The murder of two politicians, one of them an MLA, in Araku Valley in Visakhapatnam district on Sunday is a grim reminder that the Maoists continue to be a part of the political landscape in Andhra Pradesh. The police have claimed that the incident is the first of its kind in four years and perceives it to be “a show of strength” by left-wing extremists, who have been steadily losing ground in the region. Governments in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have been claiming for some time that the two states have got rid of the Maoists, who had personnel and fire power to attack security forces as well as politicians at will for over four decades since the ultra-left movement came into being following a split in the CPM in 1967. The last major attack on a politician in the undivided Andhra Pradesh was when then Andhra chief minister, Chandrababu Naidu, was targeted in 2003 in Tirumala. Led by Greyhounds, the special forces unit, the Andhra Pradesh police had since contained the activities of Maoists. As the police suspect, it may well be that the killings on Sunday is a one-off incident carried out by the CPI-Maoist to send a message to its declining support base that the party still has the will and capacity to target state representatives.
Since 2006, when then prime minister Manmohan Singh described the Maoist movement as the greatest internal security threat, security forces have successfully gained in upper hand in areas that were under the domination of the ultras. In April this year, the Union Home Ministry had reviewed the list of left-wing extremism (LWE)-hit districts and pruned it from 126 to 90. In recent years, major Maoist violence has mostly been reported from Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand — the two states along with Bihar and Odisha have the highest number of LWE-affected districts. While Andhra districts bordering Chhattisgarh and Odisha, including Visakhapatnam, are listed as LWE affected, very few incidents have been reported from this region recently. State governments have backed security operations in the LWE districts by improving physical infrastructure and introducing welfare programmes, thereby making recruitment of cadres and maintenance of safe houses difficult for the Maoists.
While the state’s strategy against Maoists has been largely successful, it doesn’t allow any complacency. The current claims on “Urban Naxals”, on the suspicion that the emerging Dalit assertions have a Maoist presence, are a distraction that exagerates the influence of left-wing guerrillas in urban movements and threatens to diffuse the focus on a weakened but still active armed insurgency in the forest corridors of central and eastern India. Unlike in the 1970s and 80s, when the Maoists commanded influence among urban intellectual circles, the movement today is mainly composed of criminalised gangs that specialise in extortions and hit-and-run tactics. The Visakhapatnam incident only confirms this pattern.