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Smartphones Outsmart Maoists

Potential recruits, hooked to smartphones and satellite television provided by government, are unwilling to take up arms

Technology might have helped the CPI (Maoists) to hit out at the Congress leaders’ caravan in Darbha valley (Chhattisgarh) in 2013, but that same technology has now become their bear bug and bane, evaporating their ranks.

“Electronic devices and internet had kept the youth occupied in rural areas and prevented them from getting attracted to Left-wing extremism,” said Telangana DGP M Mahender Reddy at a press interaction at the end of January. After three to four rounds of scouting and campaign for recruits in northern Telangana and Andhra Odisha Border (AOB) areas, the CPI (Maoist) stalwarts are a disappointed lot for not getting many tribal, Dalit or disgruntled youth to join their ranks. “It appears that the rural youth are mesmerised more by smart phones than the glimmer of guns and AK-57s,” a senior Maoist recruiter informed a recent Maoist conclave at the end of December 2017, on why there was a poor response for recruitments.

In a 25-page document which the Maoist leader submitted to the Central Committee he said there was an urgent need to design a new strategy to not only rope in young blood, but also to keep the middle-aged cadres from deserting the ranks. “The song and dance approach and indoctrination will not work anymore,” he had said adding that over 1700 men had deserted since 2014, besides surrenders, encounter killings as well as a disconnected few at loggerheads with the central command and operating on their own as mercenary groups for politicians and corporates.

This journalist who toured most of the border areas of Telangana and Odisha (Warangal –EturuNagaram, Karimnagar, Adilabad) last month found that tribal youth are enticed by smartphones and cheaper connectivity which the government has unleashed in a big way as part of sops for youth.

“Smartphones are sported both as a defense, recreation, and educational tool,” Superintendent of Police of Jaishankar Bhopalapally district, R Bhaskaran told The Lede.

The region where the famous Medaram Jathra (tagged as the Tribal Kumbh Mela)was conducted in the first week of February and over 1 crore tribal devotees of over 9 tribes visited, is in the middle of a vast wildlife sanctuary and also the forest route to the central region of Dandakarayana linking southern Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha. The government had put up over 100 mobile towers to facilitate communication and keep the tribals engaged.

Immense opportunities on the career and entertainment fronts and fruits of development activities in rural Telangana have had a cascading impact on youth recruits to Maoist camps, according to DGP M Mahender Reddy. He recently attended a meeting of senior cops of Maharashtra and Odisha to chalk out a new strategy to smoke out Maoists from the cut off regions of central India popularly known in the Maoist parlance as AOB (Andhra–Odisha Border).

Maoists’ Hit And Run Strategy In Telangana

Reddy says that Maoists were trying to re-enter and gain control in Telangana’s forest districts. But the vigilance of Telangana commandos on year-round combing operations and the resolve of the government to root out ultras have paid dividends. “Now Maoists are on hit and run operations in Telangana, killing mostly surrendered Maoists after tagging them as police informants,” said DGP Reddy at the same press interaction referred to earlier. Hit and run means blasting of mobile towers or police stations in Andhra Pradesh or Telangana and retreating for shelter in Chhattisgarh or Odisha.

Police say that the Maoists are desperately struggling to make a base on the fringe areas of JayashankarBhupalpally and Kothagudem-Bhadradri districts and revive plain area movement in Adilabad district but have failed.

In the Maoist Central Committee, at present, there are 12 persons from the two Telugu speaking States. 10 of them are from Telangana and the other 2 from Andhra Pradesh. “It is the roots and connections of these men and their attempts to revive the ultras’ presence which is our major worry,” said DGP Mahender Reddy.

According to Telangana police, nearly 120 Maoist cadres from the state were active in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Jharkhand. Of these, a team of 30-40 cadrehave been assigned to regroup sympathisers and recruit boys in Telangana and AP. “Since we are keeping a constant vigil on the border areas, most of them come and go,” said another senior police officer of Bhandari (Bhadrachalam).

Lockdown By Security Forces

An inter-state coordination meet of security forces including the BSF was held at Hyderabad on January 31 in which it was decided that all the three forces – Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh – should stage simultaneous actions. “The agenda is to assume control of the cut-off region, which is in the hands of ultras over the last one decade. Driving them out of this area alone will complete the Green Hunt operations,”said a senior security advisor to the Ministry of Home Affairs who addressed the coordination at the meeting.

The Odisha and BSF forces act on the other side of TulsiDongri areas of Malkangiri district and Sunabeda Wildlife Sanctuary in Nuapada district. Telangana and AP forces were to act on Balimela, Kothagudem, Paderu and Singur project areas.The operation was to commence sometime soon. “We are gearing for a big offensive with trained commandos, material, weapons and also bullet-proof transport,” said a senior spokesperson of the Greyhound commandos who will be in charge of the entire operations henceforth.

The strategy conclave also discussed that while the Left wing extremist forces were being pushed out of Telangana and AP, they had been setting strong bases – arm dumps, safe houses, training camps for some recruits in Odisha soil.Their activity has improved in Nuapada, Boudh, Nayagarh, Keonjhar, Sambalpur, Deogarh, and Sundargarh while Malkangiri, Koraput, Kalahandi, Rayagada, Kandhamal, Balangir and Bargarh regions had become hotbeds.

Social activists and human rights leaders contend that the challenge to Maoists is not just from military ops but also from satellite television and mobile telephony.Both of them,along with internet connectivity, have turned rural India into a huge marketplace for FMCG goods and social transformation. “The traditional methods-public meetings in forests, song and dance mode of public outreach by the Maoists have become ineffective,” activist Jeevan Kumar of Human Rights Foundation told The Lede.

As the government’s cyber crimes department of the Union Home Ministry have been cracking on cyber approaches of Maoists using Facebook, websites, and other tools, the Reds are afflicted by issues like lack of resources, lack of recruits, lack of presence in areas which were once their haven. “But  we will overcome all these hurdles in the course of time and ready for yet another battle of nerves and bullets,” said Sudharshan, a Maoist spokesperson of  the North Telangana region committee, in a media release in the second week of February.

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