Prolonged captivity of hostages & perceived helplessness of government have adverse impact on psyche of society

Maoists may be patting themselves on their back for forcing the Chhattisgarh and Odisha governments to give into their demands in exchange for those abducted by them, but kidnap as a tool of revolutionary warfare could prove to be counter-productive to them.

The prolonged captivity of hostages and the perceived helplessness of the government, which fears for the safety of the hostages, have an adverse impact on the psyche of society.

Typical is the societal response to the hostage crisis recently witnessed in Chhattisgarh and Odisha.

Barring a vociferous intelligentsia, civil rights activists and select representatives of political and bureaucratic circles of the States concerned, the other sections of society have not reacted to the evolving crisis.

‘Silent sanction'

The Andhra Pradesh experience, however, shows this silence often metamorphoses into a ‘silent sanction' being accorded to the State for all the extra-judicial acts it commits while trying to toughen its stand against the hostage-takers subsequently.

It is this ‘silent sanction' that emboldens the security forces to resort to actions beyond what they are expected to do. And they get away with it too.

The case of Andhra Pradesh would perhaps be the best example of how kidnap as a strategy is a failed experiment for Naxalites. The State witnessed many abductions in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The demands made after such rampant abductions could broadly be categorised into: release of arrested or convicted cadres; production of missing cadres (believed to have been killed or arrested by police); permission for public meetings and construction of demolished ‘stupams' (monuments).

First kidnap in A.P.

The first kidnap in Andhra Pradesh was reported on September 6, 1984, when Naxals took away a senior revenue official at Addateegala of East Godavari district and demanded the release of Perumalla Devudu, a central organiser.

A panicked government conceded the demand and the official was set free the next day. Then came the historic kidnap of seven IAS officers in Gurtedu of the same district on December 27, 1987.

Immense pressure

The abduction of senior bureaucrats led to immense pressure on the government, which was forced to concede the demand of releasing of jailed Naxalites, including Wadkapur Chandramouli, then a division committee secretary, who later rose to be a member of polit bureau. (He was later killed in 2006).

With civil liberties leader K.G. Kannabiran holding negotiations, the hostages were released only after the jailed Naxal leaders were handed over to them.

So intense was the pressure on the government that it had not allowed the NSG commandos despatched by the Centre to take any action to free the hostages.

In 1989

Though there was a lull for the next two years, abductions began in 1989 again, due to an unstable political scenario as the NTR government was to face elections.

In June 1989, a mandal parishad president Malhar Rao was abducted and shot dead when the government failed to produce two missing Naxalites — Gopagani Ilaiah and Burra Ramulu.

Then came the liberal period during the chief ministership of M. Channa Reddy and kidnaps continued. The most notable was that of legislator P. Sudhir Kumar after a daring raid on his house in the centre of Hyderabad.

A stunned government had no other go but to release senior most leader Nemaluri Bhaskara Rao and two others in exchange for Sudhir Kumar.

In 1993, tribal legislator P. Balarau and IAS officer Srinivasulu were abducted in the Visakhapatnam agency area and a Naxal leader Kranti Ranadeo was released in exchange. The Naxal leadership indeed revelled in the successes and even justified the ‘kidnap' tactic and termed it a form of struggle.

As kidnaps continued, society had more or less viewed it as a problem concerning the ruling party, the police and Naxalites, but never intervened. Vexed with the soft attitude of the governments, the police did act on their own in August 1989.

When two policemen were abducted in Karimnagar, the police responded by organising the counter-kidnap of civil rights activist Balagopal by a supposedly civil vigilante group — ‘Praja Bandhu.' Naxalites released the constables and Balagopal too was let off.

Dangerous fallout

The most dangerous fallout of the overuse of this tactic was to be felt after the Congress government proscribed the People's War Group on May 20, 1992.

The police forces let loose a reign of terror and there was not even a murmur of protest from people even when those arrested were shot dead in full public view in what came to be known as ‘encounters.'

Peculiar was the societal response to the police behaviour. While there was no protest against any ‘encounter killings' of people believed to be Naxalites, people turned up in thousands and even attacked police stations whenever there were custodial deaths in which innocent people were tortured to death.

Perhaps, by observing this dichotomous trend, Maoists had then announced that they indeed erred in treating kidnap as a tactic and even considering it as a form of struggle. Will history repeat itself now in Central India? It remains to be seen.