OPINION | Weather Bulletin-Like Approach Costs Andhra its 2 TDP Leaders Who Were Shot Dead by Maoists

Till the afternoon of 23 September, the Maoists in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana had not targeted an MLA or an MP for 13 years. The last lawmaker killed was Narsi Reddy in Mahbubnagar district on Independence Day in 2005.
Which is perhaps why when the Visakhapatnam district police informed Araku MLA Kidari Sarveshwar Rao and former legislator Siveri Soma that they were on the Maoist hitlist and they needed to be careful during the week when the Communist Party of India (Maoist) observed its formation day, there was a weather bulletin-like approach to the advice. On paper, the police had done its job of warning the leaders and the duo reveled in a false sense of confidence that nothing untoward will happen to them.

But calendar terrorism has always been a hallmark of the Maoist offensive against the state. In this case, to hit at high profile targets when the banned party is celebrating 14 years of its existence, is its leadership's way of motivating its cadre. Sunday's twin assassinations are a chilling reminder of the Red existence on Telugu soil, more than a decade after political will, smart intel-gathering and a sustained offensive cleared them out of then united Andhra Pradesh.

There are conflicting versions over whether the leaders invited the Maoist gun upon themselves or the state police allowed the duo to walk into a trap. Visakhapatnam Range DIG Ch Srikanth says all the public representatives who were perceived to be targets, had been specifically warned not to indulge in any “loose movement”. In fact, Rao was asked to be careful even four days back.

Police sources claim that Somu and Rao went to Livitiput village in Dumbriguda mandal, 15 km from Araku town, without informing the district police in Visakhapatnam. This meant neither was there any police party of at least ten jawans sent as reinforcement with the MLA nor was the standard operating procedure of sending a road opening party in advance to the village to sanitise the area followed. Rao only had his two armed Personal security officers to protect him.
The police version is contradicted by Paderu MLA, Giddi Eswari, who is related to Rao. Like the Araku legislator, Eswari too was elected on a YSR Congress ticket in 2014 and migrated to the Telugu Desam two years later. She claims that the PA to Sarveswar Rao had informed the Dumbriguda police station about the MLA's programme the previous day.
"Rao's PA called the Sub-inspector and told him about the programme at the village. We MLAs travel daily and it is a compulsory routine for our PAs to keep the local police in the loop about our movements," says Eswari.
Even otherwise, the Gramadarshini programme which the two leaders were traveling to, was a much-publicised affair. The Maoists had plotted to take the MLA hostage and kill him, aware of his presence at the event. If the local police say it was not aware that the MLA was going to Livitiput, it reflects poorly on its claim of having its ears to the ground.
The Andhra Pradesh government's first reaction also suggested that it had not taken the Maoist warning seriously.
"We have not had any attacks on lawmakers in the last four years in Andhra Pradesh since bifurcation," said Chinna Rajappa, Andhra Pradesh home minister.
But there were enough indications that Rao was on the radar. He had received a threat letter from the the Maoists in April this year. In July, tribals protested demanding the cancellation of a mining lease obtained by Rao in the name of his brother-in-law. Rao was accused of securing the licence using political clout, without the mandatory approval of the gram sabha. Rao's journey into Livitiput, just 12 km from the Odisha border, was therefore like walking into the Maoist den. Particularly, when it is common knowledge that the Reds take up issues that concern the tribals, to widen their support base.
Do the killings mean that the Maoists have regained strength? No. Police estimate put the number of Maoists operating in the Andhra-Odisha border (AOB) zone at around 100. Recruitment has gone down significantly and over the past few months, the Maoist unit in AOB have imported cadre from south Chhattisgarh. The police claim this has led to resentment as those from Bastar aren't happy in the new environment as the food and the language are alien. The Maoist hope would be that an incident like Sunday would help the outfit woo young impressionable minds from among the tribals.
What does it mean for the Andhra police, home to the elite anti-Maoist Greyhounds strike force? This is a rude wake-up call for the force, a reminder that there is no room for complacency. The attack, according to police officials, also has the signature of top Andhra Maoist leaders like Ramakrishna and Chalapathi. In 2016, the police exulted, believing that it had eliminated Chalapathi in an encounter but it turned out to be false information. The Greyhounds will have to return to its time-tested strategy of going after the big guns, if it has to eliminate the Maoists in its last bastion on Andhra soil.
(The writer is a veteran journalist. Views expressed are personal.)


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