Originally Published 2003-11-28 08:49:37 Published on Nov 28, 2003
Karnataka has emerged as the latest Indian State to witness violence involving the Naxalites, known variously as Left-wing extremists or Maoists at home and abroad. In an encounter with the police on November 17, 2003 a woman Naxalite of the People¿s War Group (PWG) was killed in Bollattu village, near Karkala, Udupi district, on the State¿s western flank close to the coast.
PWG Naxals Gain Newer Presence in Karnataka
Karnataka has emerged as the latest Indian State to witness violence involving the Naxalites, known variously as Left-wing extremists or Maoists at home and abroad. In an encounter with the police on November 17, 2003 a woman Naxalite of the People's War Group (PWG) was killed in Bollattu village, near Karkala, Udupi district, on the State's western flank close to the coast. Another woman Naxalite subsequently succumbed to injuries she sustained in the encounter, while a third was arrested, even as two other male Naxalites escaped under the cover of darkness. Two security force (SF) personnel were wounded in the incident.

An ongoing study on Left-wing extremism in India being conducted by this author at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, reveals that the PWG Naxalites did not, in fact, surface all of a sudden in the State. Their existence was known in pockets in eastern areas of the State, along the borders with Andhra Pradesh (AP). In sum, the presence of the PWG in the State all along has been three-fold. The rebels have used areas in the State bordering AP as a safe haven into which they retreated, in the face of security force operations against them; places in the State, including the capital Bangalore, served as a meeting place; and they operated in some limited pockets in the State on a low key.

However, the PWG's activities in Karnataka have become rather visible since some time. Not long ago, the AP-based PWG ideologue and revolutionary writer, P Vara Vara Rao visited Chikmaglur area and addressed public gatherings. Almost three years ago, three members of the PWG's apex and all-powerful central committee were allegedly picked up in Bangalore, denials by the AP police not withstanding. Further, according to a media report of May 24, 2003, in the wake of the spreading activities of the PWG in the Pavagada area of Tumkur district that borders Anantapur district in AP, where the PWG had established considerable sway in pockets in the district, Karnataka Home Minister Mallikarjun Kharge said a high-level team of the State police had conducted a study and had suggested measures to stymie the influence of the PWG in the area.

Apparently, the Naxalites were endearing themselves to the people in Pavagada by pointing to them the Government's failure in providing basic amenities like drinking water, and employment opportunities. In fact, the PWG had, not long ago, raised nearly similar issues in the Raichur area that borders Kurnool district in AP and successfully carved out pockets of influence among the people there, however limited that might have been.

The PWG has, since its formation in 1980, in Karimnagar district, AP, had been using a similar tactic in different areas. The rebels have a presence--insignificant to intense--in 12 Indian States, while nine of them have witnessed varying degrees of activity. A mere handful of men first entered in 1995, from West Bengal, into the areas that are now part of Jharkhand. Steadily, their numbers swelled and, today, the PWG has matured into a formidable group there, engaging the security forces in bloody clashes or laying ambushes on SF convoys with some degree of frequency. Similarly, the Bastar area of what is now the central Indian State of Chhattisgarh was once a safe heaven. But today, the area is a PWG bastion and serves as home to the central leadership that directs the outfit's activities from its well-fortified hideout in the dense forests in the Abuz Marh region. Such examples of the PWG's expansion abound.

The rebels slowly slip into an area and identify the causes of the people's grievances--perceived or genuine--against the state. They then set about to impress upon the people that the Government has neglected them and that its policies have been responsible for their continued deprivation, even as they assure them that they would fight the Government to ameliorate their sufferings. Once the rebels carve out support among the people they proceed to drive away the structures of civil governance that have, in any case, only a rudimentary presence, through threats and murders. The objective of the rebels is to occupy the vacant space and entrench themselves in such areas.

Subsequently, the rebels threaten political representatives to resign from their posts and, thus, completely eject the institutions of state from their areas of operation. Thereafter, indulge in murders and extortion and forcibly occupy land, besides engaging the SFs in pitched battles. In the past over-three years, more than 1,600 lives have been lost across the country in Left-wing extremist violence.

Country-wide fatalities in Left-wing extremist violence, 2000-2002

State 2000 2001 2002
Andhra Pradesh 113 180 96
Bihar 170 111 117
Chhattisgarh 48 37 55
Jharkhand 193 200 157
Madhya Pradesh 4 2 3
Maharashtra 11 7 29
Orissa 3 11 11
Uttar Pradesh 4 12 6
West Bengal 2 4 7
Other States 2 - 1
Total 550 564 482

Source: India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Annual Report, 2002-2003, New Delhi, 2003, p. 86 .

Evidently, AP, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are the four States worst-affected by the menace of Naxalite violence. In the wake of the November 17-incident in Bollattu and the emerging trend of rise in Naxalite activity in Karnataka, Home Minister Kharge's announcement on raising a Rapid Action Force and training to fight the Naxalites, as well as directives to the State's higher civil officials to draw-up a development package, are both welcome measures.

However, a word of caution might be in order. The Government is, generally, a lumbering giant, and decisions normally wade though various levels of the administrative hierarchy. On the other hand, the PWG Naxalites operate under a single command that issues broad directives, while leaving field-level decisions to individual commanders. Therefore, the Naxalites manage to seize the initiative while leaving the Government to catch-up and react. Any procrastination on the part of the Karnataka Government in dealing with the Naxalite menace at hand would only help the latter to expand and grow in the State, much as they did, and for similar reasons of delay and apathy by different State Governments, in several parts of the country. Quick remedial measures in the State would, therefore, spare a lot of blood shed.

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