January 18, 2021
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The New Red Corridor

"There is no basic healthcare in the villages where we are posted. We are not even getting clean water. When we are fighting disease, how can we fight Maoists?"

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The New Red Corridor

On October 18, 2005, Suchit Das, police chief of Orissa,  noted: "The Maoists are planning to open the corridor from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh. For this, they are trying hard to take control of the western districts of Orissa, like Sambalpur and Deogarh." 

There has been mounting evidence in the recent past to indicate that the Maoists are attempting to open a new front to link up the neighbouring states of Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh via Orissa. The larger strategic plan is to create an uninterrupted north-south corridor and Orissa’s central and western regions are critical to the construction of such a passage.

The recent proscription of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) in Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (on August 17, 2005, and September 5, 2005) respectively, has consequently done little to stem the rising subversion in Orissa’s border districts. For instance, on October 17, approximately 20 cadres of the CPI-Maoist shot dead one Special Armed Police trooper and injured four persons at Badrama in the Sambalpur district, close to Sundargarh district on the Orissa-Jharkhand border.

Earlier, on September 29, Congress party legislator Nimain Sarkar had a miraculous escape, even as one person died, when the Maoists triggered a landmine, which destroyed a vehicle carrying the legislator’s supporters near Pusuguda in the Malkangiri district. Malkangiri shares its border with Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. Home Secretary Santosh Kumar confirmed that the blast occurred when Sarkar and his supporters were en route to Motu to meet family members of Subash Biswas, who had been shot dead by the Maoists on September 27 after they had branded him a police informer. With increased pressure in Andhra Pradesh, police sources say, many senior Maoist leaders have shifted base to areas in the bordering regions of Orissa and Chhattisgarh.

Of Orissa’s 30 districts, the CPI-Maoist is already active in eight: Gajapati, Rayagada, Koraput and Malkangiri in the southern region; and Sundargarh, Sambalpur, Deogarh, and Keonjhar in northern Orissa. They have declared several areas along the Orissa-Andhra Pradesh border in the southeast of Orissa as a ‘liberated zone’ and carry out attacks particularly targeting politicians, police and landlords there. Since their proscription in Andhra Pradesh, the Gajapati district of Orissa has witnessed a spurt in Maoist activity. 

Senior police sources of Andhra Pradesh, who visited various areas of Orissa on August 24, 2005, disclose that more than 200 Maoists have sneaked into Orissa across the state border, particularly into Tekili and Manjusa in Gajapati district. Entering Gajapati from the Bhamani, Kuttur, and Batili areas in Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists spread out to the Onna, Sara, Gariaguda, Khandwa, Siali and Haripur villages and further move towards Barinji via the Gira hills, Ajaigarh, Kujanshi, Santoshpur, Marlanda, Kharsanda and Madhusudanpur. From Barinji, with the help of some sympathizers, they join existing Maoist camps in the Rayagada, Koraput, Malkangiri and Nawarangpur districts. And across Rayagada, according to intelligence reports, Maoists enter the Phulbani district via the Khajuripada-Anugur-Parimal-Mohana-Adaba-Mandrababu route.

The Gajapati district thus serves as a point of dispersal, from where the Maoists move into Kandhamal region, Koraput and Malkangiri via the Padmapur Forest in the Rayagada district. Maoists who have entered the Gajapati district are reportedly trying to recruit the youth and have created three organisations, the Praja Bimukti Sainya (People’s Liberation Army), People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army and Lok Sangram Manch (People’s Revolutionary Platform), for this purpose. The Maoists have always used the Gajapati district as a shelter zone whenever a ban has imposed on them in Andhra Pradesh.

The Maoists primarily enter Orissa in groups of 12-14 and invariably choose inaccessible localities as their bases. Since the late 1990’s, when three or four squads (dalams as they are known in Andhra Pradesh) settled in Orissa, they have maintained good rapport with the locals, and are well entrenched. They have consolidated their position by helping settle family or village level disputes. In the Gajapati district, they chose villages where the topography and social character were similar to familiar areas of Andhra Pradesh. Thus, in the Gosani Block of Gajapati, the local language is Telugu, which is spoken in Andhra Pradesh. Maoists have a presence in the Regesingh, Parsmba, Naraharipur, Bindua and Parichha villages of Gajapati district.

Malkangiri district is gradually emerging as a Maoist base in Orissa, gaining the status of a Maoist ‘division’ spanning the Orissa-Andhra border areas. The Maoists have infiltrated into the border regions of Chitrakonda, Gudawa, Doraguda, MV 79, Kalimela, Vegangawada and Motu and force locals to provide food and shelter. Incidentally, Malkangiri is directly accessible from the Maoist-affected Khammam, Visakhaptnam, and the East and West Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh. Data from Malkangiri indicates that Malkangiri has witnessed at least nine significant incidents relating to Maoist activity in year 2005 (till November 2), and since 1999 the Maoists have killed at least 20 police personnel in this district. An average of eight raids and 10 days of combing operations are carried out in the Maoist-infested villages every month. While the police spends about Rupees 80 million a month in combating the Maoists in Malkangiri, Koraput and Rayagada districts (all of whom share a border with Andhra Pradesh), the civil administration spends just Rupees 500 million per year for development work in these districts.

Another crucial district for the Maoists in Orissa is Rayagada where, despite heavy deployment of the Police and paramilitary Forces, Maoist-related incidents are registered on a regular basis. The state government had made little effort to counter extremism in the area before the Gothalpadar land mines blast in 2002.

Police sources disclose that 1,000 state Armed Police personnel, 1,000 from the Indian Reserve Battalion, 1,000 Central Reserve Police Force personnel, and 200 men of both the Special Operations Group and Special Intelligence Wing are engaged solely in dealing with the Maoists in these pockets.

There are presently seven leading Maoist squads and three front organisations, with approximately 300 hardcore cadres and 2,000 supporters active in Orissa. Within the Maoist fold, the Kalimela, Motu, Populur, Korkunda, Chitrakonda and Sangagampary squads in Malkangiri; the Bansadhara and Kuilabang squads in Rayagada; and the Janjhabati and Chasimulia squads in Koraput, pose a challenge to the Administration.

In Orissa’s Northern region, the Maoists have formed the Krantikari Kisan Committee (Revolutionary Farmer’s Committee) and Jungle Surakhya Committee (Forest Protection Committee) in villages adjacent to Jharkhand. Thus, in the Sundargarh district, they have formed these committees in bordering villages like Bjharbeda, Kaliaposh, Tulasikani, Makaranda, Sanramloi, Badramloi, Jharbeda, Jareikel and similarly at Thetheitangar, Samda, Reda and Digha on the Jharkhand side.

The CPI-Maoist is also consolidating its position in the Sambalpur district in north Orissa. On July 7, a group of more than 30 Maoists killed five people in the Tamparsingha, Banjaridikira and Larabira villages in a series of attacks spread over five hours. Earlier, on May 28, the Maoists had shot dead three civilians and injured an equal number in Burda village. More recently, on October 16, a group of 40 Maoists, including some female cadres, attacked a police party at village Badarma, killing one policeman and looting four rifles, before escaping into the adjacent jungles. The state’s Home Secretary, Santosh Kumar, stated, "The Maoists are attacking the Police with the aim of looting arms and ammunition… The looting of police weapons is a clear signal that they are preparing for a long battle in the region".

In Sambalpur, the Maoists are currently active in the villages adjacent to the Khilasuni Reserve Forest area under Kisinda police station – Redhakhol, Meghpal, Jujumura, Chhamunda, Burda, Kisinda, Kusamura, Podanai and Jarang. Maoists from Jharkhand come to Sambalpur to train and escape back across the border in the event of combing operations by the Police. In case of a shortage of arms and cadres for major operations, assistance is secured from Maoist units in neighbouring Jharkhand, although the outfit is currently trying to strengthen its base in Sambalpur and Deogarh in order to reduce its dependency on the Jharkhand unit.

In the Deogarh district, the Maoists are active in Jadagola and villages under Riamala Block. On October 13, the police unearthed a large quantity of Gelatine explosives and 21 improvised explosive devices during a combing operation in the adjoining Hiran forests, which is now reported to be a Maoist base. Similarly, the Maoists have intensified their movement in the Keonjhar district’s Badbil mining area, the Keonjhar and Dhenkanal border area, and the Kaliahat Police outpost area. They are also reportedly trying to enter the Kotgarh and Brahmani villages of Phulbani district in order to establish a link between Rayagada and Sambalpur. In addition to consolidating their position, the route would create a pathway between Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand. Recently, the outfit brought in some prominent leaders and changed the secretaries of some of its ‘area committees’ in the tribal areas of its Andhra-Orissa Border (AOB) ‘special zone’. According to reports, 22 cadres had been brought to the AOB area from the Telangana region in Andhra Pradesh.

Rising Maoist activity in districts like Sambalpur and Deogarh is also a major concern from the economic point of view, since it is here that a majority of the steel and iron ore mine projects are being developed. In June 2005, South Korea’s Posco signed a deal for a $12 billion steel project in Orissa in the Sundargarh and Keonjhar districts, the largest single foreign direct investment made in India. Unsurprisingly, reports of extortion from many projects have been received by the state intelligence units.

The state response, amidst all this rising Maoist activity, has remained mixed. The government is currently following a ‘two-pronged approach’: socio-economic development to negate the Maoists’ support base among the poorer sections, and combing operations directly targeting the Maoists. Apart from the state police, at least 16 companies of the para-military Central Reserve Police Force are deployed across the state to combat the Maoists. While 103 hardcore Maoists were arrested between December 2004 and June 2005, a total of 46 cases were registered against the group this year (till June 10, 2005) as against 24 cases registered in 2004. The police have also neutralised a Maoist camp in Malkangiri district and five camps in Sambalpur during 2005, defused 22 landmines and seized 30 weapons.

But, the authorities seem ill equipped to tackle the situation. For instance, the post of Deputy Inspector General of Police (South-western range) with jurisdiction over Malkangiri, Koraput, Rayagada, Nabarangpur, Kalahandi and Nuapada districts lay vacant between August 25 and October 22, hampering coordination between the Superintendents of Police of these districts. Malaria had killed one policeman and affected at least 20 others among those deployed to fight the Maoists in the Sambalpur district, according to reports in August 2005. One trooper deployed in the area, who was suffering from malaria, complained: "There is no basic healthcare in the villages where we are posted. We are not even getting clean water. When we are fighting disease, how can we fight Maoists?"

Nihar Nayak is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

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