Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Throne Of Blood: Maoists' threat in Orissa

4 May 2009, 1341 hrs IST, ET Bureau


Strap: In 261 BC Emperor Ashoka invaded Kalinga, an event that was a watershed in world history. Thereafter, Orissa has been attacked innumerable
times by aspiring emperors, kings and ganglords, but has never lost its identity. In this concluding part of the ET series on Terror in the eastern states, Nageshwar Patnaik takes a look at Orissa’s latest factory-fresh tormentors, the Maoists, who threaten to challenge the sovereignty of the state...

Back in 1931, a young Mao Zedong stole into the heart of China’s remote Jinggang mountains to orchestrate Spanish guerrilla-like operations by his famed Red Guard. He would eventually go on to lead the Communist Party of China (CPC) to victory in a historic civil war and become the epicentre of power in China. Much later and during his last days in hospital in September 1976, Mao was as much aware perhaps of approaching Death as he was of the rising discord against his rule. In the post-Mao phase, China went through an epic catharsis that perhaps culminated in the Shanghai government issuing new history textbooks in 2006, that omit Mao almost altogether.

Nonetheless, Maoism and more specially his military writings continue to influence ultra Communists across the world, from Cambodia and Peru to Nepal and more recently, to the heartland of India, where insurgents take his name to spread terror throughout Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, where the southern and north-western districts are almost entirely in their grip.

For one, the total number of districts in the Maoist loop in Orissa has nearly doubled in less than three years. Back in June 2006, only 14 of Orissa’s 30 districts were stung by Maoist strikes. Today, as many as 22 districts are vulnerable to Maoist violence and the number is growing, according to latest intelligence feeds.

Six south-western districts — Malkangiri, Koraput, Raygada, Kandhamal, Nayagarh and Gajapati — accounted for a whopping 60% of all incidents in calender 2008. And if these reports are true, these mercenaries are silently penetrating into urban centres by wooing the college grad and the Genext to their cause.

The Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management also confirms that the total number of Maoist incidents in Orissa nearly doubled to 129 in calender 2008 from 67 in the earlier year. While the total number of fatalities suffered by securitymen shot up to 76 from a mere two in 2007.

Back in June 2006, the Naveen Patnaik government retaliated against the Maoist menace by banning the CPI (Maoist) and even declaring seven of its front organisations unlawful.

But a mere ban perhaps will no longer wash with the public or business houses operating in Orissa as the overwhelming nature of the threat literally burst to the fore after April 12’s unprecedented siege by a 200-strong Maoist gang at Nalco’s bauxite mines in Damanjodi, which houses Asia’s largest bauxite reserves.

At the root of the malady are the continuing socio-economic woes of the tribal flock who lie scattered among the state’s densely forested southern districts with hardly anything to eat. If anything, Maoists have managed to derive maximum mileage by playing the poverty card and capitalising on the deep sense of alienation that runs through the heart of tribal Orissa.

The Maoist threat to the economy is particularly huge since Orissa is a Fifth Schedule state with a high concentration of tribals inhabiting the hills and forest tracts, where most of the mines, dams, factories and other mega projects are also located.

State circles privately concede that alienation of tribal land perhaps is the single biggest reason behind the dismal economic lot of the state’s tribal community. Land lost is often the most productive kind, leaving the tribals with scarcely any option but to till low grade land that is vulnerable to the vagaries of weather. So much so that land transfers have wreaked havoc on an already fragile tribal economy and to compound matters, the massive inward migration of non-tribals has altered the land ownership matrix in Scheduled Areas, much to the disadvantage of the tribals.

State government circles seem flummoxed specially since Maoists have actually managed to create an exclusive jungle corridor between Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to facilitate rapid movement. Orissa’s principal secretary (home) AP Padhi confirms this. "Most Maoists active here are from outside the state, largely operating in the districts bordering Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. They invariably exploit the advantages of the inhospitable hilly terrain to launch their attacks. Lately, their mission is to stall all development activities in the state, be it construction of roads, buildings or tanks. Our Special Operations Group is doing its best to acquainted with the region and flush them out," he says.

But in the same breath, Mr Padhi concedes that "the governance failure coupled with the lack of development in the backward zones has stoked Maoist intrusion" in a large number of areas across Orissa."

For one, Maoist bands have managed to brazenly cash-in on the vacuum created by functional inadequacy of field level governance structures and take advantage of the deep dissatisfaction and feeling of neglect that is palpable across the underprivileged and remote segments of Orissa’s population.

However, state officials also assert that the Maoists, while playing the poor man’s ally, are leaving no stone unturned to prevent execution of mega development projects, be it linked to critical infrastructure like the railways, roads, power and telecommunications.

"And their modus operandi is invariably a deadly blend of terror and violence. Nor surprisingly, prevailing governance structures at the field level in these sensitive pockets are shown as ineffective," points out a state official.

According to the Planning Commission, the "incidence of poverty among the tribal population is nearly twice that of others in Orissa." And the incidence and persistence of poverty is even higher in southern Orissa, which comprises the Kandhamal, Gajapati, Koraput, Balangir and Kalahandi (KBK) districts. These southern districts have remained underdeveloped largely due to a mix of lack of political involvement and bureaucratic apathy.

The much touted ‘inclusive development’ has also remained a distant thought. The situation in southern Orissa is even worse with nearly 87% of the Scheduled Tribes living below poverty line, and the socio-economic indicators in some pockets is ever worse than in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Things haven’t changed much ever since the Naxalite movement took off in 1968 in the undivided Koraput district. And tribals remain without the pattas of land they have been tilling for generations. Tortures by police and officials also continue and the tribals have no access to drinking water. In truth, they remain deprived of the fruits of development. Unless the basic issues of hunger and livelihood are addressed by the state government, the Naxal or Maoist menace will continue to haunt the region", warns Rabi Das, a former front ranking Naxal leader turned social activist.

It is in this glaring backdrop that the Naveen Patnaik government has sought to project Maoist subversion in Orissa as a spillover of the violence from its neighbouring states.

And lately, there have been reports of Maoist incidents from coastal and central districts like Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur, Khurda, Angul and Dhenkanal too.

Of the four high-profile Maoist strikes of 2008, three were targeted at security forces. Something that brutally exposed the failure of the intelligence and the pathetic state of the police, not to speak of the lackadaisical approach of the state government.

Besides the Damanjodi mine siege, perhaps the most serious Maoist attack was the near simultaneous raids on the District Armoury and the Police Training College at the District Headquarters town of Nayagarh, which is barely 80 km west of Bhubaneswar.

While the state police claimed to have killed three Maoists, not a single dead body was recovered. On the contrary, the Maoists managed to get away with 1,100 items of weaponry, including rifles, light machine guns, single loaded rifles, AK-47s and pistols. Four guns were also removed from each of the three police stations.

The other deadly attack transpired on June 29 when 38 securitymen, including some 36-odd belonging to the elite anti-Maoist Greyhounds from Andhra Pradesh, perished at the Chitrakonda reservoir of Malkangiri district, near the Andhra Pradesh border.

CPI-Maoist cadres had sprayed bullets from hilltops on an Andhra Pradesh-Orissa joint police party, which was returning after a combing operation based on an intelligence tipoff.

But it’s the recent Maoist strike on Nalco’s prized bauxite mines that appears to have given fresh resolve at the state level to grab the Maoist menace by the horns.

"The Maoist attack on Nalco’s bauxite mines on April 12 in which 10 securitymen were killed only confirms the sophistication of their firepower. It is evident that the Maoists have set their sights on Orissa’s prized resources and unless the government declares an all-out war on these rebels, one must be prepared for more mindless violence and bloodletting. The state government needs to plug all leakages in the development projects in the backward areas," says ex-state police chief Amiya Bhusan Tripathy without mincing words. Only time will tell the wiser.

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