The growing protest against the creation of Telangana has senior officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) a worried lot.
They fear that a long spell of “zero-governance” in the State could see escalation of the Naxal problem, while law and order could deteriorate, particularly in Hyderabad. Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Monday briefed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the situation in the State.
As the protest spread to more areas in Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra Pradesh, the officials are apprehensive that Maoists would now try and reassert their presence in areas where the police and paramilitary forces have managed to regain control in the last few years. Moreover, as paramilitary forces engaged in anti-Naxal operations were being diverted to contain protests, Maoists would sense a chance to regroup.
“It is a well-known fact that most of the top Maoist leaders belong to the economically backward Telangana region, which used to be the hotbed of Naxal activities. Persistent operations by Greyhound commandos of the Andhra Pradesh police, along with the paramilitary forces, forced Maoists to shift base to the neighbouring States. But now with attention diverting towards protests and people getting restless, Naxals might try and rebuild the cadre base in the State,” a senior MHA official said.
Of the 10 districts of the proposed Telangana State, which shares borders with some of the Naxal strongholds like Gadchiroli in Maharashtra and Bastar in Chhattisgarh, 8 have been declared worst hit by the left wing extremism. They include onetime Maoist hotbeds of Karimnagar, Warangal and Adilabad. Significantly, even the other districts that will fall in divided Andhra Pradesh are also facing Naxal problem, which include Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam that have turned out to be the epicentres of the current anti-Telangana protests.
“Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy has also come out openly against Telangana ... There is complete absence of governance in the State where even the bureaucracy and police look divided. Under such circumstances law and order situation in the State could be compromised,” the official added.
Another area of concern is growing possibility of clashes between pro and anti-Telangana supporters, particularly in Hyderabad. Already there have been reports of anti-Telangana protesters targeting some Congress leaders in the Seemandhra region. “If pro-Telangana supporters decide to open a new front, it will be difficult to contain the situation. There could be a face-off like situation between pro and anti-Telangana supporters … We might see targeted attacks on people. We do not want this to happen … We are taking all precautions,” the official said.
Amid widespread speculation that the Centre was contemplating imposition of President’s rule in Andhra Pradesh to prevent the situation from going out of hand, Mr. Shinde met the Prime Minister and discussed the steps being taken to maintain peace.
Accompanied by Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami, Mr. Shinde reportedly told Dr. Singh that sufficient forces had been deployed in the Seemandhra region to maintain law and order, while more Central forces have been kept on standby. They also discussed the possibility of securing power plants — whose functioning has been paralysed by protesters — by the Central forces and running them with the help of engineers from outside so that electricity supply would not be disrupted, sources said.
Mr. Shinde is hopeful of reaching an amicable solution to the Telangana issue as his emissaries were in touch with all stakeholders. He has also assured leaders of Seemandhra, including Union Ministers who have offered resignations to the Prime Minister, that the interests of the people of the region would be safeguarded. There have been talks of special economic package and other sops related to education, employment and healthcare facilities being offered for divided Andhra Pradesh to pacify leaders and protesters, the sources added.