THE July 23 decision of the Andhra Pradesh Government to ban the Peoples' War Group (PWG) and its six frontal organisations came as no surprise. Neither did the response of the banned outfit. In true Naxal spirit, it called a bandh in its north Telangana stronghold, blasted a ruling Telugu Desam Party MLA's house, and PWG cadres, who prefer staying underground, with or without a ban, started regrouping. Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu accused the PWG of not being able to "shun violence". The PWG's rejoinder was equally cavalier: according to them, Naidu is wary of the group's opposition to his 'anti-poor' programmes.
Naidu will find it easy to justify the reim position of the ban. Official figures reveal that the PWG activists have been involved in 66 killings this year. However, his action against the PWG was not dictated solely by considerations of containing violence. A financial crunch has left the Andhra Pradesh government with no option but to either scrap or tone down the populist schemes floated by former chief minister and Naidu's father-in-law, N.T. Rama Rao. To overcome the present crisis, Naidu has little choice but to implement his predecessor's economic policies which the PWG, however, feels are retrograde. And so, by declaring the PWG outlawed yet again, the chief minister has ensured his safety for the time being.
Says Peoples Union of Civil Liberties President K.G. Kannabiran: "Naidu was forced to take the decision under the influence of senior police officials. He knew that the PWG and its frontal organisations would take the lead in opposing any government move to thrust economic liberalisation upon the people. That would have stalled the implementation of his new economic policy."
Naidu was perhaps encouraged by the fact that he may not have to face an election very soon. Combing operations in the north Telangana districts had begun early this year and government action to 'contain violence' was very much on the cards. Thirty-six PWG activists had been killed in police encounters till April-end. Sympathisers of the Naxal organisation even hold the police guilty of human rights violations and accuse them of killing innocent people.
However, instead of weakening it, the reimposition of the ban on the PWG may only have brought together those who had fallen out with it. Gaddar, the popular ballad singer and member of the Jana Natya Mandali, the PWG's cultural wing, who had earlier resigned from the organisation when he was accused of anti-party activities, announced he would return to its fold if the Naidu government failed to reconsider its decision. This is signifi-cant since the younger elements in the PWG owing allegiance to the out-of-favour Gaddar and Ganapati too had fallen out with the group.
For the PWG itself, falling in and out of mainstream political favour is nothing new. Since it has a sizeable following in the north Telangana districts, parties have often wooed the organisation. In fact, the TDP under NTR had taken a lenient view towards it, which had helped the party win the 1983 assembly polls. But NTR's perception of the 'true patriots' changed with the abduction and brutal murder of the TDP mandal president in Karimnagar, Mallar Rao, following NTR's failure to accede to the PWG's demands. His strong posture thereafter was seen by observers as one of the reasons for the TDP's defeat in the 1989 polls.
At that time, Congress leader M. Channa Reddy's assurance that his party would take a lenient view of the Naxalites helped him bounce back to power. Reddy honoured his promise later by allowing the PWG and its frontal organisations to carry on their underground activities. However, his successor N. Janardhan Reddy reimposed the ban in 1992. In the build-up to the 1994 assembly elections, NTR sent out friendly feelers to the PWG and did not renew the ban when it expired in 1995. Naidu, who succeeded NTR after toppling him from power last September, seemed to have been following in the footsteps of earlier chief ministers who had found it difficult to come to terms with the PWG. Till he imposed the ban.
Whatever the reason for Naidu's current volte face, his party legislators from the north Telangana districts like Adilabad, Karimnagar and Nizamabad, besides Medak, Mahbubnagar, Nalgonda, Warangal and Khammam, are scared to visit their constituencies after the ban. Admits a TDP legislator from Karimnagar: "We'll be definitely alienated from the people as we cannot visit our constituencies. The security cover may help save our lives, but definitely not our political future."