhattisgarh.

Top police officers offer several reasons for their success. First, an additional 37,0000 police posts were sanctioned, though these have only partially been filled. Second, much better training gave the state’s police training academy a reputation for quality.

Third, a dense network of roads, police stations, schools and sundry government offices were created in the northern forest belt adjoining Chhattisgarh. Public works created jobs and ration shops offered cheap rice. The Maoists had earlier occupied areas virtually vacated by the state. The state now reoccupied these areas.

New technology greatly helped improve police communications. The police could now intercept messages between Maoists. Modern arms and additional jeeps, motor-cycles and trucks, operating on newly created road networks, gave the police unprecedented mobility and ability to find and attack Maoists.

Often if a Maoist leader was captured or killed, the rest of the cadre collapsed. Maoism was not based on strong grassroots support. Rehabiltation schemes were announced and implemented for Maoists who surrendered, and public works created new jobs.

Additional police stations alone could not have done the trick. What worked was the proliferation of all government offices and welfare services, showing that the functionaries of the state would now stay and not leave space open for Maoists. Locals could see a new political will to battle Maoism, not strike bogus peace deals as in the past. This enabled the police to create an intelligence network based on very local knowledge, and this network was able to penetrate the Maoist cadres. That was the turning point.

The lessons for other Maoist-affected states are clear. They need stronger, modernized police forces and intelligence that can penetrate Maoist groups. They require dense road networks and the creation of a full range of government offices and services in the affected areas.

But Chhattisgarh lacks resources for this. Besides, Raipur is very distant from the Bastar forests where AP’s Maoists have now taken refuge. The area has very few roads or government offices. The state is not visible, and Maoists thwart its entry.

The solution surely is a joint project of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It will be easier to move north from AP than move south from Raipur to tackle Maoism: to build roads, government offices and police stations, and undertake public works and welfare schemes. Mere police coordination between the states will not suffice. They need to collaborate in all state functions. Chhattisgarh will need to subcontract some important functions to Andhra Pradesh, instead of just subcontracting law and order to Salwa Judum vigilantes.

This will need massive central funding and political oversight from New Delhi. Andhra Pradesh knows that driving Maoists into Chhattisgarh is not a permanent solution: they will come back. They need to be tackled in their sanctuary in Chhattisgarh, not just by police force but also by providing the full range of government services and welfare. Such cross-border provision will be difficult and complex, but is imperative

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