January 18, 2021
Home  »  Website  »  National  » Opinion  »  Red Spreads

Red Spreads

At one point of time, Naxalite activities in Orissa were only regarded as a peripheral 'spillover' from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh; it is now increasingly evident that they have come to stay.

Google + Linkedin Whatsapp
Follow Outlook India On News
Red Spreads

In October 2004, the Communist Party of India - Maoist (CPI-Maoist) 'Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee Secretary', Kosa, had declared:

"The way we made a base in Bihar, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and have been progressing in Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, we will be able to capture 30-35 percent of India by 2010." 

It appears that the trajectory of Naxalite consolidation is going according to plan, and this is clearly evident in Orissa, where Naxalite activities have increased drastically in the southern and northern parts of the state, since the formation of the CPI-Maoist on September 21, 2004. 

While levels of Maoist violence in the state remain low, the pace of Naxalite consolidation has accelerated rapidly, particularly after the launch of the offensive against the rebels in Andhra Pradesh after the collapse of the peace talks there. With security forces (SF) pressure mounting in Andhra Pradesh, top Maoist leaders have shifted their base to areas in the Dandakaranya region lying in Chhattisgarh and Orissa. 

Orissa Chief Minister, Navin Patnaik, on April 15, 2005, disclosed in New Delhi that, "the activities of the extremists are spreading" and that 10 of the state's 30 districts were already 'affected'. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Annual Report 2004 - 2005 confirms this trend:

In Orissa, though the quantum of violence declined during the period, the CPML-PW consolidated its hold in the districts of Malkangiri, Koraput, Gajapati and Rayagada while making inroads into the adjoining districts of Kandhamal, Nowrangpur and Ganjam in south Orissa.

[Note: CPML-PW: The Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist People's War, which merged with the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) to constitute the CPI-Maoist]

The police in Andhra Pradesh have also indicated that Naxalites who surrendered in Warangal, Guntur and Kurnool districts revealed during interrogation that the Naxalite leadership in north Telangana and Nallamala has moved out of the forest areas in Andhra and taken shelter in 'safe zones' in the neighbouring states. The killing of 71 Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh since January 2005 in encounters with the police, reportedly forced this decision on the Maoist leadership. 

Indeed, it was suspected that cadres from Andhra Pradesh were involved when suspected Naxalites blew up a police outpost at Seshkhal under Ramanaguda police limits in Rayagada district in Orissa on April 25, 2005. The blast was followed by an exchange of fire between the Naxalites and police personnel. 20 Naxalites had attacked the outpost at night and ransacked the place, after which they blew up the building using improvised explosive devices (IEDs). There were, in fact, reports of diversion of some of the Andhra cadres to Orissa even while 'peace talks' were ongoing in the former. The Andhra Maoist leadership had used the opportunities of the interregnum to consolidate operations in several of the neighbouring states, including Orissa.

At present, the CPI-Maoist has a formidable presence in six districts - Malkangiri, Koraput, Rayagada, Gajapati, Sundargarh, and Mayurbhanj - and has, more recently, spread to Sambalpur and Deogarh. The Naxalites also appear to be targeting Nabarangpur, Kalahandi, Bolangir, Phulbani, Keonjhar, Nawapada, Bargarh and Jharsuguda for an extension of their operational areas.

Thus, for instance, on February 9, 2005, some 40 suspected CPI-Maoist cadres abducted at least 19 labourers from two camps at Phulkusuma and Podanala villages in the Sambalpur District. The Naxalites also damaged construction machinery worth about INR 10 million. Following the incident, the state police put five districts - Sambalpur, Jharsuguda, Deogarh, Sundargarh and Anugul - on alert. 

Again, on February 13, the police arrested nine armed CPI-Maoist cadres from a forest under the Naktideul police station of Sambalpur District, and recovered some firearms, other weapons, black uniforms and Maoist literature. The district police chief, Susant Kumar Nath, stated that the CPI-Maoist was trying to penetrate into newer areas and was mobilizing unemployed youth to join its cadres. 

He disclosed, further, that families in the villages were being offered INR 2,000 per month for each young member of the house who joined the Maoists. Five schools in the Northern districts shut down for more than a month after the abduction of a schoolteacher by Naxalites in Naktideul block of Sambalpur district. A total 48 Naxalites - 31 from northern Orissa and 17 from the southern part of the state - have been arrested in Orissa since January 2005.

In Sundargarh district, the Naxalites have formed the Krantikari Kisan Committee (KKC, the Revolutionary Farmers' Committee), and Jungle Surakhya Committee (JSC, Forest Protection Committee) in villages adjacent to Jharkhand, including Bjharbeda, Kaliaposh, Tulasikani, Makaranda, Sanramloi, Badramloi, Jharbeda, Jareikel, and on the Jharkhand side, Thetheitangar, Samda, Reda, and Digha. 

The primary task of these 'committees' is to mobilize villagers and to recruit unemployed girls and boys. Each KKC consists of 30 members and the JSCs have 20 members. Reports of coercive recruitment to these committees have also been received, and since the presence of government authorities and police personnel is, at best, nominal in these areas, the people have little choice but to join the Maoist fronts. 

Seven police stations - Bisra, Kbalanga, Banki, Koida, Gurundia, Tathikata and Tikayatpalli - in Sundargarh District, are affected by Naxalite activities. In the Mayurbhanj District, Naxalite activities have been visible in the Gorumahisani, Jharpokharia, Bangiriposi, Bisoi, and Chirang police station areas.

The military formation of the Maoist cadres is organized on the Local Regular Guerilla Squad (LRG), which consists of 15-armed cadres and, above these, the Special Regular Guerilla Squad (SRG) with 15 to 30 armed cadres. These are organized into 'military platoons' of 30 armed. Three LRG's are presently known to operate in the Sambalpur and Deogarh border areas. The cadres in these areas are known to have used liquid explosives, SLRs, AK 47s, LMGs, grenades and mortars.

Having strengthened their base in the districts along the Orissa-Jharkhand border, the Maoists shifted their attention to the districts adjoining the coastal areas of Orissa. This move became evident following a letter sent by the Naxalites to the Sukinda Police Station in Jajpur district, demanding the immediate eviction of traders from the Damodarpur Chhak (square) on the periphery of the Sukinda mines, and threatening to blow up the trading centres if this demand was not met. 

Over the past two months Naxalite activities have also been reported in the Kapilas Hills in Dhenkanal District. Meetings - particularly at night - have also been organized by the Maoists for the tribals in the Kantapal, Phuljhar, Balikuma, and Ekul Sekul villages under the Kamakhyanagar Block. The meetings focus on the problems of the tribals in these areas, including access to water, and health services, as well as land disputes and the various restrictions on the collection of forest products. The Naxalites exploit the tribal grievances, and have threatened forest officials against any efforts to prevent tribals from venturing into and gathering produce from the forests.

In Southern Orissa, Naxalite activities have been noticed in the jungles of the Kalahandi District. The Naxalites active in Chhattisgarh use the forest areas of this district which lie close along the state border. In Koraput District the Maoists have given arms training to more than 500 tribal youth in the Kopadang forest on the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border. Sources indicate that the training camp is headed by T. Ramesh, the 'commander' of the Jhanjabati Dalam (Squad), which operates in Malkanagiri and Koraput districts. Koraput district has also witnessed Naxalite violence, and on March 28, 2005, three suspected Maoists gunned down a shopkeeper near the Rayagada Railway Station. On April 24, the Police arrested two Naxalite sympathisers in Narayanpatna village in the Koraput district, and recovered two guns from their possession.

Much of this, however, is lost on the union home minister, Shivraj Patil, who, on February 12, 2005, complimented the Orissa Chief Minister, Navin Patnaik, for controlling the Naxalite menace 'very effectively': "I am happy to say that the law and order situation of the state is good and the state Government has effectively contained Naxal activities." Ironically, Chief Minister Patnaik has just requested the centre to add Sambalpur and Deogarh to its list of Naxalite-affected districts.

Violence cannot be the only criterion to judge Naxalite presence and activities. The Maoists do not abruptly launch into 'armed struggle' or violence, but are known for gradual consolidation, including a preliminary study of local social and political conditions and the vulnerabilities of particular populations to extremist mobilisation. 

Tribal marginalization and grievances in Orissa create enormous opportunities for Maoist recruitment and activity, as is evident in the widespread anger against the state Government's refusal to withdraw proceedings against 156 suspected Naxalites in 34 cases, and to drop another 1,513 minor cases against over 2,000 tribals. 

Thus, on February 14, 2005, the Rajnaitika Bandi Mukti Committee (RBC, Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners), a newly floated Maoist political front organization, staged a rally in Bhubaneswar protesting against 'continued atrocities' against tribals in the extremist-dominated pockets of the state, and demanded immediate withdrawal of 'trumped up charges'. 

The displacement of tribals as a result of large scale irrigation and mining projects, with little compensation or effort for rehabilitation, has created a massive pool of resentment, which the Maoists have easily tapped into. According to one estimate, there have been as many as 149 medium and large dam projects executed in Orissa since 1901, and of these 18 are presently under construction. 

The administration's failure to rehabilitate the affected tribals and rural families has been the main source of discontent and consequent violence in western Orissa. For instance, the Machkund Hydro Project on Duduma River in Koraput district displaced 2,938 families, of whom 1,500 (51 percent) were tribals; 300 (10.21 percent) were scheduled castes; while the remainder were drawn from other castes. Only 600 of these families were rehabilitated (450 tribals and 150 others). Similarly, the affected people are still fighting for their rights in the areas affected by the Hirakud Dam, the Salandi Irrigation Project, the Balimela Dam, the Rengali Dam, the Upper Indravati Hydro Project, and the Upper Kolab and Titilagarh Irrigation Projects.

Regrettably, there is little scope for improvement in the foreseeable future. Civil administration has collapsed in much of rural and tribal Orissa, with endemic absenteeism and the gradual dismantling of health, public distribution system, and the infrastructure for delivery of the entire range of public goods, including security. 

The Orissa Police is simply too weak to tackle the problem, with very few personnel trained or equipped to handle the Maoists. Most of the police stations do not have vehicles or wireless equipment - and often lack even a telephone connection. There is an acute dearth of both weapons and personnel. Immediately after the attack on the Koraput District Headquarters on February 6, 2004, the then Deputy Inspector General of Police (Southern), Bidhubhushan Mishra, admitted that the Police administration had completely failed in combating organized Naxalite attacks. According to former Director General of Police Nimai Charan Padhi, "Many proposals to enhance security, especially in the Naxalite-prone pockets of the state had been submitted to the Chief Minister. But in vain."

At one point of time, Naxalite activities in Orissa were only regarded as a peripheral 'spillover' from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh; it is now increasingly evident that they have come to stay.

Nihar Nayak is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict ManagementCourtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine
Next Story >>
Google + Linkedin Whatsapp

Read More in:

The Latest Issue

Outlook Videos