The encounter in Malkangiri district at the Andhra-Odisha border early Monday morning in which at least 21 Maoists were killed, underlines the tough stand that the governments of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh have been taking against the Maoists in recent months. Odisha and AP have cooperated closely in conducting joint operations by special units of the Odisha Police and the Greyhounds of Andhra Pradesh Police to tackle the Maoists.
WATCH VIDEO | 18 Maoists Killed In Encounter In Odisha
While Bandhugano and Narayanpatna blocks of Koraput district – a former stronghold of Maoists — have been wrested from the Maoists some months ago after several successful operations, the Maoists in Malkangiri are now facing the heat. Bejengi area, the place where the meeting was taking place last night and which was surrounded by the police this morning, is the last bastion of the Maoists in southern Odisha.
Maoists used this as a safe zone from where they have launched attacks on either side of the border, the last one being in 2008 when they sunk a motorboat carrying Greyhound jawans in Balimela reservoir of Malkangiri that left 38 including 35 Greyhound jawans dead. Maoists have been regularly targeting villagers and tribals in the East Godavari and Visakhapatnam districts border areas, sometimes killing villagers whom they accused of being police informers.
In the past, Maoists have also destroyed road construction equipment, mobile phone towers and government buildings.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has always taken a tough stand against the Maoists. During his tenure as CM from 1995 to 2004, Naidu had acted tough and many top Maoist leaders were eliminated in encounters. In fact, under Naidu, the AP Police conducted so many operations against the Maoists that many former strongholds along the then Andhra-Chattisgarh border, Andhra-Maharashtra border and Andhra-Odisha border were freed of Maoist influence. His tough stand nearly cost Naidu his life when in October 2003 Maoists triggered a landmine blast near Alipiri at the foothills of Tirumala while he was going to the Tirumala temple. Naidu survived the blast with minor injuries.
Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, who became the chief minister in 2004, also took a tough stand against the Maoists. The last vestiges of Maoists of in Telangana, Andhra –Odisha border and Nallamalla in Rayalaseema were wiped out.
With their areas under siege, the Maoists had some presence in remote areas but that too is under threat as Odisha races ahead to finish the construction of a 918-metre long bridge over Gurupriya river connecting the mainland Malkangiri to the cut-off area — essentially 150-odd inaccessible villages. Once constructed by the 2018 winter, the bridge would give the security forces as well as government officials unhindered access to the cut-off areas.
Late last month the Maoists through handwritten posters distributed across remote villages of the district had exhorted people to boycott the Odisha panchayat polls in February next year. Top Maoist leader Ramakrishna reportedly addressed one meeting in the Jantri area of the cut-off area this month and reportedly asked tribals to boycott the polls. Security forces were on their toes expecting a major attack on them before the 2017 panchayat polls in Odisha.
With this encounter, the last citadel of the Maoists on the Andhra-Odisha border may have been removed and panchayat polls next year may be a little easier to conduct.