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Maoist surge

Published : Apr 20, 2012 00:00 IST

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Odisha: The latest round of kidnappings and killings by Maoists put the State government in a tight situation.

in Bhubaneswar and Kandhamal

In an unprecedented move, Maoist rebels, who have virtually held sway in Odisha in recent years, kidnapped two foreign nationals and a State legislator in March. While two Italian citizens, Basusco Paolo and Claudio Colangelo, were kidnapped from Kandhamal district on March 14, Jhina Hikaka, a legislator of the ruling Biju Janata Dal was abducted from Koraput district on March 24.

The news of the kidnapping of the Italians became public only when two residents from Puri who had been kidnapped along with them were released on the night of March 17.

It was from the Daringbadi tehsil of Kandhamal district that the Maoists abducted Paolo, a Puri-based Italian tour operator, and Colangelo, a tourist from Italy who had gone trekking in the forested hills of Gazalbadi. Daringbadi is a small hill station that has been popular since colonial days. Driving on the Gazalbadi ghat road is a Herculean task for those going to Daringbadi from Bhubaneswar, the State capital.

Media teams were quick to reach the place even as the Naveen Patnaik government was grappling with the issue. In Bhubaneswar, three senior State government officials negotiated with the interlocutors, social activists B.D. Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty, for the release of the Italians. However, there was no information about the kidnapped men until March 25, when the abductors handed over one of the two Italians to a small group of journalists they had called to the jungle.

The Italians were in the custody of top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda, organising secretary of the Odisha State Organising Committee (OSOC), one of the four major groups of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). Jhina Hikaka was kidnapped near Toyaput village while he was returning from Koraput town to Laxmipur, his constituency. The kidnapping was carried out by Maoists operating under the Srikakulam-Koraput division of the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC), another Maoist group.

Maoists operating in Malkangiri district, meanwhile, shot dead a sub-inspector of the State police in Khairaput market on March 20. Malkangiri district is under the control of the AOBSZC.

Government's failure

The Naveen Patnaik government, which has badly failed to check the Maoist menace and resolve the problems of the tribal people, seems unaware of the ground realities in the interior pockets of the State. The government, which came to power in March 2000, has been making tall claims about fighting naxalites and implementing various development projects. But the numerous incidents of arms loot, landmine blasts, killing of security personnel and police informers, and abduction of police and forest officials in recent years prove that it has not been able to check the growth of Maoists.

The fact is that as many as four committees of the CPI (Maoist) are now actively working in four major regions and have a presence in as many as 24 of the 30 districts of the State. These are the AOBSZC, the OSOC, the Mainpur Divisional Committee, and the Jharkhand Odisha Divisional Committee. Each of the committees is said to have hundreds of armed men in their cadre, besides tribal supporters.

It is not true to say that the State government, which receives much help from the Central government in the form of grants and deployment of paramilitary forces, has not taken any measures to corner the Maoists.

In fact, it has intensified anti-naxal operations in recent months. More than 350 tribal men and women have been put behind bars for their alleged links with the Maoists, while many Maoists have been arrested or killed by the security forces engaged in combing operations. Several Maoists have surrendered before the authorities.

While addressing the State Assembly on February 21, the opening day of the Budget session, Governor Murlidhar Chandrakant Bhandare said that in 2011 there was considerable success with regard to the surrender of Maoist leaders. The number of cases of naxal violence had also dropped significantly from 130 in 2010 to 100 in 2011, he said. As per the records of the State government, the number of deaths of security personnel came down from 22 in 2010 to 15 in 2011.

Apart from adding 1,066 posts in the Special Operation Group (SOG), the State police recruited 1,384 constables, 3,127 sepoys and 511 sub-inspectors and other personnel. The government deployed an Mi-172 helicopter for the smooth movement of security forces in inaccessible areas and for the evacuation of injured personnel.

In another recent initiative, the government sanctioned the construction of 70 police stations in naxal-affected areas with an investment of Rs.2 crore for every police station. It is a different story that hundreds of families in these backward regions are yet to be allocated houses under the Indira Awas Yojana scheme and continue to live in hutments made of mud and wood.

Growing in number

But despite the government's efforts, the left-wing extremists have been capturing newer areas. In fact, they have been growing in number despite the lack of unity among the various groups of the CPI (Maoist) operating in the State and the surrender or arrest of their cadre from time to time.

The AOBSZC, along with its Srikakulam-Koraput Divisional Committee, has been operating in Malkangiri and Koraput districts, and parts of Rayagada district, and also in Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam districts of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. The OSOC had been working in Kandhamal, Ganjam, Gajapati, Rayagada, Nayagarh, Keonjhar, Sambalpur, Deogarh and Jajpur districts.

The Mainpur Divisional Committee has been controlling operations in the districts of Nabarangpur, Nuapada, Kalahandi, Bolangir, Bargarh and Subarnapur districts, while the Jharkhand Odisha Divisional Committee's work is concentrated in Sundargarh and Mayurbhanj districts.

According to a social activist, Maoist groups recruit their cadre from among the youth in the interior pockets of areas they control. The youth who join the Maoist ranks go inside the jungles after telling their neighbours and others that they are going to work in cities in other States. Whenever their presence is required at home, they come, pretending to have returned from a distant city. This aspect of the Maoist strategy has not been studied much thus far.

Such is the situation in Maoist-affected regions of the State that the government is not able to build roads or bridges there. Work on bridges at Motu and Janbai in Malkangiri, which were planned long ago, has not started to date. Construction of roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana has also been hampered in the red corridors of the State.

Waking up from its slumber, the State government recently decided that two engineering battalions would be commissioned as part of the State police to take up construction activities in naxal-affected areas.

The administration, however, appears to be virtually absent in the inaccessible areas. People here have little access to health care facilities, primary education and drinking water. Government offices are situated in far-off places.

All one can find in the Maoist-affected areas are the camps set up for personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force, the Border Security Force or the SOG. The forces are to carry out combing operations in the areas allotted to them by the State police.

There are allegations that the security forces have been harassing the poor tribal people living in hamlets inside the jungles or on the forested hills. Social activists engaged in anti-displacement agitations in Rayagada and Koraput districts had alleged that the forces were looting the tribal families; at least four women in the area were gang-raped in the past one year. However, intelligence department officials suspect that the social activists are Maoist sympathisers.

As the war between the State government and the Maoists continue, the tribal people, caught in the crossfire, have become the worst sufferers. Such is the fear in the minds of the tribal people that they do not enter forests, apprehensive of the presence of either the Maoists or the police.

The tribal people seem to prefer the Maoists to the security forces. Though the Maoists have been blocking development works in the backward areas, they are not directly harming them. Many tribal youth joined the Maoists or became their supporters in the absence of employment opportunities. The youth who do not have Maoist leanings leave for cities in other parts of the country when they develop the feeling they have become virtually outsiders in their own territory.

The tribal people neither invited the Maoists to take up their cause nor asked the police to provide them security. The violent activities of the Maoists and the alleged excesses of paramilitary personnel have made life hell for them. A tribal youth lamented that their fight to secure basic rights was being perceived as a pro-Maoist action.

Strengthening their base

According to experts, the Maoists succeeded in strengthening their base in many tribal areas by extending open support to various social agitations of the tribal people such as those against the liquor menace and the land mafia. In Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon blocks of Koraput, the Maoists gained ground by supporting the long-drawn agitations of the tribal people for land rights under the banners of two different groups of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha, a local outfit. Tribal land had been taken over by liquor traders and members of the local business community. The government has not been able to resolve the disputes so far.

Meanwhile, the police camps remain visible and static, while those of the Maoists are invisible and moving. In a situation where different camps of Maoists are resorting to violence, bandhs and abductions, the State administration is in a quandary inside the red bastions. The government has been concentrating more on tackling the various scams that have been unearthed in recent years than on dealing with the naxalite menace.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Apr 20, 2012.)

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