Hostage Crisis Naveen Buckles Under Pressure
A week after the chilling abduction of two Italian nationals, Bosusco Paolo and Claudio Colangelo by Maoists from Leftwing extremism-affected Kandhmal district of Odisha, the Naveen Patnaik led BJD government is left with no option but to buckle under pressure from the outlawed CPI (Maoist) on one side and the union government and the international community on the other while accepting the rebels’ 13-point charter of demands in return for the release of two foreign tourists. This is the first time Maoists have targeted foreigners in Odisha, sparking hectic deliberations at the Central and state government levels. Undoubtedly, as the critics says, the Italian hostage crisis issue resulted due to the failure of intelligence system as the incident came to light through media four days after the foreigners were abducted by Maoists. The incident comes at a time when Italy is trying to push for the release of two Italian marines who are in a Kerala jail for shooting dead two Indian fishermen a couple of days back.
Though the two Italians were abducted by Maoists on March 14 while they were on a trek in the popular tourist resort of Daringibadi in Kandamal, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik came to know about the incident from media only on March 17. It reveals the whole intelligence system of the state police had failed to discharge its duty as such a serious matter came to the notice of the government only through media. The matter came to the fore on March 17 night following the extremists letting off Sontosh Moharana, a cook, and Kartik Parida, a helper, who had accompanied the Italian duo.
Around 30 Maoists took us hostage on March 14 morning when we were preparing food near a stream in Gazalbadi forests. They took us blindfolded and made us walk for about five kilometres,” Moharana told the media persons at Puri. “Maoists did not cause any harm to us and treated us well,” he added. The rebels released Kartik and Santosh on March 16 but kept the Italians hostage. The Indians managed to come back and narrated the story before police on March 18 at Puri.
Home Ministry officials in Delhi said after the abduction of the two Italians, no combing operation had been carried out against the red brigade as both the Central and state governments wanted to go cautiously about the issue. “However, no formal order has been given to the central paramilitary forces engaged in anti-Naxal operations as they operate under the state governments command. They are where they should be,” a top home department official of Odisha government told to Uday India in Bhubaneswar requesting anonymity.
The forces are still in their respective locations and would not leave the area till the crisis is resolved, he added. The decision of the Union Home Ministry and Odisha government has certainly delivered a body blow to on-going counter-insurgency operations in not just Odisha but also in other states affected by Maoist violence.
The tourists had gone from Puri on a vehicle and entered the forests on the Kandhamal-Ganjam border ignoring warnings of Maoist problems by Daringbadi police station Chief Secretary Bijay Patnaik said. But the question is how the two foreign nationals did dare to visit the region after the local cops denied permission to them and what action was then taken by the police against the tourists. The state government and the home department need to give the answer for the lapse made on the part of the police. The abduction has certainly brought to light the issue of unauthorised visits of foreign tourists to tribal areas. The state government last month had imposed restriction on the visit of foreign tourists and researchers to the areas inhabited by tribals. To avoid such questions, perhaps the Police has registered cases at Daringibadi police station in Kandhamal district against the abduction mastermind and Odisha State CPI(Maoist) Committee Secretary Sabyasachi Panda alias Sunil and Manoj along with 24 others in connection with the abduction of the two Italian nationals and two other Odiya youths on March 14 last from a jungle on Ganjam-Kandhamal border.
While, the state government has its own logic to go for soft options like holding dialogue with the Maoist sponsored interlocutors instead of opting for hard one like a massive operation to rescue the two Italian tourists, the Opposition parties, particularly Congress and BJP are critical of government’s stand on the issue.
Even though members of the Opposition parties condemned the abduction of the two Italian nationals in the Assembly, they were not ready to accept two kidnappings in two successive years during the budget session as pure coincidence. An impression has gained ground that the hostage drama is the reflection of the internal rift in the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh said criticising the state government for not initiating any step so far for the release of the Italian nationals.
Claiming that the kidnapping took place with the knowledge of the government, Singh sought to know whether any step had been taken for preventing its recurrence and securing safe release of two hostages. The then Malkangiri collector R Vineel Krishna was abducted by Maoists in February, 2011 when the budget session was on and the government was facing the Opposition heat because of the dal scam, Congress chief whip Prasad Harichandan said. This time also the abduction has taken in the midst of the budget session, Harichandan said and questioned the state government’s silence on the agreement it had signed with Maoist interlocutors last year. Why the talks between the government and their representatives suddenly stopped, he asked. Failure of the talks and non-fulfilment of the 13- point demands are reasons behind the abduction of the Italian nationals, Harichandan said.
With Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has declared the names of Home Department Secrtrary UN Behera, Panchyat Raj Department Secretary PK Jena, Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste & Backward classes Secretary Santosh Kumar Sarangi to be the mediators from the government side, the Maoist are yet to declare the name of their interlocutors for the dialogue. Though, responding to Odisha government’s offer for talks to end the seven-day-long hostage crisis, the left-wing extremists named Narayan Sanyal, Politburo member of CPI (Maoist) currently lodged in Giridih jail in Jharkhand, and civil rights activists Dandapani Mohanty and Biswapriya Kanungo as their representatives. But Kanungo used to be a mediator from Maoist side saying he is not willing to do so unless the state government too asks him to share the negotiation dais. On the other hand, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik appealed to rebels to sponsor two more names in place of Narayan Sanyal who is in jail outside the state and Kanungo who rejected the Maoist’s offer.
By Kishore Dash from Bhubaneswar