Why are a handful of armed Maoists risking their lives in the jungles of old undivided Adilabad, Warangal and Khammam districts in Telangana? Are Maoists trying to reestablish the hold of Communist Party of India (Maoist) over Adivasis living in the forests and if so how have they planned to do it?
These are some of the questions that security forces and observers in the state have been grappling with over the last four months when armed bands of the banned outfit first reappeared this year. Since then, they have been reviving old contacts apparently aimed at regaining a foothold by addressing the issues faced by Adivasis living in the forests.
According to sources in the police department, Maoists started ‘interfering’ in the problems faced by indigenous tribal persons in 2017 when the Adivasi-Lambada issue broke out. Telangana Director General of Police M Mahender Reddy had warned of a possible interference of Maoists in the issue back then.
In early June, the underground organisation's Andhra Pradesh unit supported the cause of Adivasis, who were protesting the scrapping of GO 3 by the Supreme Court. GO 3, which provides 100% reservation for Scheduled Tribe (ST) teachers in the scheduled areas of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, came into effect in united Andhra in 2000. The government order aimed to strengthen educational infrastructure, promote education development, protect the interests of tribal persons and solve the phenomenon of teacher absenteeism in remote areas. However, in April this year, the apex court scrapped the 20-year-old GO calling absolute reservation “arbitrary” and unconstitutional. The top court stated that the reservation for STs cannot exceed 50%.
Poster of Maoists in undividided Adilabad district put up by the police department recently
According to observers, Maoists are also trying to rile up emotions based on issues surrounding forest land. Adivasis have been demanding rights to forest lands being cultivated by them for generations under the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.
"It is no coincidence that the movement of the armed band led by CPI (Maoist) Telangana State Committee member, Mylarapu Adellu alias Bhaskar was reported from Bazarhatnoor mandal just a few days before tribals staged a protest in Upparpalli demanding rights to till forest land. Or for that matter places in Kadem mandal in Nirmal district, before similar protests were staged," a police officer pointed out.
The Telangana police department also warned forest officials to be cautious when trying to reclaim forest lands under dispute as Maoists could infiltrate and create trouble. Most lands under dispute are located in Kagaznagar revenue division of Kumram Bheem Asifabad, Khanapur division in Nirmal, Adilabad division in Adilabad district, Mahabubabad, Eturnagaram and Tadvai forests of old Warangal and in the forests of Bhadradri Kothagudem district.
Adilabad Superintendent of Police Vishnu S Warrier, who also holds charge of KB Asifabad and Nirmal districts as SP, said, "They could try to gain sympathy of Adivasis but will not succeed as the present ethos in tribal hamlets is quite different from 15 years ago." However, he asserted that the department is geared up to meet any such challenge.
The Adivasi Hakkula Porata Samithi, better known as Tudum Debba, which is in the forefront of the land struggle in Telangana, rubbished allegations of Maoists supporting their cause. The Adilabad district president of the outfit, Godam Ganesh, said vested interests had created this allegation to dilute the struggle of the inidgeneous tribal persons on the issues of land and GO 3.
"Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao promised to give rights to pattas (under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006) several times. Now the Forest Department wants to evict poor farmers," said Godam Ganesh.
Meanwhile, the police department has conducted programmes like health camps and distribution of rations during the lockdown period in tribal villages. This is aimed as a confidence building measure in the poverty ridden habitations and preventing youths from joining the underground outfit.