Ignoring the groundswell of public opinion against a resumption of bauxite mining, the Andhra Pradesh government has been taking concrete steps to start mineral exploration in the Eastern Ghats. The Maoists have used this opportunity to try winning support of the tribals.
Ever since the Communist Party of India (Maoist) [CPI (Maoist)] made a tactical retreat from the undivided Andhra Pradesh in 2004, engagements between the naxalites and the State police have been rare and unspectacular. Though the Maoists retained a presence in the tribal Agency areas in north coastal Andhra, a sort of ceasefire has prevailed, with either side preferring not to cross the other’s path.
But recent events indicate that the tribal hills of north Andhra are rumbling again. Three days ago, the naxalites abducted a sarpanch (village head). Last week, the Telangana police killed two Maoists in an alleged encounter in Warangal district. Just a few days later, three more extremists, including a top functionary of CPI (Maoist), were slain just beyond the inter-State border in Odisha. Given the extremely adversarial relationship between the two, it does not take much to resume the Danse Macabre.
However, a significant factor in the naxalites getting active again in the Agency areas of Visakhapatnam is the State government’s intent to resume bauxite mining in the tribal hills. Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu declared this on World Tribal Day last year and repeated it this year too.
Vulnerable areas along border
Last week, the CPI (Maoist) celebrated its Foundation Week in Srikakulam district in north Andhra, the very place where the party’s precursor, People’s War, staged its first uprising in 1969. On its part, the police are beginning to mobilise their own machinery to stop the naxalites from coming back to the plains areas of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
As many as eight places in the Srikakulam district along the thickly forested inter-State border have been identified as vulnerable and additional forces have been kept at strategic places along the Andhra-Odisha border. The government is going to establish an exclusive AP Special Police battalion in Srikakulam district due to its vulnerability to naxalite influence. “Stationing of extra forces is the need of the hour to curb Maoist activities along the AP-Odisha border,” said a senior officer.
“Many other moves of the TDP Government have further alienated the tribals and prepared the ground further for the Maoists. The government has given the Tribal Welfare portfolio to a non-tribal. The statutory Tribal Advisory Council has not been constituted even after more than a year of its coming to power. ”
These efforts are in addition to the new battalion of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the 198th Battalion, which was raised with headquarters in Visakhapatnam to cover the three north Andhra districts.
As always, the police adopt good cop/bad cop tactics. In north Andhra, the police have been trying hard to get closer to the tribals with their community policing initiatives. Though the tribals participate in such activities under pressure, there has been a significant shift away from the Maoists.
Moves to resume mining are not popular among the tribal people. There is a groundswell opinion among them against bauxite mining, which they believe will only displace them while enriching the plainspeople. Opinion is so strong against mining that ‘bauxite’ is, for all purposes, a banned word in the Agency area.
But, ignoring the public opinion, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government has been taking concrete steps to start mineral exploration in the Eastern Ghats.
To sway public opinion, the AP Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC) has hired some educated local people to act as ‘facilitators’, people who will sell the idea of bauxite mining to their communities.
The Maoists have seen in all this an opportunity to win the favour of the tribals. They have been organising opposition to mining, and staging coercive steps to deter people from supporting mining activities. The APMDC’s facilitators have been warned, and some of their houses even burnt down. They were immediately shifted away by APMDC.
Many other moves of the TDP Government have further alienated the tribals and prepared the ground further for the Maoists. The government has given the Tribal Welfare portfolio to a non-tribal. The statutory Tribal Advisory Council has not been constituted even after more than a year of its coming to power.
The Maoists, on the other hand, have used the bauxite issue to stage a comeback in the tribal hills. The CPI (Maoist) top leaders have reportedly been touring villages on the Andhra-Odisha border area to give a boost to the anti-bauxite agitation. Meetings with tribal leaders are reportedly being organised in the interior areas. The response is said to be good. The Agency area could see violence in the future if the government goes ahead with bauxite mining. In such a situation, it won’t be a surprise if the tribal people support the Maoists in their bid to stop mining.
The region, one thick with forests spread over hills and valleys, provides the perfect staging ground for guerrilla tactics of the Naxalites. In fact, at one stage, the naxalites had even declared a ‘liberated zone’ consisting of 300-400 villages of Visakha and East Godavari Agencies and the adjoining Odisha area.
A full-scale resumption of hostilities between the police in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and the naxalites is the last thing Chief Minister Naidu needs right now. His government, in order to attract investment, wants to project residual Andhra Pradesh as a State free of issues relating to law and order. An atmosphere of frequent encounters’ and naxalite attacks on state property would not send the correct signals at this juncture.