In one of the biggest and most successful operations against the Naxals conducted in India, at least 24 Maoists were killed in a fierce encounter with security forces in Odisha's Malkangiri district on the border with Andhra Pradesh.
This was a major blow for the Naxals as some of their top leaders were killed in the operation.
According to The New Indian Express, at least 50 Maoists had gathered for what is believed to be a meeting of the dreaded Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) of the CPI (Maoist). This was clearly an important meeting because Akkiraju Haragopal alias Ramakrishna was also reportedly present at the meeting but managed to escape.
This also means that even though 24 Maoists were killed, an equal number of them managed to escape. Nevertheless, the impact of the death of top Naxal leaders will be huge on the Maoists, although the deaths of many of these leaders is yet to be confirmed because many of the bodies are yet to be identified.
According to The Indian Express, Ramakrishna's son, Munna, was among those killed in the operation. Ramakrishna had made Malkangiri his base of operations earlier and had taken part in peace talks with the then Congress government headed by YS Rajasekhara Reddy in 2004.
Another top Naxal leader who was killed was Gajarla Ravi alias Uday alias Anand. 49-year-old Ravi has been associated with the Naxal movement for the past 26 years, according to The Hindu. He had also accompanied Ramakrishna during the 2004 peace talks.
Another report in The Times of India said that Ravi completed his high school in his native Velishala village of Chityala mandal in Jayashankar district, now in Telangana.
The report added that sources said that after he took admission into Industrial Training Institute in Hanamkonda, he hoisted the red flag in the college campus, after which he was arrested. This inspired his younger brother Azad alias Sariah to join the Naxal movement.
Chalapathi alias Appa Rao is also believed to be dead. He was the secretary of the East Division of the Naxals and carried a reward of Rs 20 lakh on his head. In June, a selfie had landed him into trouble when Vizag rural police managed to recover a photo showing him and his wife Aruna, deputy commander of the Koraput-Srikakulam Division Committee, from the laptop of slain Naxal Azad.
NDTV further reported that other top Naxal leaders killed in the operation were Venkatramana alias Ganesh, Aruna, Daya and Bengal Suresh. Ganesh and Daya had bounties of Rs 20 lakh on their heads. Eleven women Naxals were also among those killed.
The report also said that the number of Naxals killed in this operation is believed to be the biggest ever.
The New Indian Express report quoted a senior police official as saying that Maoists are now clearly "fighting a losing battle". "What should be understood is that we are currently using the lowest rung of our response teams to tackle them. But if and when we decide to unleash our complete capabilities, they will be no match," the senior officer said.
Another Firstpost article noted that "the biggest proof of the dwindling clout of the Red rebels in the area is the frenetic pace at which work on a 918 metre bridge over river Gurupriya, a project that has had to be abandoned repeatedly in the last few years due to stiff opposition from Maoists, has been progressing in recent months."
It also noted that once Malkangiri is freed from the clutches of Naxals, Maoists would have a tough time finding a foothold in Odisha.
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Oct 26, 2016 13:28:26 IST