Hyderabad, Nov 1: The killing of 30 Maoists in a series of alleged gun battles with police in the dense forests on the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border last week has dealt the biggest blow to the extremist movement in the region in recent years.
The joint operation by Andhra's elite anti-Maoist force Greyhounds and the Special Operations Group of Odisha Police in Malkangiri district of Odisha eliminated top cadres, dealing a huge blow to the efforts by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) to regain a foothold in its erstwhile stronghold Andhra Pradesh.
The Maoist outfit lost many of its leaders, including state committee members B. Venkataramna alias Ganesh and Krishnaiah alias Daya. Many of the top slain leaders were from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
The killed Maoists also include Munna (23), son of Ramakrishna or RK, one of the top Maoist leaders and secretary of the state committee of CPI-Maoist.
Reeling under the loss of several top leaders over the last decade, the outfit had already retreated from its former strongholds in undivided Andhra Pradesh.
In the residual state of Andhra Pradesh, they were more or less confined to the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha Border (AOB) area while in the new state of Telangana, their presence was limited to areas bordering Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra.
AOB, with its difficult terrain, was considered the safest zone for Maoists. However, the Greyhounds and Odisha Police not only entered the cut-off area but also dealt a huge blow to the Maoists.
By eliminating a large number of cadres, the Greyhounds, which is known for its expertise in fighting Maoists, has avenged the killing of its men in the same region. Maoists had gunned down 38 Greyhounds after surrounding them in Balimela reservoir in 2008. It was the single largest blow to the specially-trained force, raised in 1989.
Andhra Pradesh Police officers say the presence of the Maoist top brass in Malkangiri for a meeting indicates they were planning a strategy to regroup in the region.
Civil liberties leaders, however, are not ready to buy the police theory that there was an exchange of fire when the Maoists refused to surrender, forcing the police to retaliate. They claim that police surrounded the meeting venue, arrested the Maoists and gunned them down under a covert and planned operation.
"The killings in one-sided firing exposed the fascist tendencies of the Chandrababu Naidu-led government in Andhra Pradesh," said civil liberties leader G. Haragopal.
The CPI-Maoist has also claimed that a Greyhound commando died after accidentally falling into the water but police used it to cook up the story of an exchange of fire.
"If it's really an exchange of fire, why was no Maoist injured," asked Maoist sympathiser and revolutionary writer Varavara Rao, who believes police picked up the Maoists and killed them one by one.
Police, however, have rubbished the claims. "These allegations against police are not new. In fact, they have been levelling such allegations for the last several years," said a senior police officer in Andhra Pradesh.
The CPI-Maoist, which claims to be fighting against the exploitation of poor and landless farmers, is trying to regain its foothold in north coastal Andhra Pradesh by exploiting the resentment among local tribals against a proposed bauxite mining project and the construction of the Polavaram multi-purpose irrigation project that would submerge several tribal villages.
Analysts point out that the CPI-Maoist had lost ground in recent years as they were not getting fresh recruits, especially in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Though many of the top leaders of the outfit hail from the two Telugu states, it has not been able to draw new recruits or get new arms. The experts attribute this to people losing faith in the ideology of violence and benefits of the government schemes reaching the masses.
The apprehensions in some quarters that the CPI-Maoist will resurface in Telangana also proved unfounded as the outfit had failed to regroup over the last two years.
The Maoist group was almost eliminated from former strongholds of north Telangana and Nallamalla forests in present Andhra Pradesh, following a series of successes by the police and Greyhounds in undivided Andhra Pradesh.
The CPI-Maoist had emerged as the biggest and most powerful Maoist outfit in India in September 2004 following the merger of then CPI-ML People's War Group (PWG) with the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC).
Following the failure of talks between the Maoists and then Andhra Pradesh government, the state was rocked by a series of violent incidents followed by the killings of Maoists.