Hyderabad, April 10: The war between Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and the red sandalwood smugglers is likely to continue and today the issue is even hotter with 20 persons being killed in an encounter at the Seshachalam hills.
Naidu who has always been keen on ending the menace of red sandalwood smuggling has faced their wrath once before in the year 2003.
When there was an attempt to bomb him, it was concluded that it was the job of the naxals.
However, the investigations that followed clearly showed that it was the red sandalwood smugglers who had funded that attack on him.
The challenge ahead for Andhra Pradesh
The fight against the red sandalwood smugglers is an extremely difficult one. It has smugglers from both India and China involved in it and hence they form an extremely dangerous lobby.
Naidu may have a lot of questions to answer on the recent encounter.
However, he will also need to be careful as there is a good chance of Naxals trying to make a return to the area capitalizing on a sympathy factor.
Experts say that it is a tough battle. However, the state needs to be careful and ensure that not a single person innocent person is targeted.
A bonafide operation will never generate sympathy for the deceased or the accused, but anything remotely questionable could spell disaster in the long run.
The state Intelligence unit of Andhra Pradesh will have their task doubled now. Not only will have to keep a close tab on the red smuggling activities but also try and thwart any attempt made by the Naxals to capitalize on the sympathy and build an army.
Red smugglers fund naxals
The Naxals who generally operate with ease in the forest areas are in an agreement with smugglers and poachers for their own needs.
When the investigation into the 2003 incident involving Naidu was being conducted, it became increasingly clear that it was the red smugglers who funded the naxals to carry out the operation.
Smugglers and naxals both operate in tandem in the forest areas.
The naxals very often in the past have provided protection and logistics to the smugglers. The smugglers in turn reward them with huge chunks of cash and also supply them with arms.
However over the past couple of years, the naxals have been driven out of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and they tend to operate very less in these parts.
However, there are reports from the intelligence which clearly suggest that the Naxals are desperately trying to return in a bid to build a southern corridor.
Officials who have taken part in anti-Naxal operations say that these persons do not thrive on the strength of their army or arms. Their real strength is in the sympathy of the villagers.
This is why the state needs to be very cautious and undertake only genuine operations instead of trying to drive a point of fear. 9 out of ten times this logic does not work and it has often led to extremism, the officer also points out.
Naidu is on a relentless battle
Naidu probably understands the worth of red sandalwood and the fact that it is the most prized possession of the state of Andhra Pradesh.
This time around he would be even more relentless in protecting it as he is the CM of a new state which desperately needs money.
Moreover, red sandalwood is available only in Andhra Pradesh and hence the CM feels the need to guard it at any cost.
Statistics would reveal that if the state of AP decides to sell the seized red sandalwood it would easily end up becoming richer by at least Rs 3000 crore.
Statistics of the seized red sandalwood in different parts of the country would suggest that it it worth Rs 5000 crore.
The last time India was able to dispose off 11,806 tonnes of the seized wood only after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of World Fauna and Flora gave its nod.
After this nod the states of Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat which had seized large quantity of red sandalwood were able to dispose off the seized material.
Action will not stop
Officers in the AP government say that the fight to protect red sandalwood will not stop at any cost.
This has been one of the primary agenda for Chandrababu Naidu.
He had fought to guard it in his earlier terms as CM of a unified AP and he will continue to do it now as well, officials said.
After he took over as CM last year, he has directed his officials not to spare anyone indulging in smuggling of red sandalwood.
Under his regime nearly 1400 persons have been arrested so far.
He even takes a keen interest in the operations of the Red Sanders Anti Smuggling Force which has been constituted specifically for this menace.
While Naidu is spot on in fighting this menace, he still needs to be careful and ensure only bonafide operations failing which it will give a plank to extremism in the form of Naxalites.