Rebel attempt to kill chief minister backfires

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 October, 2003, 12:00am

The Andhra Pradesh leader, criticised over his economic reform programme, is likely to gain widespread sympathy

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, recovering after an attempt on his life, received two VIP visitors yesterday.

India's President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani called on him in the state capital of Hyderabad, underscoring Mr Naidu's significance to the country's political landscape.

Mr Naidu suffered a broken collarbone after a series of landmines were set off as his car travelled along a forest road on Wednesday. A banned left-wing group, People's War, is being blamed for the attempted assassination.

The strike against the high-profile leader was not unexpected. The website of People's War prominently features a 'death warrant' against the chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Jharkand provinces.

Mr Naidu, 52, has vigorously pursued economic reforms in his relatively backward state, garnering the support of business investors and the World Bank.

But critics maintain that his development strategy is seriously hampered by a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy, which suffers from a severe shortage of funds.

As a result, his eight-year reign has seen little improvement in the living conditions of its millions of landless peasants and forest-dwelling tribes.

But by attacking Mr Naidu, People's War has invited a major police crackdown which is bound to significantly raise the level of violence in Andhra Pradesh.

The attack has also generated widespread sympathy for the chief minister, helping to shore up public support, which was recently in decline due to his government's indifferent economic performance.

With state assembly elections due next year, a change in fortune may be in store for the dynamic but embattled Mr Naidu.

It is the rural poor who form the backbone of support for People's War, which was set up in 1980 and is strongly influenced by Mao Zedong's revolutionary ideas. The long-drawn guerilla struggle in Andhra Pradesh has so far claimed the lives of an estimated 6,000 people, among them rebels, police officers, politicians, rural businessmen and rich farmers.

Mr Naidu opened talks with the rebel group last year in an attempt to end the violence. But the talks failed as the group's leader, Ganapathy, refused to renounce armed struggle.

He believes that India's much-touted parliamentary democracy is a sham and has been quoted as saying: 'This democracy is only for the rich, propertied classes. Our targets are feudalism, imperialism and comprador bureaucrat capitalism.'

Two years ago, People's War attacked warehouses and bottling plants of Coca-Cola and Pepsi to protest at the US invasion of Afghanistan.

Although the group has been accused in recent years of degenerating into an extortion racket run by unemployed rural youth, it has spread from its home base in northwest Andhra Pradesh to other states. With other underground communist groups, its heavily armed guerillas hold sway over swathes of territory extending from southern India to the Himalayan foothills bordering Nepal.