Maoists’ Tribal Base
Even though Government of Odisha has entered into an agreement with Maoist mediators to release the Italian National Paolo Bosusco and has ensured the release on 12th of this month from the Sabyasachi Panda faction of CPI (Maoist) through a joint statement; the fate of ruling BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka still hangs in balance as the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is on tenterhooks with new demands of Maoists owning allegiance to the Andhra-Odisha Boarder Special Zonal Committee (AOBSPZC). Finally, a deadline has been set, provided Government to consider their additional demands in releasing their five more comrades, even though government has already announced and conceded the names of 25 persons to be released whereas Naxals are demanding to release 29 of their comrades.
It is almost a month (14th March) since the Maoists have abducted two Italian Nationals from the remote tribal area of Kandhamal district in Odisha. Though one of the Italian Tourists Claudio Colangelo was released a week after for goodwill gesture as both Maoists and State engaged in dialogue through mediators, other still held captive with Maoists for28 days.
Leave aside the ordeals, food they eat, their mental status, many sleepless nights they have gone through, frequent change of places, away from family and friends and walking with armed militias deep in dense forests and hilly tracks of Odisha remote Kandhamal and Koraput districts; the entire state machinery is busy with examining one audio tape of another with fresh new demands and statements’ on the one hand and engaging a dialogue with interlocutors on the other, but still there is no breakthrough.
Never in the political history of the Odisha had an elected government danced to the tune of diktat of the armed revolutionaries in almost daily. With confusion over names of Maoist cadres and sympathizers and shadow over legal but judicial compulsions still unclear, the stalemate is likely to continue for another couple of days or weeks.
Besides their regular demands like stop Green hunt Operation, withdrawal of armed forces, release of their comrades and sympathizers, unconditional release of tribals engaged in land struggle, withdrawal of cases against villagers implicated by the police as Maoist supporters etc; this time they have raised some longstanding but genuine demands of Adivasi communities as conditions to release the abducted hostages.
The demands like implementation of OSSATIP Act 1956, scrapping bonded labour system and rehabilitating the released bonded labourers, recognizing tribal statues to few tribal groups, ensuring drinking water, irrigation facilities and minimum health care facilities for tribal villages and hamlets and above all stop repression on people protesting against industrializations and possible displacements etc. Apart from these, tribal tourism and visit of foreign nationals to tribal areas has been the bone of contention between government and Maoists.
The Naveen Pattnaik Government is now paying the price for its half-hearted drive against the Maoists when the objective should have been to wipe them out by carrying on a relentless offensive on their jungle hideouts. Since such a desultory approach to the menace of these outlaws enabled them to survive, they have been emboldened to hold the state government to ransom by kidnapping two foreign tourists as well as BJD Laxmipur MLA Jhina Hikaka in Koraput district of Odisha at gunpoint. Unfortunately, the state machinery couldn’t learn any lesson after the abduction of the then Malkangiri Collector R Vineel Krishna last year.
Once these hostages had been taken, the state government should have gone against the band of outlaws with all the strength under its command. But instead of taking the fight to the Maoists, the government has been selected the easy way out by not only negotiating with them through a group of intermediaries, but also conceding the Maoist demands, which included the release of their comrades who have been put behind bars. This is exactly what has happened with the insurgents belonging to Telugu cadres dominated Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee(AOBSZC) demanding that a total of 27 detunes including a hardcore leader like Cheda Bhusanam alias Ghasi, responsible for killing more than 55 security personnel, be released. On the other, CPI (Maoist) state committee secretary Sabyasachi Panda alias Sunil wanted the release of seven persons in exchange of two Italian tourists, Bosusco Paolo and Claudio Colangelo.
But, the government was in a bind because the cops in the state threatened not to undertake any more anti-Maoist offensives if the government succumbs to Maoist pressure. The argument of the policemen has a great deal of justification because they are in the frontline although they are not always well-equipped and do not have the support of either helicopters or of adequate intelligence inputs. The lesson is clear. The police cannot be expected to fight the Maoists with one hand tied behind their backs. It has to be an all-out offensive. Otherwise, more states will fall prey to the red menace in the times to come. While the Maoists are now claiming that the government had gone back on most of the promises, the fact is that anti-Maoist operations were halted for quite some time after Krishna’s release and were only now picking up. The new release of 29 prisoners would put the clock back in the campaign against the Maoists. For this the Naveen Pattnaik government would have only itself to blame.
It has long been a basic feature of dealing with terrorists and blackmailers that yielding to pressure only encourages them to ratchet up their demands. There is no reason to understand why the Naveen Pattnaik government going soft on the Left Wing Extremists who have posed serious challenge to the internal security of the Nation. To quote Swaranjit Sen, former DGP, Andhra Pradesh, “It’s like history repeating itself without any lessons being learnt. Talks have only benefited the Maoists. This is a mess. Naveen Patnaik has set a very bad precedent. This is no way of dealing with a problem that has been termed as the biggest threat to internal security.”
This is the second time that the Odisha government has succumbed to Maoist pressure. Experts say while this is definitely affecting the morale of the security forces, it is also emboldening Maoists, thus setting a bad precedent in the state.
By Kishore Dash from Bhubaneswar
The crux of demands lies elsewhere as even after 64 years after independence, our tribal region is still backward, lives far from the so-called 9 per cent growth story, Industrial paradigm, lopsided development approach and administrative jargons’ etc. Not only this, empowerment of Adivasis in socio-economic and political sphere has been a far cry, so in terms of education, health, livelihood security, leadership in society.
For years together we have either ignored or turned a blind eye to tribal developments. Successive governments have concentrated on infrastructural or Industrial developments by constructing roads, buildings, dams, railway lines, power projects and mineral explorations as means of development for tribal region for which lakhs of tribal people were displaced and uprooted from their home, land and livelihood. Even Forest department had branded them as encroachers and had restricted, evicted them and their movements inside forests in the name of protected areas, reserve forests etc. They were subjected to inhuman torturers by the Police, Security Personnels, Company goons and middlemen for no fault of their own when they protested against industrial projects and illegal mining.
Quit similarly The constitutional provisions related to tribals (incorporated, even though half heartedly, both by the British and the Independent India due to wide spread revolt and resistance raised by tribals)- Art 19(5); 5th and 6th schedule; Art.275(1) of the Constitution of India ; PESA, FRA and various Government policy proclamations ( rescheduling of Schedule Areas, Excise policy, 74th Amendment (extension to Schedule Areas, yet to be enacted ), MFP, etc are so powerful as to be antithetical to the very basic tenets of neo-liberal policies.
As the disparity and dispossession grows, the people protest and resist spontaneously, very often with no well defined objectives, no formal membership and no organic leadership, but they express deep resentment over the outcome of the uneven development policy practices. Such has been the situation in our tribal areas.
Similar sentiments have been echoed by the interlocutors during the ongoing talk with the government. While summarizing the 13 point demands put forth by Maoists Dr BD Sharma one of the mediators from the Naxal side said, “The tribal areas were excluded and partially excluded until the adoption of the Constitution on November 26, 1949. Tribal people enjoyed full control over the resources-Land, Water and Forests-in these areas. It is the biggest irony that the tribal custom and tradition of ‘excluded area’ days have been forgotten except the Sixth Scheduled Areas. All laws of the land got extended to these areas in routine that ‘criminalized’ the entire tribal territories in the Fifth Scheduled areas. The concerned Governors did not use their powers under Para 5(1) of the Fifth Schedule. This is considered Constitution within the Constitution”.
Dr Sharma further added, “This anomaly was sought to be reserved under provisions of Panchayati Raj (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 (PESA) but appropriate action has not been taken by the concerned states. The result is that the tribal people are asserting their rights over the natural resources. The states are unconcerned about the right with tribal people who had been enjoying before the adoption of the constitution. The states are asserting the principle of Eminent Domain as in vogue thereby ignoring the rights of tribal communities over the resources now conceded implicitly under PESA”.
On the other hand, the state has refused to recognise the Eminent Domain of the Community in the Scheduled Areas and the so called government lands are assigned to outsiders for a variety of purposes including establishment of industries and mining etc. The land under the command of the people are acquired from unwilling simple tribal people using the aura of authority and a variety of manipulations. The provisions of PESA envisaging ‘Consultation’ that must be considered as ‘Consent’ is not honoured in their true spirit.
The spurt in Maoist activities in the state is not only attributed to lack of development and policy failures; there are other such reasons like exploitation of tribals by middlemen, rampant corruption and malpractices in government offices, apathetic attitude of local government employees, atrocities and indiscriminate attack by the police and forest officials, illegal land transfer by revenue officials, lack of sensitiveness of politicians from the panchayat level to parliament etc.
By Sudarshan Chhotoray From Bhubaneswar