Until the last decade, Andhra Pradesh was a beacon for Left-wing extremism in India. Naxalites showcased it at international fora as a model that could be replicated not only by their comrades in other Indian states but also by their brethren elsewhere in and around the subcontinent. Today, the state stands as the best example of the success of counter-insuregncy strategies of a government. At every meeting called by the Union government to discuss the vexatious issue, Andhra Pradesh has been singled out for praise and other states have been exhorted to follow the Andhra model.
But the situation could change with the UPA government agreeing to carve out a Telangana state out of Andhra Pradesh. The politically expedient decisions leading to the acceptance of the demand for Telangana have significant implications for internal security, especially with regard to the ongoing national counter-insurgency initiative against left-wing extremism.
Although the connivance between political parties and the Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh is not a new phenomenon, it is, nevertheless, worrisome. In many cases, especially during election times, political parties have come to a tacit agreement with the Naxalites, who target candidates of opposing parties. After coming to power, the party ensures that the police forces “go slow” against Naxalites. In some other cases, individual politicians have used Naxalites as hired guns to kill their political opponents.
It is instructive to revisit the formation of a Congress-led government in 2004 when there was a ceasefire between the state authorities and the Naxalites of the People’s War Group. The two sides had agreed to sit across the table because of a behind-the-scenes understanding during the elections—during which the Naxalites helped the Congress Party win in several constituencies, and in return, secured a promise for leniency upon the latter’s victory. A section of Naxalite activists emerged overground, organised mass rallies and participated in two rounds of negotiations. But it took little time for the process to collapse. The Naxalites saw the interlude as merely tactical opportunity to organise themselves more effectively. They continued the violence and assassinated several politicians. They also restarted ‘people’s courts’ in the villages for instant justice, settling disputes and extorting money from contractors. Large-scale recruitment of youth to Naxalite ranks took place in the villages during this period.
Telangana is not only being formed with the support of the Naxalites, but will be encompassing the districts that are their stronghold. The security situation is bound to worsen further. It is likely to play out in the following manner.
During the next panchayat elections, the Naxalites will put up candidates and capture village panchayats and other local bodies in the fledgling state. Once the panchayats are under their control, they will have effective control not only over the people in the villages but also substantial funds from the exchequer. Then, in the assembly elections that follow, they will again put up candidates and win a majority—by intimidating and coercing the electorate—in the assembly and form a proxy government.
This proxy government will play to the tune of its Naxalite masters and revoke the ban on their activities, ostensibly for peaceful talks. These talks will be used as a pretext for suspending security operations against the Naxalites, while they use this period to recruit, train and equip their cadre. The Naxalites will then consolidate their hold over the area and siphon off huge amounts of development funds to strengthen their organisation. They will renew their recruitment drive, collect weapons and explosives, threaten people, summon and question government officials.
During this period of uncertainly, Naxalite cadre will insidiously infiltrate the police, security forces and myriad government institutions. In the security forces, this infiltration will be specially targeted at the Greyhounds, the state Intelligence Bureau and other agencies to ferret out the network of informers who had provided information about them. These informers and some active police officers will be brutally murdered to intimidate opponents and deter political opposition.
Naxalites do not abruptly launch an armed struggle, but are known to proceed very methodically including conducting a preliminary study of local social, economic and political milieu and the vulnerabilities of particular groups of population before coming out with customised action plans. Their strategy will be to contain overtly violent activities in the newly formed state, to prevent the Union government from dismissing the state government under Article 356 of the Constitution. The Naxalites will restrict the movement in the new state at the level of political mobilisation, highlighting local issues through front organisations and organising meetings in strongholds to garner popular sympathy. The leftist-liberal support base of the Naxalites—intellectuals, media personalities and cultural icons—will in any case vociferously decry efforts to invoke Article 356 as denying the will of the people by dismissing a duly elected government.
Meanwhile, Naxalites will use this period to strengthen their cadre in neighbouring states. They will deliberately keep the violence low in border regions so as to keep away police attention, thereby facilitating intra-state movement. With their strong base in Telangana, Naxalites operations in the other states will be much larger in intensity and scope to keep New Delhi’s attention focussed on those states.
Naxalites have supported the demand for a separate state of Telangana with an eye to the eventual setting up of their ‘Compact Revolutionary Zone’ which extends from Nepal through Bihar in the North to the Dandakaranya region and Andhra Pradesh in the South.
It is important that the major setback suffered by the Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh, particularly in the Telangana region is made irreversible by stalling the creation of the new state. This deserves careful scrutiny because it is a marker of challenges that Naxalites might pose in other parts of the country in the future.