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Odisha: Maoist 'Comeback'Mrinal Kanta Das Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
Earlier on April 6, 2016, four CPI-Maoist cadres killed a trader, identified as Jayaram Pangi, near Jalaput village under Nandapur tehsil (revenue unit) in the Koraput District. A letter left behind near the body read that he was 'punished' for his involvement inganja (marijuana) smuggling and other 'anti-social' activities. Police confirmed that the victim was a ganja smuggler.
On March 13, 2016, CPI-Maoist cadres killed a former Sarpanch (head of apanchayat, village level local-self government institution), identified as Gobardhan Bhuiyan (38), of Tentuligumma Panchayat, under the Boipariguda Block in the Koraput District. The incident took place near a forested road on NH-326 near Tanginiguda when Gobardhan was on way to his village on a motorcycle.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least six civilians have so far been killed in the District in Maoist-linked violence since the beginning of 2016. The total number of civilian killings in such violence across Odisha in the current year stands at 11.
Further, two Border Security Force (BSF) personnel, including a Deputy Commandant, were killed and another sustained injuries in a landmine blast triggered by CPI-Maoist cadres in an area near Kaliajhula Forests under Boipariguda Police limits in the Koraput District on January 8, 2016. Sources said the Maoists, who had killed a local trader, Shakti Samant (37), late on January 7, 2016, had planted landmines anticipating movement of the SF personnel. Indeed, when the news of the killing was reported, the BSF sent in a team to sanitize the area and as the team was combing the forests the Maoists triggered the landmines. Significantly, no other District in Odisha has recorded a SF killing so far in 2016.
However, of the nine Maoists killed in 2016 in Odisha only one was killed in Koraput District. The mutilated dead body of a CPI-Maoist 'area committee member' was recovered from a place near Ralegada on Rajakuda-Kodeipadu road under Pottangi Police Station area of Koraput District on . It was suspected that he had died because of a blast that occurred while the Maoists were trying to plant an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) at this remote place to target SF personnel.
Thus, of a total of 22 Maoist-linked fatalities in the State in 2016, Koraput alone accounts for nine, i.e. 40.90 per cent.
Since the formation of CPI-Maoist on September 21, 2004, Koraput has recorded 148 Maoist-linked fatalities, including 66 civilians, 46 SF personnel and 36 Maoists. Thus, of a total of 671 fatalities recorded in the State, Koraput alone accounted for 22.05 per cent.
The highest number of fatalities, 43, in the District was recorded in years 2010. No fatality was recorded in Koraput in years 2004, 2006 and 2007, and there was just a single SF fatality in 2015. The District appears to experience a cyclical trend in annual fatalities: whenever pressure has been built up, it seems, the Maoists have opted to move out of the District to operate elsewhere.
It is evident from the recent spurt in killings in the District, after a complete lull in such violence in 2015, that the Maoists consider Koraput strategically important to the future of their movement. Significantly, Koraput forms part of the Dandakaranya region, which is the nerve centre of the Maoist rebellion. Its geographical proximity with Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, two crucial Maoist-affected States, have made Koraput a major transit route for the Maoists to cross over from one State to the other. Its majority tribal and scheduled caste population, as well as widespread under development, poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy, makes it one of the most backward Districts of India. According to the Draft Paper of the District Family Planning Plan, Koraput, 2012-13, for instance, as per the 2011 Census, the literacy rate of the District was 49.87 per cent, against the State's 73.45 per cent. Further the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) of Koraput is 32 per 1000 live births, as against 18 for Odisha, whereas the Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) is 119 against the State average of 108 per 100,000 population live births.
These conditions obviously suit the Maoists. A joint survey conducted by the US-India Policy Institute and the New Delhi based Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy found that among 599 Districts across India (under purview of the survey) Koraput was ranked 541st, i.e., among the most backward. The report of the survey, which took composite development - measured in terms of economic development and the indices of health, education and material well-being - into consideration, was released by Vice President Hamid Ansari on January 29, 2015.
The Maoists had been facing tough times in the District as hundreds of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) supporters surrendered in 2013. The situation further worsened as, on October 28, 2014, CMAS leader Nachika Linga surrendered at Bhaliaput village before a Police team led by the Inspector-in-Charge of Narayanpatna Police Station in Koraput District. These developments dealt a huge blow to the Maoists in the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha Border (AOB) Region. Koraput along with Malkangiri had long been the nerve centre of the Maoist movement in Odisha. However, as SF personnel and District administration effectively challenged the Maoist hold in Koraput and shifted their focus to Malkangiri, the Maoists found an opportune moment to mount a desperate effort to stage a comeback in Koraput.
The current escalation of CPI-Maoist activities in Koraput could be attributed to the establishment of another division by the CPI-Maoist in the Andhra Odisha Border (AOB) to regain their hold in the Srikakulam region in Andhra Pradesh, and Gunupur and Gudari Forest areas and Rayagada District in Odisha. The new 'division' has been christened the Odisha-Srikakulam Division. Earlier, the Maoists had formed a new Malkangiri-Koraput-Visakha (MKV) 'division' in 2015, with one Venu as its 'chief'. The MKV division is now involved in activities in the Pedabayalu mandal (administrative unit) and Gumma area in Malkangiri and Koraput. Before MKV was formed, the Maoists had set up the Koraput-Srikakulam Division Committee, after the Srikakulam District Committee suffered a setback in early 2000. Now, the Koraput area has been merged with the MKV division and the remaining Srikakulam area has been included in the newly-formed Odisha-Srikakulam 'division'. [Couldn't find information about leadership of the 'division'.]
Meanwhile, a tribal organisation called Naxal Hinsa Prapidita Manch (Naxal Violence Resistance Forum) on February 2, 2016, raised its voice against the Maoist killing of innocent civilians in Koraput District. They lodged their protest in a huge rally against the Maoists in the Narayanpatna Block of the District. The forum, consisting of more than 2,000 tribals, took out the rally and appealed to the Maoists to refrain from violence. Suresh Sirika, leader of the forum, noted, "As the Maoists are against development and are killing our innocent people, they must not be our well-wishers. So we want them to leave our area." The forum submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister (CM) through the Block Development Officer (BDO) Narayanpatna and Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) Laxmipur.
Apart from these killings, the Maoists were also found to have engaged in several violent acts in order to obstruct developmental works. On January 31, 2016, for instance, Maoists attacked different camps of contractors at Taupadar, Barabandha and Kasuguda under Pottangi Police Station limits of Koraput District. They first assaulted the laborers while they were asleep and subsequently set ablaze the three camps when the laborers fled from the camps. They also set ablaze eight construction vehicles. Before leaving the area, the Maoists left posters and banners signed in the name of the Srikakulam-Koraput Divisional Committee. In the posters, the outfit claimed responsibility for the incidents and protested the widening of the road to Deomali, saying it would help Police and BSF personnel, as well as multinational companies, and not the tribals. The Maoists demanded construction of narrow roads, failing which they would 'punish' the contractors and the officials engaged in construction work.
Maoist violence has registered a spike in several Districts across the country, after sustained declines, if the fatalities in the first four months of the current year are compared with the fatalities in the corresponding period of the previous year. Total fatalities in the current year till May 1 stands at 170, 51.17 per cent higher than the 87 recorded in the corresponding period of 2015. The Maoists are clearly struggling to reclaim lost ground, and state Forces will need to confront and neutralize their efforts before they are able to secure any consolidation on the ground.
Image: Wikimedia Commons