The last Maoist bastion in the Andhra-Odisha Border (AOB) area may have begun to crumble. This much was evident when a team of crack anti-Maoist forces from Andhra Pradesh and Odisha took the battle to the AOB, took them by surprise and killed 30.
Since the Maoist movement began in Andhra Pradesh in 1967 the densely forested AOB, stretching across 1,200 sq km through parts of Visakhapatnam and East Godavari in AP and Malkangiri and Koraput in Odisha, was considered impregnable.
Even when the Naxal movement was strong in Srikakulam in the early 1970s and in Telangana in the1990s, the AOB was considered to be a safe haven by the Maoists. When the heat was turned on in Telangana, they took refuge in AOB for its inaccessible terrain to recover and regroup, says former DGP HJ Dora, an expert on Maoists.
The nearest ‘kuccha’ motorable road is about 25 km away on the Andhra side from where the Maoists were killed. Thereafter it is a difficult trek through dense forest and hillocks, through marshy terrain covered in tall elephant grass and ‘nalas’ which are not visible because of the thick undergrowth. Maoist snipers perch atop the numerous hillocks. Entry from the Odisha side is ruled out, as there lies the huge Balimela reservoir. It was here that on June 29, 2008, the Maoists ambushed Greyhounds who were on boats. As many as 32 were shot dead even as they attempted to swim to safety. They didn’t have a chance.Taking no chances
This time the Greyhounds and their Odisha counterparts were taking no chances. About 80 of them, armed to the teeth, were ferried by copters to Munchingput three days before they attacked their targets. With only dry fruits to sustain them, they covered the 25 km carefully to avoid being spotted.
“At times we moved 200 mts in two hours and there were occasions when we sprinted 2 km in 30 minutes. We swam across rivulets and crawled on our bellies”, said a Greyhounds commando on condition of anonymity. They maintained radio silence and reached the designated area based on GPS inputs.
The assault team closed in on the camp in a ‘V’ formation and opened fire, leaving only one side open for the Maoists to flee.
“The escape side had a hillock and we did not encircle the camp, as our men might be hit in the cross fire. Even before the lone sentry could fire and alert the sleeping cadres, we struck and their retaliation was not to the expected scale,” said a senior police officer engaged in anti-Maoist operations.
Sources said the planning took place with consultations between the top police and paramilitary officials posted in Odsiha, AP and Chhattisgarh and with inputs from IB.
But the attack in their supposed safe zone has put the Maoists on the back foot, said DIG of Visakhapatnam (Range) Ch. Srikanth. According to the police, the extremists have lost their influence in the area. There is lack of support from local tribal people because of atrocities committed over time; now there is support only from the interior parts where development schemes have not reached.
As local tribal people are not helping them, the Maoists now depend on cadres from the Bastar region. Leadership from the tribal people is also minimal and tribal people do not accept leadership from upper caste cadres, which leads to a conflict. Most of the cadres from the AOB have deserted or have surrendered and Maoists now depend on the Koya tribe from Chhattisgarh region, said Sukhdev a surrendered Maoist.
More importantly, the entire tribal leadership in the AOB area has been wiped out with the killing of Bakuri Venkat Ramana alias Ganesh, a Special Zonal Committee Member (SZCM) in the encounter and another leader Kudumula Venkata Ramana alias Ravi who died of jaundice in April this year.