As Greyhounds tackle Maoists on Odisha-Andhra border, government must push on
The dead Maoists included two of their top leaders, Chalapathi Rao and Gajarla Ravi, police sources say.
On 29 June, 2008 a team of 65 Greyhounds were on their way back to their base in Andhra Pradesh after an unsuccessful hunt for Maoists on the southern tip of Odisha. Their motorboat had entered the Balimela reservoir when it came under a barrage of fire from the Left ultras. Taking aim from a vantage position in the surrounding forests, they left little scope for the trapped personnel of the elite counter-insurgency to fight back. Finally, a grenade hurled from a launcher sank the boat. As many as 34 Greyhounds went missing.
It took more than eight years for them to exact revenge. But the killing of at least 25 Maoists in a forest near Odisha’s Malkangiri district on Tuesday would have eased the pain of the long delay. Even sweeter would be the fact that they managed it in the Maoist stronghold where the state virtually ceases to exist. The dead Maoists included two of their top leaders, Chalapathi Rao and Gajarla Ravi, police sources say. The Odisha police too deserve credit for keeping the heat on the Red rebels and assisting the Greyhounds with actionable, pin-pointed intelligence.
However, it would be myopic to view the development as revenge play only. In the long-drawn battle between the Maoists and the state in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, it marks a significant achievement. It is possible that an entire ‘dalam’ – one of the several armed Maoists units operating in the area – has been wiped out in the operation. This means a severe blow to the ultra-Left movement in the region. In 2014, Sabyasachi Panda, one of their top leaders operating in Odisha was arrested in Ganjam district of the state. In 2013, the Odisha police had shot dead 13 Maoists in Malkangiri.
The latest killings suggest that the near impenetrable Red Corridor of the ultras maybe under threat of breach. Sustained pressure from the governments of Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh with active backing from the central government has started yielding results. Encouraged by the declining Maoist activity in the last couple of years, the government at the centre, according to media reports, has been mulling taking around a fifth of the 106 districts in the Red Corridor spanning 10 states out of its most affected list.
In Maharashtra there are signs of considerable weakening of the Maoist support base; it is similar in West Bengal, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. A combination of government initiatives — Rs 30 crore a year for development in Maoist-affected districts — and effective police action leading to the arrest of several top leaders of the outfit has left it debilitated. It does not help that there’s a general loss of sympathy for the Maoists. Not many are convinced that they are fighting a moral battle in the forests by stalling the state’s initiatives to improve the lot of tribals. They are increasingly viewed as criminals and anti-national elements making ideology the cover for nefarious activities.
The earlier government had already branded them as the biggest internal security threat and the current dispensation is known for its antipathy towards the rebels. Perhaps it’s time to press home the advantage. The chances of them finding new converts to ideology are rarer now. Since they won’t join the mainstream it’s a good idea to take them head on. The Greyhounds and the Odisha police have done a brilliant job; it should be carried forward with no lapse in seriousness.
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