Why Maoists are now admitting to Covid-19 deaths

 major change was observed in the ongoing psy-warfare between the security establishment and Maoists in Chhattisgarh last week. In a first, the CPI (Maoist) accepted that some of their top ranking cadre had died of Covid. On June 24, the Telangana state committee of the CPI (Maoist) said in a release that party central committee member and state committee secretary Yapa Narayana alias Haribhushan died of Covid on June 21. The next day, it was reported that Indrawati area committee member Siddabona Sarakka alias Bharatakka had also died of Covid. The two deaths are said to have taken place in the Pamed-Usoor area in south Chhattisgarh. While Haribhushan carried a reward of Rs 40 lakh, Bharatakka carried a reward of Rs 8 lakh.

All through the second Covid wave, the security establishment and the Maoists had been engaged in allegations and counter-allegations over mortalities linked to Covid. Many top-ranking Maoists have fallen victim to Covid in the past few months. Sobrai or Gaddam Madhukar, considered an expert in technology and communications, had been arrested from Warangal earlier this month. He was in Telangana for treatment of Covid and died later. In May, the Telangana police arrested three people who were accompanying a Maoist leader, Gangaiah, for treatment. Gangaiah also later died while undergoing treatment at a hospital.

The Maoist leadership has so far denied the deaths of their cadre due to Covid, calling it propaganda by the Bastar police. In a press note released on May 25, the Maoists claimed there was no truth to the claims that some of the top leaders had died of Covid and that the virus was raging in their camps. So what led to this change in tack on the part of the Maoists?

Sources in the security establishment say the Maoists had no option but to accept that they had lost cadre to Covid. “We have information that at least 20 Maoists have been infected by Covid or are facing the effects of long Covid with their lives in peril,” says an SP posted in a Maoist-affected district in Chhattisgarh. “Covid had spread in the villages in a big way in the second wave, so it was only a matter of time before it found its way to the Maoist camps. The Maoists are in constant contact with the villages so infection was always a possibility. Once infected, providing oxygen or critical care is next to impossible in the forests. The only option is to flee to Telangana for treatment,” said the police officer.

“We appeal to the Maoists to surrender and come forward for treatment. Local people should stay away from their meetings to avoid being infected,” says IG Bastar P. Sunderraj. “Maoist commanders Hidma, Vinod, Sonu, Nandu and Jaiman are also said to be infected by Covid. We are trying to confirm this information. A total of 16-20 Maoists have died due to Covid,” he added. The IG said that denying or not reporting the deaths of senior cadre will only lead to loss of face and the Maoist leadership losing credibility among their own. As it is, a large number of the cadre have left the camps after Covid began to spread. “Out of the 57 surrenders in the last month-and-a-half, 12 Maoists were found to be infected by Covid. That is the extent of the spread in the Maoist camps. Haribhushan’s family is said to be upset at him for not getting proper treatment,” says Sunderraj. Also, even if the deaths of top leaders are acknowledged, that of junior operatives could go unreported, says the IG.

Another fallout of Haribhushan’s death could be a leadership tussle. Sources in the security establishment point to the death of Ramanna in December 2019. The Maoists have not been able to find a replacement for the Dandakaranya special zonal committee (DKZC) secretary even now, two years later. Haribhushan’s death could lead to a similar situation in Maoist strongholds in the central zone and Telangana.

Source: https://www.indiatoday.in/india-today-insight/story/why-maoists-are-now-admitting-to-covid-19-deaths-1819989-2021-06-27

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