Originally Published 2000-11-24 07:41:25 Published on Nov 24, 2000
The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, announced on November 14, 2003 that the forthcoming mid-term elections to the State Legislature would be fought on the issue of ¿crushing¿ the Naxalites. He declared in Hyderabad, in the presence of the national media, that Naxalite violence was hampering development and progress in the State.
Politics of Naxalite violence in Andhra Pradesh
The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, announced on November 14, 2003 that the forthcoming mid-term elections to the State Legislature would be fought on the issue of 'crushing' the Naxalites. He declared in Hyderabad, in the presence of the national media, that Naxalite violence was hampering development and progress in the State. Naidu said, "It has become important… to go to people and seek a clear mandate on the issue of extremist violence in the State. Unless extremism is countered in a clear and decisive manner, it would not be possible to develop Andhra Pradesh in keeping with the aspirations of the people".

At the same time, he accused the Opposition parties of 'condoning' extremist violence and pilloried them for urging peace talks with the Naxalites. Thus, Naidu sought to portray himself as one wedded to 'root-out' extremism in the State, while blaming the Opposition of needlessly calling for a 'softer' approach.

There was nothing left to one's imagination in Naidu's remarks. He has warned loudly and clearly that, if his party--the Telugu Desam Party (TDP)--were to return to power, it would be a fight to the finish. In that event, innumerable casualties on the side of the Naxalites and the Security Forces (SFs) are a foregone conclusion.

However, Naidu's remarks betray a sense of emotional outburst in the wake of the People's War Group (PWG) Naxalites' failed attempt on his life on October 1, at Alipiri, near Tirumala. They are not well thought-out policy pronouncements coming from a seasoned administrator. Further, his assertion lacks conviction and will, thus, not carry with his well-informed electorate.

The Chief Minister has clearly lost sight of a few important and starkly visible facts. One, the Naidu Government had engaged the representatives of the PWG in, what subsequently were famously referred to as, 'talks about talks', in June 2002. Those talks, however, failed. The Chief Minister is now of the opinion that it is pointless to hold negotiations with those who have no faith in democratic processes.

The Naxalites would not have grown stronger and bolder, nor would they have achieved a new presence in hitherto unknown areas in coastal Andhra Pradesh and Rayalaseema, if the Government had not encouraged a policy of surrender and rehabilitation, rather than keeping-up the pressure on the Naxalites. Available official statistics indicate that the rate of surrenders has been high in the State. In the year 2000, 763 extremists had surrendered to the authorities. During the following year the figure dipped to 623 only to rise again and stand at 645 in the year 2002. In the year 2003, the first quarter alone has witnessed 258 surrenders. Every surrendering Naxalite cadre or leader is given a 'modest' amount of Rs 5,000 at the time of the surrender to cover immediate expenses and is subsequently eligible to receive Rs 500,000 to pursue an avocation of his or her choice and lead a peaceful life.

However, some of the surrendered Naxalites had earned notoriety for their criminal activities in the days after their surrender. Kattula Sammaiah was one among them. He had turned into a law unto himself through his infamous dealings in the lucrative real estate business, besides successfully contesting elections to the local bodies in his native Karimnagar district. Eedanna was another surrendered Naxalite. He misbehaved with the sister of a detained Naxalite, Nayimuddin, and was subsequently murdered by the victim's brothers and their associate in June 1998, some 20 months after he had surrendered along with his wife to the Chief Minister amidst much fanfare.

Politicians of various hues and levels, both from the TDP and the major Opposition, the Congress Party, had in the past struck deals with the Naxalites for electoral gains. As two former Congress Ministers from the State noted before the 'Advocates Committee on Naxalite Terrorism in Andhra Prades', in 1997, theirs as well as those from the TDP 'buy the support' of the extremists, at the time of every election. Confirming their statement, senior State Communist leader Koratala Satyanarayana informed the same Committee that 'that had been the case for the last 30 to 40 years'.

More recently, in the face of a PWG 'warning' of retribution leading to violent death, a Legislator from Naidu's party accused, on October 13, 2003 the Anantapur police of 'picking up' two youth from their homes and later gunning them down in a fake encounter. The politicians strike deals with the Naxalites as much for political advantage as for physical security. It is, thus, difficult to believe that the political leaders will order intense and sustained hard line action against the Naxalites.

Nevertheless, the Chief Minister has, though lately, realized that extremism is detrimental to the progress of the State and that the Naxalites have been obstructing the development of the State. The Naxalites have a vested interest in ensuring that the wheel of progress does not visit the remote corners of the State, not to speak of their pocket boroughs.

Between 1990 and March 31, 2003, property worth Rs 1,986,673,065 (nearly two billion) has been damaged in Left-wing extremist violence. In the first quarter of the current year alone, property worth Rs 282,067,000 has been damaged. This is an all-time high in one single year since 1997 during which property worth Rs 173,535,000 was lost to Naxalite violence.

A few hours before the Chief Minister made his November 14-announcement on the mid-term polls and noted that extremist violence was obstructing the progress of the State, on November 13-night PWG Naxalites belonging to the Peddapalli Local Guerrilla Squad (LGS) set afire the farm implements of a peasant in Vennampalli village, Srirampur mandal (administrative unit), Karimnagar district, accusing him of disobeying their directive not to cultivate the fields of a local-landlord. Apparently, for the Naxalites, who claim to be waging a war for the uplift of the downtrodden, the means of livelihood and the contribution towards agricultural production of a poor peasant are less important than their 'larger goal' of creating an egalitarian society.

Such examples abound. In the same district, in Kamanpur mandal, the PWG Naxalites forced the closure of quarries, in the year 2002, leading to the loss of livelihood to 1,000 labourers. The quarries were ordered to shut-down because their owners did not comply with an extortion demand of the Naxalites. In another instance, in the same year, in the same district, in the coal-rich Tadicherla area, a Naxalite stronghold, the PWG Naxalites had reportedly burnt down mining equipment worth several million rupees allegedly because they wanted to perpetuate people's poverty, and thus retain their stranglehold over them. Continuance of mining activity, the PWG extremists apprehended, would provide employment and, as a consequence, better standard of living to the people in the area, who would thus lose 'interest' in 'revolution'.

Another facet of the menace of Naxalite violence is poor public works. The vernacular Telugu media from Khammam district had noted earlier in the year 2003 that contractors in the district had paid-off the Naxalites and, thus, got away with impunity after laying poor quality roads. The authorities chickened out and did not dare to question the low quality of the works fearing retribution from the Naxalites.

Surely, Naxalite violence has harmed Andhra Pradesh in more ways than one. Indeed, it is better late than never that Chief Minister Naidu has achieved clear sight of the damage that the Naxalites have done to the State in terms of loss of life and property and of low levels of development. It would augur well for the State if the next Government were to adopt a clear, well-defined and coherent strategy to fight the menace of Left-wing extremism, rather than making empty noises.
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