A naxalite offensive in Orissa

Print edition : September 01, 2001

Stepping up its activities in Orissa, the outlawed naxalite faction People's War attacks two police stations in Malkangiri district, catching the administration off-guard.

IN a bid to expand its area of influence, the ultra-Left People's War (P.W.) has for some time been making concerted moves in the States adjoining Andhra Pradesh. In Orissa it made its first strike, that too with extreme ferocity, in Malkangiri district in the southern part of the State in early August. In late-night attacks on the Kalimela and Mottu police stations, P.W. cadre killed five police personnel, including two sub-inspectors, and injured 22 others. Two P.W. members were also killed.

The Kalimela police station was virtually destroyed in the exchange of fire, and P.W. activists looted its stock of arms and ammunition. Orissa Home Secretary Tarun Kanti Mishra told Frontline that about 200 armed cadre of the outlawed P.W. were divided in two groups. About 150 of them attacked the Kalimela police station, while the remaining 50 took part in the Mottu attack. Before striking, they cut off the telephone lines and blocked the roads leading to the two police stations. The encounter at Mottu lasted 10 hours. Officers of the third battalion of the Orissa State Armed Police (OSAP) deployed at Mottu, which borders both Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh, managed to send messages to their counterparts at Khammam in Andhra Pradesh, who rushed to their help.

The P.W. members who attacked the Kalimela police station were suspected to have crossed over to Orissa from Chattisgarh. Informed sources in the police said that the attacks were planned. Intelligence failure and support from the tribal people of the areas are considered to be the main reasons for the success of the P.W. operations.

The People's War Group (PWG) of Andhra Pradesh, which took the name People's War after its recent merger with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Party Unity, is trying to establish itself along the border districts of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Chattisgarh. According to informed sources, it has already set up bases in five districts of Orissa - Malkangiri, Nabarangapur, Koraput, Gajapati and Rayagada - which border Andhra Pradesh. Moreover, the P.W. has declared the forested areas of southern and western Orissa 'liberated' zones.

Soumitra Dastidar and Kingshuk Roy, two film-makers who stayed with P.W. members for over a month in order to make a documentary on their activities in the areas close to the Chattisgarh-Orissa border, told Frontline: "Everybody in that region, including policemen and politicians, are aware of the increasing power of the P.W. The militants enjoy the support of the tribal people in the region, who pay tax to the underground organisation." They claimed that the P.W. had raised an 'army' and ran a parallel administration. The P.W. cadre include young tribal women, who are trained in not only wielding guns but in maintaining and running community kitchens and mobile medical units.

Alarmed by the burst of P.W. activities, the Orissa government is considering outlawing the outfit in the State. Chief Minister Navin Patnaik is reported to have asked the State police to study the activities of naxalite groups in the southern districts of Malkangiri, Gajapati and Rayagada, and in the northern districts of Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar. Informed sources said that the P.W. and other naxalite groups operating in Bihar and West Bengal were now attempting to form a corridor of stronghold running through Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal to south Nepal, where the P.W., the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) hold sway.

The Orissa government has asked the Centre to accord it special category status. State Chief Secretary D.P. Bagchi met officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi and submitted an action plan costing Rs.305 crores to combat the naxalite menace and highlighted the nature and extent of the extremist problem. Director-General of Police N.C. Phadi said that the State followed the approaches of Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh in fighting Left extremism.

Meanwhile, the OSAP has withdrawn its units from the naxalite-dominated villages and towns of Malkangiri district. The OSAP units will now be stationed only in the district headquarters town of Malkangiri. The police personnel deployed in the area are ill-equipped, and there is no infrastructure to ensure their protection. The withdrawal of the OSAP started soon after the P.W. militants distributed leaflets threatening more attacks on the police.

Of late, leaders of the major naxalite groups seem to have realised the need to develop close ties among themselves on the basis of a common ideology. They are trying to reconcile the warring naxalite factions and bring about a working relationship among the various groups in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

At a People's War guerilla camp on the Chattisgarh-Orissa border, images from a documentary film.

The fact that a secret conclave was held on August 15 in Siliguri in West Bengal - various naxalite factions including the MCC of Bihar and the CPN (Maoist) attended it - indicates that the process has already started. The conclave, convened at the initiative of the MCC, felt that such meetings were essential to sort out the differences among the "revolutionary forces". It also re-emphasised the old tenets of the MCC's strategy - to take up the path carved out by the late naxalite leader Charu Majumdar, carry on with the peasant revolution, abolish class hierarchies and expand the 'liberated zones'.

Led by Charu Majumdar, the naxalite movement originated in West Bengal in the late 1960s under the banner of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). The movement lost its momentum and faced a series of splits after the death of Majumdar in police custody in 1972. Currently there are at least 40 naxalite groups in the country. Among these, the P.W. (its main constituent, the PWG, was formed in 1975 by Kondapalli Seetharamaih) and the MCC still adhere to the concept of annihilation of class enemies. In recent years, the P.W. has managed to win the support of some people in the Midnapore district of West Bengal, bordering Jharkhand.

Outlawed in mid-1987 following the massacre of 42 Rajputs in Dalelchak and Baghaura villages of Aurangabad district in Bihar, the MCC has by now established its supremacy over other revolutionary groups operating in central and south Bihar. By the early 1990s it had undermined the administration of Bihar's southern district of Chhatra, Gumla, Palamau, Lohardaga and parts of Ranchi and Hazaribagh, all of which are now part of Jharkhand. At several places in these areas, the MCC runs a parallel administration - it collects taxes from officials and contractors, holds jana adalat (people.'s court) sittings to resolve disputes, both civil and criminal, and metes out justice in its own way

For several years, various naxalite groups in Bihar have been trying to forge a united front. There have also been meetings and informal agreements, some of them drawn up to prevent infighting within the armed squads. Occasionally, various groups carved out their own areas and promised to confine their activities to these territories. However, such agreements were seldom adhered to. Out of the three major naxalite groups that are active in Bihar, the CPI(M-L) Liberation decided to abandon underground activities and participate in the parliamentary process. The CPI(ML) Party Unity merged with the PWG of Andhra Pradesh. The MCC is now the most radical and militant in character.

The MCC was founded in the early 1970s in Bahragora (now in Jharkhand) close to Midnapore district. Although many naxalites in West Bengal were killed in police action during the 1970s, some of the leaders fled to Gaya and Aurangabad districts of Bihar and built their bases. What makes the MCC popular with the poor in the remote areas of Bihar and now in Jharkhand is the total collapse of the social and administrative systems at the local level. Earlier, the MCC had a good rapport with the PWG. However, the relationship soured after the latter's merger with the CPI(ML) Party Unity. The CPI(ML) Party Unity, which followed a policy of radical insurrection like the MCC, made a conscious bid to outplay the MCC at its own game. Actually, the internecine conflict between the naxalite groups has more to do with quarrels over turf than with ideological differences and political considerations.

However, despite all the attempts being made by the leaders to create a united front, on August 22, in Datmai village in Bihar's Masaurhi district, P.W. cadre killed six MCC activists, all of them Dalits. The reason for the attack was once again a dispute over territorial control. The Dalits of the village are known to be supporters of the MCC, their erstwhile leader being Gyanandan Yadav, who has since left the MCC to join forces with the P.W.

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