“The senior leadership of the party (CPI Maoist) is worried over setbacks due to Operation Greenhunt and the various developmental works undertaken by the government in remote areas of districts like Gadchiroli,” Badarpu Mallaiyya alias Shekhar, the in-charge of the South Gadchiroli divisional committee of the CPI (Maoist), who surrendered before the Andhra Pradesh police in November, told The Indian Express here on Wednesday.
Originally from Macchupetha village of Karimnagar district in Andhra, Shekhar, 48, was in Gadchiroli for questioning by the local police. He had been heading the Maoist operations in Bhamragarh, Perimili, Aheri and Sironcha from 2008 onwards till his arrest.
“The morale of the party has been affected by the pressure created by Operation Greenhunt. A lot of areas have been lost to the police,” Shekhar said, adding that with people getting employment in government works like road construction, digging of wells, forest jobs etc as well as under the MNREGS, fewer people were joining the CPI (Maoist).
He admitted that the lucrative surrender offers had also enticed many to lay down arms, even as police had stepped up their combing operations. “Barring parts of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, the situation elsewhere is more or less equally bad for the party.”
Shekhar specifically cited loss of many parts of Aheri, Perimili and Sironcha in south Gadchiroli that he commanded, along with Bhamragarh and areas of Kurkheda and Korchi in the north.
Asked what the biggest concern of the Maoists was, Shekhar said: “That the party isn’t growing. Fresh recruitment has virtually stopped and the Dalam strength has gone down from about 15 to 10.” He added that Maoists were trying to counter this by exhorting cadre to increase contact with people.
Shekhar, who had been part of the encounter at Lahiri that killed 17 policemen, defended targeting cops. “The pressure of police was growing and the party had suffered a lot of losses. So there was directive from the top leadership for big action,” he said.
A veteran of many bloody encounters in Andhra and Maharashtra during his 24 years as a Maoist, Shekhar surrendered along with wife Ponnam Saroja alias Vijaya partly because he is suffering from “kidney and liver” ailments and also because of “disillusionment” following the suicide last year by senior Maoist Divakar.
“Divakar moved around a lot in civil (dress) and was doubted by senior leaders for possible links with the police. I didn’t approve of the allegation against him and also questioned party leaders like Narmada about it. They objected to my raising questions and sidelined me,” Shekhar said.
About the allegation that cadres from Andhra have an upper hand over tribals in the CPI (Maoist), Shekhar said: “The promotions in the party are generally according to seniority. But there is some discrimination against tribals. At least the tribals do complain about it.”
He admitted handing down death to 12 alleged police informers in Gadchiroli, but claims he was asked to do so by the leadership. Asked if any evidence is sought before an “informer” is killed, Shekhar said: “People’s opinion is considered as valid. If later it is found that someone has been wrongly killed, we go and apologise to the family.”
Talking about funding, Shekhar said each divisional committee chief gets Rs 20 lakh annually for spending. “I used to collect Rs 2 crore during tendu season in my division. The bamboo extraction charge is collected by the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee, which is a higher body.”
Shekhar, who joined the Manthni Dalam in Karimnagar district in 1988 at the age of 24 allegedly under pressure from landlords, claims that when he visited his village after his surrender, everyone, including the landlord families, came to see him. “They were all very happy to see me. It’s no more the kind of village it used to be.”