Araku Valley in Visakhapatnam district of Andhra Pradesh, where Maoists shot dead ruling TDP’s MLA Kidari Sarveswara Rao and former MLA Siveri Soma on Sunday, had been peaceful in the past four years after witnessing Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) activities for more than two decades.
In fact, peace in the area prompted the Andhra Pradesh government to launch the Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANM) programme to assist tribal pregnant women to deliver at home as many of them would not visit clinics or hospitals as they consider it against their traditions. Government officials said since there was no Maoist activity in Araku, the ANMs were able to go to remote villages without fear, help pregnant women and advise lactating mothers on neo natal care.
Encouraged by ANMs to use hospital or community health centres, Araku has also seen an increase of over 65 per cent in institutional deliveries and decline in maternal and infant mortality rates. The state has also been promoting Araku coffee plantations.
This peace was on Sunday disrupted when the rebels shot Rao and Soma at point-blank range.
While there is speculation that Rao’s mining business had been facing protests from people of a village, few think there is a link between his mining activities and the killings.
According to official figures, in undivided Andhra Pradesh in 2010, 100 incidents of LWE violence and 24 deaths were reported; of these three incidents and as many deaths occurred in Araku. In 2017-18, 24 incidents and 7 deaths were reported in the state — only one incident and death were reported in G K Veedi Mandal, 120 km from Araku.
“Araku has been peaceful for nearly 3-4 years without any LWE incident. Probably that is the reason Maoists picked this area. Right now, all indications are that the Maoists were from the Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zone Committee and Nandapur Area Committee of Odisha. We are trying to ascertain why the MLA and his colleague were targeted,” Visakhapatnam SP Rahul Dev Sharma said.
Denying that the police had let their guard down, assuming that there was no more Maoist threat, Visakhapatnam Range DIG C Srikanth said the police had issued advisory to public representatives not to venture into interior areas as Maoists were observing their formation day and may conduct an operation.
Tribal leaders said Maoists wanted to send a message.
“The Maoists wanted to make a statement because the Andhra Pradesh government has been claiming that Maoists have been eradicated from the state. The ruling party MLA and former MLA became soft targets of a counter attack. Maoists may have also wanted to send a message to the Centre after the arrest of P Varavara Rao and other activists. The Maoists declared formation day celebrations from September 22-27 and I think they wanted to carry out a big operation and announce their presence,” said Andhra Pradesh Girijana Sangham Secretary P Appalanarasa.
He added, “Mining issues have been going on for more than 15 years here and Maoists have never killed anyone in this connection. While Bauxite mining is an issue here, the issue over MLA Rao’s mining business is confined to one village. So I don’t think it was the reason. I think Rao and Soma became targets of a larger objective of Maoists.’’