TWO ANDHRA politicians — a TDP MLA and a former MLA of the party — were shot dead in Visakhapatnam district Sunday afternoon allegedly by a group of Maoists from the Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee in “a show of strength after four years of peace”, police said.
Police said that Kidari Sarveswara Rao, MLA from Araku Valley, and former TDP MLA Siveri Soma, were returning in an SUV from a meeting in Liptuputtu village of Dumbriguda Mandal when their vehicle was stopped on a lonely stretch “by at least 50 Maoists, included 10 with arms”.
The attack occurred 15 km from the Andhra-Odisha border and 125 km from Visakhapatnam city, police said.
The killings triggered protests by supporters of Rao, 45, and Soma, 50, who vandalised and set fire to the Araku and Dumbriguda police stations, alleging that police failed to detect the presence of Maoists and did not provide enough protection to the two leaders. Two policemen were injured in the violence.
Visakhapatnam Range DIG C Srikanth said police had warned public representatives against travelling to remote areas after the CPI (Maoist) declared a week of celebration till September 27 to mark its formation day.
“The Maoists disarmed the two Personal Security Officers with Rao, and one gunman with Soma, and abducted the MLA and ex-MLA. While some armed Maoists kept watch on the PSOs, the others took the two leaders aside and engaged in a discussion with them. According to eyewitnesses, an argument ensued between the two sides after which the Maoists shot Rao and Soma at close range,’’ Visakhapatnam SP Rahul Dev Sharma said.
“Eyewitnesses said most of the Maoists in the group were women,’’ said another officer, who did not wish to be identified, adding that they were allegedly led by Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zone Committee secretary Ramakrishna. The Maoists took away two 9 mm pistols and one carbine from the PSOs, the officer said.
Following the attack, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s son and Andhra Minister, Nara Lokesh, posted on Twitter: “Shocked to learn about the brutal killing of Araku MLA Kidari Sarveswara Rao Garu and Ex-MLA Siveri Soma Garu. We stand with their families in this hour of grief.” Naidu is away in the US.
“We have ordered an inquiry as to how such a big group of Maoists was able to come to the area and why they targeted the MLA and ex-MLA,’’ Deputy Chief Minister N Chinnarajappa, who is in charge of the Home department, said.
“In the last four-and-a-half years, Andhra Pradesh, especially the tribal areas that were earlier affected by Left Wing Extremism, has been calm. There were no major operations by Maoists. I think that is why security was down and politicians were going around without bothering about it,” he said.
Rao was elected MLA on a YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) ticket in 2014 and defected to the ruling TDP in 2016. Police described Soma as “a former rival who became a close friend” of Rao, who was a well-known tribal leader in the Araku Valley region. Rao owned a number of black basalt quarries in the area and ran Modamamba Industries, a stone-crushing unit, in Guda village.
In July, residents of tribal villages near the quarries had launched a protest, under the banner of Girijana Sangham, against the quarries. “The tribals, especially from Guda village, said the blasting of rock damaged their houses, caused pollution and disturbed their peace,” P Appalanarasa, Girijana Sangham secretary, said.
“After joining the TDP, Rao’s quarry lease was extended to 2027 which angered the tribals. We enforced the closure of Rao’s quarry three months ago. Even today, there is a hunger strike on there,’’ Appalanarasa said.
However, a government official said the “quarry issue was just an excuse” and that the Maoists, who had been on the run, “wanted to make their presence felt by conducting a big operation to mark their formation day”. “The governments of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have declared that they have defeated the Maoist movement. This is the Maoists’s way of announcing that they may be down but not out,’’ the official said.
A protege of former Congress minister and MP Konathala Ramakrishna, Rao was nominated as an MLC by the then chief minister Dr Y S Rajasekhara Reddy for two years from 2007. After unsuccessfully trying for a Congress ticket in 2009, he joined YSRCP when Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy launched the party.
In the 2014 assembly elections, Rao defeated Soma, who was then the TDP’s sitting MLA, in the Araku Valley reserved constituency by 34,053 votes before defecting to the ruling party on April 28, 2016.
“He was targeted by the Maoists because he was a ruling party MLA,’’ CPM leader Killo Surendra, who was a candidate from Araku Valley in 2014, said.
Rao hails from Ginnelakot in Podabayalu Mandal of Visakhapatnam district, and is survived by his wife, who works in the state sericulture department, and two sons.
The last major Maoist attack on a political leader in Andhra Pradesh was in October 2003 when Chandrababu Naidu, who was then the CM of the undivided state, was injured in a blast triggered by improvised claymore mines targeting his motorcade near Tirumala.
On the national level, the last such attack was in Chhattisgarh in May 2013, when Congress leader and Salwa Judum founder Mahendra Karma and the then state party president Nand Kumar Patel were among 25 people killed. The Maoist attack wiped out almost the entire state political leadership of the Congress — veteran V C Shukla, who was seriously injured, died a month later.