Striking Red

By T S Sudhir

The youth, it seems, was all set to strike red. About 20 of them were crowding around to catch the action on a carrom board, balanced on a lorry tyre. The players were on stones that served as seats. That’s when our vehicle entered Ambatpally village and to my surprise, all of them scattered just in a matter of a minute. I got off our vehicle to find out what happened. It took some time for us to figure out that the youth had mistaken us for police in mufti.

“No. No. We are from the press. I am from NDTV, from Hyderabad,” I explained, pointing to our video camera. As we got talking, the youth slowly started gathering around us.

“Why are you so scared of the police?” I asked. Suresh, who was playing the game, and runs a chicken shop replied. “You never know how they would react to all of us huddled together.”

The fear here is real. Ambatpally has been home to a number of naxals in the past. And the people have paid the price for it. With the outlaws now reportedly trying to get back into Andhra Pradesh, I was told, the police are making frequent trips to these remote villages to `chat’ with these ex-naxals.

One of them is Swamy, a former commander of the naxal group Praja Prathighatana. 30-year-old Swamy was initially a deputy commander for four years with another naxal group Janshakti. That’s when he was lured by the Praja Prathighatana and promoted to join as commander. And soon Swamy was controlling large parts of Mahadevpur mandal in Karimnagar district, where the naxal writ ran large.

But then some human emotions are universal. Swamy’s deputy, keen to move up the naxal organisational ladder, leaked information about his movements to the police and Swamy was arrested in January 2005. Today he runs a business in wood but everyone still knows him more as Naxal Swamy.

Later that day, we visited Mahadevpur police station. In 2003, a group of naxals had driven into this station with a RTC bus laden with explosives. Timely alert by a sentry on duty minimised damage to the station. That evening, I listened in as sub-inspector Srinivas spoke to over 50 so-called Maoist sympathisers who were summoned to the police station. His tone was firm as he warned them against any `wrongdoing’ . Every fourth sentence was : “Understood? You understood?” It did not seem so much like he was saying `you better understand’ as hope that they would understand.

Srinivas has an impressive dossier on 400 such sympathisers and former naxals, with a detailed case history and photograph. I recognised one of them, Tirupati, sarpanch of Palimella village, who I had met that morning. Tirupati was also a naxal for a decade till his arrest in 1997. Ironically he is once again on the run, as he is now on the hitlist of his former brethren. Naxals had visited Palimella a month ago to warn Tirupati and two others against being police informers and against indulging in corruption. Since then, Tirupati has been in hiding.

For many years, Mahadevpur’s 22 villages were always more under naxal control than the state’s. That changed post-2006 when a sustained police offensive pushed them out, across the Godavari into Chattisgarh. There is no road 13 km out of Mahadevpur town, which means you have little option but to make it by foot.

We trek to Sarvaipet village, 30 km from Mahadevpur, that forms the bottom end of the triangle with Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli a km away on the left side and Chattisgarh again a km away on the right side. In between is River Godavari that is now acting as the courier to bring back naxals into their once familiar territory of Andhra Pradesh.

Since there is no road, there is no RTC bus service, which means you travel by bullock cart. During the monsoon, the kaccha road is also flooded and the rest of Andhra forgets there is this habitation called Sarvaipet. There are no medical facilities and you have to travel 20 km to show a sick child to a doctor. The two wells in this village of 1200 dry up in the summer which means women like Nagamma have to trek 8 km to and from the Godavari to fetch water.

I meet Babu, who is studying B.Sc (Maths) at a college in Bhoopalpally. “What will you do next?” I ask. “M.Sc (Physics),” he says.

“And what job will you get after that, Babu?” I am curious.

“I will go to Karimnagar or Hyderabad. I can work there as an electrician. I will make 2000 rupees in a month,” he replies.

If an electrician’s job for a post-graduate in Physics is all our system can offer, how are we to prevent anyone from taking the road less travelled? How long will a Babu or a Nagamma put up with a system that promises the heaven but delivers zilch?

That’s the frustration naxals are trying to cash in on. For the last two months, groups of naxals have been storming these border villages in the dead of the night, to threaten public representatives with documentary proof that they will be killed unless they stop indulging in corruption. In a state where the state has failed to ensure the delivery mechanism works efficiently, ironically it is these outlaws who are trying to ensure a Babu and a Nagamma get the benefits.

A certain amount of hero worship is already beginning in these parts. Unfortunately, it will only earn them a place in Srinivas’s dossier.

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About t s sudhir & uma sudhir

Uma Sudhir and T S Sudhir are senior journalists, based in Hyderabad. Both work for NDTV. Uma is a Tamilian, who was educated in
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