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Maoists strike in Orissa: A challenge for Indian police and Administration

"The attack on police stations and armouries in Nayagarh has special importance in compare to any other naxal strike as Nayagarh is very close to state capital being the neighbouring district of Khurda – the district having Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Orissa, as a part of it. What bothers the administration and intelligentsia is – if they could attack major establishments in Nayagarh, how far is Bhubaneswar?"

HNF Editorial : March 15, 2008

Maoists’ strike on the Jails and Armouries of Nayagarh on fifteenth of February is the massive attack by the red radicals on Police establishments in Orissa. They attacked at ten o’clock in the evening and took 3 police stations, a police training school and 2 armouries into their control, looted the arms and ammunitions from the armouries and left with truckload ammunitions. The resistance by police at the time of attack was feeble and the Maoists killed about 15 people including 14 policemen during the attack and loot drama. Although attacking jails and armouries has become a regular practice by the Maoist outfits operating in Orissa, Chhatisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand, Nayagarh incident is the second attack by naxal outfits on government armoury in Orissa. The first occurred on February 6, 2004 when PWG members attacked the Koraput District armoury and looted the arms and ammunitions.

The attack on police stations and armouries in Nayagarh has special importance in compare to any other naxal strike as Nayagarh is very close to state capital being the neighbouring district of Khurda – the district having Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Orissa, as a part of it. What bothers the administration and intelligentsia is – if they could attack major establishments in Nayagarh, how far is Bhubaneswar?

The apprehension is backed by logical reasons as State police has nabbed a senior Maoist leader Anna Reddy in Bhubaneswar. As per police sources, the senior red cadre came to the capital city to see his sick fiancée who was undergoing treatment in the sophisticated Kalinga hospital. After the incident, state intelligence admitted the fact that Maoists are also present in the capital city and most of them are operating fro various slums in and around Bhubaneswar. As per many political leaders and analysts, Nayagarh incident would be the display of strength by the Maoists as a reaction to the arrest of their senior cadre Anna Reddy.

It’s not only display of strength, in the following crossfire in Gosama forests on the Ganjam – Kandhamal border, Maoist brigade that attacked Police establishments in Nayagarh also proved how they could fool the police force and escape safely. The way Maoists escaped from Gosama forests when they were surrounded by well-armed CRPF battalions from both Ganjam and Kandhamal borders, it’s really a challenge to the CRPF and the state police who are sounding high about their success in dealing with growing Naxalism and Maoist activism in Orissa. In the crossfire between the Maoists and CRPF Jawans, 6 Jawans including a commanding officer lost their lives. Police claimed to have killed at least 20 Maoists but not a single body of a red cadre is recovered to support the claim.

Information revealing Maoist presence in the coastal Orissa and the heartland of proposed Industrial corridor following the arrest of Anna Reddy came as nightmare to the state administration and police. Confirmation of Maoist involvement in the anti-TATA movement in Kalinga Nagar precipitated tension in the total industrial complex. Media reports regarding Maoist presence in the forests along the coasts of Orissa worsened the situation. As per the reports and statements given by police officials, Maoists are present in almost all districts and have expanded their area of operation to places close to Bhubaneswar – Cuttack twin city that houses all state administrative, police and judicial head quarters. And the fact that worried the state and district administration is that Maoists have expanded their movement in the industrial project areas and, in most cases, the anti project movements are steered by the Maoist leadership.

When Anna Reddy’s arrest exposed Maoists link with anti-TATA movement in Kalinga Nagar, the kidnapping of government officials including four Posco officials, who happened to be Korean citizens, and finally state police agreeing to the conditions imposed by the agitators to get the foreign citizens free clearly speaks of some kind of strong support, could be militant support, behind anti-Posco agitators. It’s said that Maoists have an active involvement in the anti-industrialisation movements in Lanjigarh and other parts of western Orissa. Now, many people apprehend that the Maoists would be eyeing upon the public agitation in opposition to the anti-Vedanta University project. If the Maoists come out successful in hijacking the anti Vedanta University movement, the most popular tourist destinations like Konark, Puri and the wild life sanctuary will be in the control of the Maoists. Thank god, any sort of Maoist involvement in the anti-Vedanta University movement is not yet confirmed. But, as the project is planned over more than 6000 acres of multi-crop agricultural land putting the livelihood of more than 1000 families at stake and as discontentment against the university project is growing in the project area, the affected villagers would accept support from any sympathiser who comes with a helping hand to safeguard the livelihood rights of these poor village folks. Since the Maoists enter into such movements as leftist sympathisers, agitating villagers may fall into the Maoist fold without any knowledge of it.

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It’s not only illiterate village people fall into the Maoist trap knowingly or unknowingly, but educated youth of the country knowingly join the armed Maoist movement in numbers. Even, people living in the Maoist dominated areas are more committed to the Maoists than the state or central government administrative machinery. This is not the case in Orissa only but in all Maoist stronghold states of India.

Naxal movement is a problem in India since the sixties of last century and through the years the movement has spread to most parts of India to gather strength in terms of cadre base and revenue, stage terrorizing events and threat the internal security of the country. The organisations involved in the movement change their name and identity very often to avoid government action and political aggression. Now all such organisations involved in the armed revolution have come together under the banner of CPI-Maoist since September 2004.

These groups have largely expanded their influence area and modern manifestations of naxal movement have gone the international way. Maoist groups involved in armed revolution have established a network with similar revolutionary organizations in Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka under the aegis of the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia (CCMPOSA). Moreover, all these South Asian Maoist organizations and parties are also affiliated to international organization Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) working on Maoist lines of Revolutionary Communism to popularize Maoist ideologies of ‘Revolutionary Socialism’ and ‘seizure of power through agrarian (proletariat) movement’.

In India, Maoist revolutionary groups have a strong hold in Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and, now, the red cadres are trying to intensify their activities in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttaranchal and other states where they have a feeble presence.

After the merger into CPI (Maoist), Naxalites have consolidated their front organizations into 'Revolutionary Democratic Front' (RDF) to intensify their mass contact and mobilisation programmes. On the other hand, under new banners and fronts, the naxal groups are making regular recruitment of cadres.

Keeping pace with the technological development, Naxalite groups have gone equally hi-tech to face the CRPF and police forces of the states. According to reports, the Maoists have set up specialised technical wings, which employ IT experts on monthly payment, to draw up plans to develop more potent explosives, tap governmental messages and get the latest on techniques on guerrilla warfare. The experts also draw maps of different government establishments and jails, develop technology to prepare dangerous landmines and intercept the wireless messages of police, decode them and pass it on to their red squad. Maoists spend over Rs.2 million on their technical wings. The recent revelation by Union Minister of State for Home affairs Sriprakash Jayswal in the upper hose of parliament regarding over 60 crore rupees being allocated by the Maoist groups in their annual financial plan for procuring arms and explosives has made it clear that Maoist groups have also expanded their resource base to manage up-gradation in terms of technological development and arms and ammunitions.

As huge financial resource is required for survival of naxalite groups with such a vast cadre base and for running the armed movement, the naxal groups have created their own economic zones. They have a better control of the thick dense forests stretching from north Bihar bordering Nepal to north Kerala passing through Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Chhatisgarh, Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. They have mapped this long strip full of forests and tribal hamlets as the red corridor with the plan to make it the liberated Maoist Zone. They have control over the Teakwood and timber trade in the forests of Vidarbha region in Maharastra and they have almost complete control over the forest produce marketing. Recently, union home minister admitted that the Maoist organizations demand a share from the fund allotted for implementing development programmes in naxal stronghold areas for which nearly 80% of the development programmes remain unimplemented. In most cases no contractor comes forward to work in Maoist affected areas. Besides, they have set a parallel administrative system in the tribal dominated pockets of Chhatisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, wherefrom they collect all the taxes from people. Even, they undertake large scale Ganja (Marijuana) cultivation and illegal trading of it to generate revenue. Now, being ambitious to have a greater control over the national economy, the naxals have eyed upon the power plants in Andhra Pradesh, and iron ore mines in Chhatisgarh and Orissa as most of the iron ore mines are easy approachable from their Red Corridor boundaries.

Looking at the aggressive as well as armed activism by the Maoist groups, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once described Naxalism as the biggest internal security problem. Much before this, on October 14, 2006, Congress president Sonia Gandhi expressed her concern over naxal menace and advised the state governments to take it seriously. In order to curb the naxal movement and end the naxal menace in India, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) platoons have been deployed in the naxal affected states. State governments are extended support by the centre to reorganise and upgrade their own police forces in order to equip them to deal with the danger of Naxalism more effectively. Administrative machinery and political leaders have been reactionary to the Naxalites but less analytical about the reasons responsible for the growth of Naxalism in the poverty stricken states and backward districts of the country. Aggressive and reactionary approach of the government and a revengeful attitude of Maoist outfits result in police attack on naxal camps, combing operation, crossfire and Maoists’ strike on police camps and government establishments. Once police kills or arrest a Maoist cadre, the red cadres soon strike on an important establishment or a police camp and to display their strength. It seems like a feudal fighting between armed red radicals and government’s police force.

Situation in Maoist affected areas have turned like a hell for the tribals and common man. Caught between the Government and Maoist Cadres, common people have been suffering the worst. Cooperating or not cooperating to either police or the Maoists is a risk for these innocent people as suspected both the Police and the Maoists target the ‘informers’!

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While the political leadership in Orissa and India as well shows little interest in understanding the real problems and reasons behind growth of Naxalism or Maoism, bureaucrats derive their own definitions and reasons behind the problem sitting in close air-conditioned chambers. While some political leaders see socio-economic problems of people as the reasons behind growing Naxalism, the police point it out as a law and order problem. But more than any other is the existing system of governance that helps the red ultras gather more strength and expand their red corridor in the backward regions of the country.

Major problem in the backward and tribal concentrated districts is that most of the public offices run without required officials, as nobody is interested to work there because of lack of facilities. Even officials who are posted in those districts take long day’s leave and stay, most of the times, in Bhubaneswar to lobby for a transfer. Officials who fail to get transferred try to be away from their place of posting on departmental works. So people who visit the offices for their works never get the officials and keep on running for months together. It’s not only public offices but, even, medicals run without doctors and adequate support staff, and schools run without required number of teachers. Many schools run with no teacher, no school building. This is the very common scenario in the remote backward districts of India.

Situation is no better even when there are officials as the other reality is rampant corruption in all levels of administration. Taking advantage of their ignorance and innocence, officials and clerks exploit the poor tribals by demanding bribe money or bribe in kind. Even political leaders from their own community are no exception from the officials when the issues of corruption and exploitation are considered. So even though a tribal has all right for getting certain benefits, he is deprived of those for not having the bribe money.

Even implementation of development programmes goes in wrong ways under the corrupt and disinterested officials. The targeted beneficiaries get no benefit or less benefit than the harassment they face from the contractor or the implementing officials.

Take the case of Muke Madi, a tribal woman of Maranpalli village under Kalimela Block in Malkangiri district. Muke’s husband Kasa Madi was killed by the Naxalites in 2003 as the naxals suspected him to be a police informer. After the ncident, Muke left her husbands home and properties for her parental home where she stayed with her one son and two-daughter family. Not to be a liability on her parents, Muke worked a labourer in National Food for Work (NFFW) programme works. As she didn’t receive any wage for her labour, she went to the official residence of JE to request for an early disbursement of wages. But instead of realising the plight of a tribal widow who lives with lots of problems, the JE attempted to rape her! Muke rushed out of JE’s official residence and told the whole thing to her accompanist tribal ladies and went home without any wage. Muke complained the police about the incident but no action has been initiated till date. Rather the JE tried to force Muke withdraw the case by alluring with some money followed by threatening her to kill, as Muke alleged several times. Still no action by the local Police! Afraid of any nuisance from the JE Muke left her parental home and preferred to go into hiding. Who will ensure Muke live peacefully in her own land? On this backdrop, should the police be surprised if it finds Muke in Maoist Camp?

When governments at the centre and the states are high sounding about different programmes implemented for the development of tribal people living in the forests and most backward areas, Muke’s story says how effectively they are implemented and what benefit the tribal people do really get. What will happen when the implementing officers turn to be exploiters as JE Prasanta Gauda turned to Muke? However, Muke’s story is just a tip of the iceberg. Development projects in backward and forest areas are hardly visible. Money is, mostly, spent in paper. Even today tribals use to cross long pedestrian way in jungles to visit a hospital, the nearest market and any public service office. Basic infrastructure is still a dream in many villages.

Police administration in the naxal dominated districts or a block is nothing better than the behaviour of the red radicals. When red radicals do impose their thoughts and wishes on the people, police do act equally as government sponsored terrorising body. Always blaming the government for not upgrading with modern equipment matching the armed Maoists, police do harass common people whenever it gets a chance. In most cases it harass the innocent tribals in the name of naxal supporter, informer or sympathiser. In the recent crossfire and combing operation, number of reports came when police harassed local people suspecting their link with the Maoists. Leave apart the innocent and illiterate tribals, the behaviour of police in general is so rude and inhuman that even educated civilised people living in cities and towns try their level best to keep themselves away from police. Most people do not wish to go to police till it becomes inevitable or essential.

Last year, I visited Rayagada - one of the Naxal dominated districts of Orissa. It was around 6 pm that the Reserve Police Battalion in the town had blocked the road by putting a timber on wooden forks. There was no board or anything to indicate why the road was blocked. There was nobody nearby and one of us just went to get someone and ask why the road was blocked. Soon a voice came from the darkness – “don’t touch that, we will go for an encounter”. We were shocked with such behaviour of Orissa Police. In the outskirts and rural places, police terrorise tribals and common people in a similar way instead of providing them security and helping as their protector.

So the total system of governance acts as an alien system ruling over people. Freedom doesn’t mean anything to the poor tribals as the administration is never for the people or with the people, rather exploiter of people. Such a system of governance is mainly responsible for growing frustration among downtrodden towards the political and administrative system in the country.

The other major issue is wide economic disparity in Indian society. Hardly 10% of country’s population has accumulated 80% of the total wealth where as rest 90% do possess only 20%. But the per capita income index is decided as an average of wealth and income which is hardly true in case of more than 60% Indians living in rural and remote India. Wealth in the hands of 10% has a steady or fast growth as the rich segment basically influences economic policies. On the other side, the economic condition of tribals, peasantry and poor class is continuously deteriorating. The gap between poor and rich is widening fast and breaking the society into two distinct economies. This wide economic disparity is one of the major reasons why urban youth is also getting into naxal fold.

But instead of looking into all these factors, political leadership try to hide all these and emphasize their own views created to draw maximum political gain. When there was uproar in Orissa Assembly on the naxal attack in Nayagarh and Opposition in the house highlighted the socio economic issues prevalent in tribal dominated backward districts, Orissa CM Naveen Pattnaik over-ruled the issues as factor behind growing Naxalism. He placed his decision for strong police action against Maoists as the right decision. But will strong police action end Naxalism in the country? Police would kill 10, 100 or 1000 cadres in a year. But there is an inflow of more numbers into the Maoist fold every year. How it can be rightly combated is by proving their ideology of revolutionary socialism irrelevant in the country. And that can be possible by ensuring a pro-people governance system in the country, a pro-people police that works to ensure law and order and protect people from any strike by evil elements of society, an accountable and committed political leadership and bureaucracy to plan area-wise need-based development programmes and ensure that the benefits of development reach the targeted beneficiaries, creating opportunities for people to earn their livelihood.

It seems, political leaders are more focused on power than issues of people. When we say India is the largest democracy in the world what we (majority of population who live with poverty and misery) are compelled to believe is that India is still ruled by an unruly colonial government run by a few natives. The political and administrative system must change itself drastically to make India a real democratic nation that is run by people and that cares for people. This would be only way to prove the ideology of revolutionary socialism irrelevant in India and end the Maoist socialist movement.

 

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