By T S Sudhir
“There is no balance on my cell connection and I don’t have any money. Can you please call me back?” This was Gudsa Usendi, Maoist spokesperson of the Dandakaranya Special Zone Committee, calling Uma from Chhattisgarh. May sound a little amusing that this man representing the biggest internal security threat to the country, presumably flush with funds from extortions and other underground activities, should be short of cash to top up his simcard.
Usendi wanted to share details about the road forward for the CPI (Maoist) after the killing of Azad, said to be number three in the party heirarchy. The next week would be observed as a protest week, that would culminate in a two-day Bharat Bandh, he informed.
At about the same time, in Hyderabad, slogans of `Long Live Azad’ and `Naxalbari ek hi raasta’ rent the air as Azad’s body was placed at the Punjagutta crematorium. In between, someone shouted `Chidambaram down down’ as well.
Maoist sympathisers insisted Azad’s killing was “retaliation” for what happened in Narayanpur in Chhattisgarh, where 27 CRPF men were killed in an ambush on Tuesday. Azad, they said, was picked up from Nagpur and bumped off some 15 km inside Andhra Pradesh in Adilabad’s Jogapur forest area. Fingers were pointed at Andhra Pradesh’s State Intelligence Bureau (SIB).
More perplexing is the case of the second person shot dead, allegedly in the same encounter, by the Adilabad police. He was initially identified as Sahadev, a Maoist from Chhattisgarh. But there was a twist in the tale when he was identified as Hemachandra Pandey by his family in Uttarakhand, from photos of the slain man in the media. The family insisted that he was a journalist, not a Maoist.
A press release made its appearance the same day. Purportedly released by Ajay, a spokesperson of the northern bureau of the CPI(Maoist), it listed out in detail Pandey’s Maoist connections. When Uma read out the release to Usendi to check the veracity of the letter, he had his doubts and wondered if it was authored by the SIB.
“They have released press statements even in Azad’s name in the past,” he claimed.
The same press release found its way into http://www.bannedthought.net, one of the pro-Maoist websites, thereby leading everyone to believe that the Maoists had owned up Pandey as their own. A different school of thought however, alleges that the police could have found details of the website from Azad and uploaded the release there. Does it mean the AP SIB is now maintaining this pro-Maoist website? Incredible and bizarre, to say the least.
It is not yet known if the press release was indeed issued by the CPI(Maoist) or is a fake. But two subsequent press releases issued in the name of Sonu and Ramakrishna (both Central Committee members) now claimed Pandey was a freelance journalist.
Police sources however insist, Pandey’s links with the Maoist movement are well-documented. And Maoists would rather have him identified as a freelance journalist than a comrade, isn’t it?
Usendi argues that whether or not Pandey was a Maoist, the law of the land doesn’t allow such killings. Besides, he says, `Operation Greenhunt’ is not just against Maoists. It is against all those who raise questions.
On Friday, when the news of Azad’s death broke, a senior AP police officer told me, “Only we know how to deal effectively with the Maoist menace. It is in the DNA of every AP cadre officer.”
Sources in the state police admit Azad was always on its radar. That the SIB, considered one of the best in the country, had been monitoring his movements by tracking his email and mobile phone for many months now. This was in keeping with the state police policy of going for the top guns, with a view to render the movement leaderless.
Just like in December 1999, when three top naxals, Nalla Adi Reddy, Seelam Naresh and Santosh Reddy, were killed in an encounter in Koyyur forest in Karimnagar district. That encounter also carried the stink of a fake encounter, just like this one does. Then the trio were reportedly picked up from Bangalore and killed in Karimnagar. That was a big setback to the then People’s War.
But Andhra Pradesh paid a heavy price for the Koyyur encounter. The naxals, then a very strong force in Telangana and the Nallamalla region, retaliated by killing senior cop Umesh Chandra, former home minister Madhava Reddy and almost got Chandrababu Naidu in Tirupati.
Most Maoist-watchers say the outlaws won’t let Azad’s killing go unavenged. The Andhra Pradesh police has asked politicians campaiging in the bypolls in Telangana to be careful about their movements. This despite no intelligence inputs about any action teams on the prowl.
The real danger is likely to be to politicians and policemen in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal, where the Maoists are the aggressors and the state is virtually on the run.
Some five weeks back, I was travelling with a constable from Giddam police station, 15 km from Dantewada town. He was taking us to the nearby Salwa Judum camp. I asked him doesn’t he feel unsafe when he is travelling to and back from work. “We are always in mufti, Sir. Not in uniform,” he gave an evasive reply.
“But in this small place, everyone including Maoists would know you are a constable, wouldn’t they,” I probed.
The veneer of bravado crumbled. “Yes they do and that makes me an easy target. In fact, when I came here first, I would look at just about everyone with suspicion, thinking any of them or all of them could be Maoists.”
Do you hate the Maoists, I asked. “There is no such feeling, Sir”, he said. “We represent the state and they have vowed to overthrow the state using the gun. So when I come face-to-face with a Maoist, whoever pulls the trigger first will live to fight another day. Simple.”
Travelling through the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, one is only too conscious of how a part of India, having fallen off the development map, has become a convenient breeding ground for Maoists. And why wouldn’t it when the roads resemble craters on moon, power supply is a perennial dream, youth do not find jobs and the government selling rice and wheat at one rupee a kg, is trumpeted as its greatest achievement.
Maoist activity is only a symptom of the underlying cancer of rampant political corruption and underdevelopment. The fissures show up when the local MLA struts around in a flashy Scorpio or an Innova while the villagers don’t even have decent clothes to wear. Many others caught in the crossfire between the police and the Maoists, have fled their homes, to live in terrible conditions across the Godavari in Andhra’s Khammam district.
When there is no light at the end of the tunnel, the poor villagers turn to the gun-wielding Anna, who has become the voice of the impoverished tribal. Sometimes they give him food, sometimes shelter. Sometimes even carry his message to another Anna. Sometimes out of love, sometimes out of fear.
It is time we realise the men in khaki and military fatigues are not going to get rid of Maoism. The problem is within us. Within the system. Operation Clean-up has to begin elsewhere. State-sponsored Maoists have to be weeded out first. The ones who wear white.
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