The recent arrest of Vanthala Ramakrishna alias Ashok alias Prabhakar and the surrender of 60 Maoist operatives, including 33 party members and 27 hardcore militia members, have delivered a fatal blow to the Maoist movement in the Andhra-Odisha Border (AOB) region.
Ashok, a resident of Kondrum village of Injari panchayat in Pedabayalu, a Maoist hotbed in AOB, was the secretary of the Pedabayalu-Korukonda area committee of the Maoist party. He was arrested by the police of Alluri Sitharama Raju district. The revival of the movement largely depended on him. In fact, as per intelligence reports, a few leaders who have gone into hiding in Chhattisgarh, were planning to come back during the monsoon season when the forest is verdant and security forces are forced to lie low because of inclement weather. But Ashok’s arrest and the surrender of 60 Maoists affects their return, especially since the militia network of Injari panchayat has collapsed. The Maoists have been surviving in this region thanks to tribal leaders and the militia network. Both are gone now, claimed a senior officer of the State Intelligence Bureau (Extremism).
The Alluri Sitharama Raju district in Andhra Pradesh and areas such as Chitrakonda and Malkangiri of Odisha have been the most preferred areas for left-wing extremists after Chhattisgarh in the AOB region.
The Maoist movement in the Agency areas of AOB in undivided Visakhapatnam district began in the mid-1980s and was led by the current general secretary of the party, Nambala Kesava Rao alias Basavraj, and a key member of the Central Committee, Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad, who was killed in 2010. From the 1980s till about 2014, the movement was at its peak, with the later part of the period being led by Akkiraju Haragopal alias Ramakrishna alias RK.
But fortunes begin to change with the elite anti-Maoist force of Andhra Pradesh, the Greyhounds, making deep inroads into the Andhra Pradesh side of the AOB and the Special Operation Group of Odisha affecting Maoist operations on the Odisha side. In October 2016, 30 Maoists were killed by the Greyhounds in Ramaguda. The Malkangiri-Koraput-Visakhapatnam Border Division was nearly wiped out as a result. Then, in the Teegalametta encounter in June 2021, six top leaders, including Ranadev and Ashok, were killed. Since the Ramaguda incident, the security forces on both sides stepped up their efforts, which forced a series of surrenders of almost all the tribal leaders. In the last two years alone, tribal leaders such as Boda Anjaiah alias Naveen, Gemmeli Kamesh alias Hari, Muttangar Jallandhar Reddy alias Krisha, Chikkudu Chinna Rao alias Sudheer, and Mahendra alias Dubasi Shankar surrendered. With the death of RK and the arrest of Kora Nageswara Rao, a powerful tribal leader, a couple of months ago, there were more surrenders.
The pushback by security forces, the string of surrenders and the arrest of key leaders forced top leaders such as Aruna, Gajarla Ravi alias Uday, and Kakuru Pandana alias Jagan to move to safer havens in Chhattisgarh. The surrender of tribal leaders also brought to the fore the conflict between the tribal and non-tribal leaders, which is now a major hindrance to the movement’s revival. The leaders who surrendered are reported to have said that they were disillusioned with the movement. This apart, the security forces on both sides of the AOB region have grown. They have also cordoned off entry points from Chhattisgarh to Odisha and Andhra Pradesh by building a number of armed police outposts and Border Security Force and Central Reserve Police Force camps, which has made re-entry for the Maoists difficult.