Odisha: 'Normalcy' in Narayanpatna
Kanhu Charan Madhi (25), a Special Police Officer (SPO) posted in the District headquarters town of Malkangiri, was shot dead by Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres at his home in Kattakonda village under the Kalimela Police Station area of the District on May 24, 2013.
He was on the Maoist hit list for disobeying their diktat to quit his job and leave the village. While his visits home had become infrequent after the threat, he had gone to his village to meet his family and his wife, who had delivered a baby a few of days earlier, when he was killed.
The incident was the first Security Force (SF) fatality inflicted by the Maoists in 2013 in Odisha. Significantly, the CPI-Maoist has not suffered any casualty, thus far, in this year. The lone Left Wing Extremist (LWE) killed in the State in 2013 belonged to the Sabyasachi Panda-led Odisha Maobadi Party (OMP), which split from the CPI-Maoist in August 2012.
The low fatalities in the SF and LWE categories indicate that both sides have been careful to avoid direct confrontations. Where an escalation was noticeable in 2008-09, moreover, the much higher SF fatalities suggest that an overwhelming proportion of attacks were initiated by the Maoists, and the SFs were on the receiving end of attacks. In 2013, eight of the 10 fatalities have been recorded in Malkangiri District (seven of the eight civilian fatalities and the only SF fatality). Significantly, Koraput District has not witnessed a single fatality in LWE related violence this year. In 2012, by May, Koraput had seen at least nine fatalities - five civilians, two SF personnel and two Maoists.
In 2012, the bulk of killings of civilians and SFs (30 out of 46), took place in Koraput and Malkangiri Districts. In fact, the Maoists were principally active in two clusters - Malkangiri, Koraput and Nabarangpur Districts in the Southern-Western part of the State; and Bargarh, Bolangir and Nuapada Districts in the Western part.
While Maoist violence appears to be following the regular pattern in Malkangiri, the silence in Koraput is unusual. Koraput has long been one of the Maoists' strongholds, and was also the theatre in which they operated through their front, the Narayanpatna-based Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS). CMAS used to provide logistic and militia support, and served as an excellent cover for Maoist subversion. Some 150 CMAS supporter have been charged in different cases, including LWE violence, and its president, Nachika Linga, has been declared 'most wanted' by the State. It is an open secret that Nachika Linga is now under the direct protection of the Maoists.
Off late, however, many CMAS-Narayanpatna supporters have given their pledge to the Police that they would no longer support the Maoists. This promises only limited relief, since activities of CMAS-Narayanpatna were already on a decline, following the broader waning of Maoist violence in 2011 and 2012.
On January 4, 2013, an armed Maoist cadre, Nachika Chamara alias Samara surrendered before Koraput Superintendent of Police, Avinash Kumar. He was part of the Srikakulam-Koraput division of the CPI-Maoist. Besides being a close associate of leaders of Srikakulam-Koraput division of Maoists like Daya, Aruna and Sarita, he was also moving around with Nachika Linga. Samara belongs to the Bhaliaput area under Narayanpatna Police Station, the native place of Nachika Linga.
Samara's surrender was followed by the surrender of 15 supporters of CMAS from Bhaliaput village at the Narayanpatna Police Station. The surrendering cadres promised the Police that they would no longer be involved in the violent activities of CMAS or the Maoists.
This story was then repeated with more and more supporters reaching the Police Station and making similar promises. According to partial data collected by SATP, at least 1,692 CMAS supporters have surrendered and pledged to abjure violence.
Odisha Police sources claim that more than 2,400 CMAS supporters have, in fact, surrendered. It is, however, not clear how many of them were active Maoist cadres or how many of them have non-bailable offences registered against them. Among those who have surrendered, at least 150 are believed to be from Dumsil village, an important Maoist and CMAS stronghold in Narayanpatna block. According to Police sources, nearly a dozen of the top 20 CMAS leaders were from Dumsil village.
The surrenders have boosted Police morale, with the administration arguing that this is a sure sign of the loss of Maoists influence over the area. Police sources claim that the unraveling of the CMAS network has enabled SFs to penetrate extremely 'remote' Maoist infected pockets of the area. Further, it has resulted in the manifold increase of information about Maoist activities in the Narayanpatna. Some recent seizures made by SFs in the Narayanpatna area have been ascribed to information flows from villagers. This included the seizure of a Maoist welding unit from the Narikhilua Forest in Narayanpatna block, which was being used by the Maoists to manufacture claymore mines.
The interrogation of Gameli China Mohan Rao (25) alias Santu, an area committee member of the Koraput-Srikakulam division of the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC), who was arrested in Rayagada District on May 7, 2013, reportedly suggests that the Maoist leadership are deeply concerned by the large number of CMAS supporters who have snapped links with CMAS and the Maoists.
It remains unclear how the villagers have found courage to challenge the Maoist writ in what has long been their stronghold. There are indications that the frequency of Maoist visits to the villages has declined drastically, and this has encouraged the villagers to open up. In fact, the activities of the Jhanjabati dalam (squad), which functions under Koraput-Srikakulam division of AOBSZC, have declined dramatically since the killing of Chitrakam Reddy alias Sitru (30), the dalam commander, on January 26, 2012, followed by the subsequent killing of his successor, Teli Kadraka alias Rajendra, on August 19, 2012. On April 9, 2013, moreover, four members of the Jhanjabati dalam surrendered before Deputy-Inspector-General of the Border Security Force (BSF) in Koraput town, indicating a collapse of morale.
Unconfirmed reports, however, suggest that the AOBSZC is in a transition phase and is not active to its full potential. Many of its senior leaders are suffering from various ailments, severely restricting their movement and efficacy, while new recruits are far from ready to step into leadership roles. The present AOBSZC chief, Gajarla Ravi alias Uday alias Ganesh alias Charcharla Ganesh, reportedly suffers from diabetes. He was given the charge after his predecessor and Central Committee member Ramakrishna alias RK alias Saketh, was afflicted by severe spondylitis. Marpu Venkataramana alias Lenju alias Jagadeesh, another top leader of the AOBSZC, who was arrested on May 9, 2013, from Anakapalle in Visakhapatnam District, Andhra Pradesh, and carried a reward of INR 2 millions on his head, had developed a permanent limp due to a bullet injury he suffered in an encounter with SFs.
Meanwhile, on May 18, 2013, another two companies of BSF were deployed in the Narayanpatna block, and one more was reportedly on its way. These three companies would be stationed at Tentulipadar, Bijaghart and Mankidi, three new BSF camps. Koraput and Malkangiri Districts already had five battalions of BSF, in addition to some troops of the State Police Force.
Clearly, things have not gone according to plan for the Maoists. Nevertheless, the potential for revival remains strong, and the residual capacities for violence are significant. On April 29, 2013, for instance, 63 Panchayati Raj (village self-government) institution (PRI) representatives [three Zilla Parishad (District Committee) members; 15 Sarpanches (village committee heads), 14 Samiti (village committee) members and 31 ward members] tendered their resignation in neighbouring Malkangiri District under pressure from the Maoists. The resignations were, however, rejected by the District administration on May 14, 2013, on technical grounds.
The Maoists are also in a process of reorganization as a result of the defection and subsequent decimation of the Sabsachi Panda faction in the neighbouring Ganjam, Kandhamal, Rayagada and Gajapati Districts. According to Police estimates, most CPI-Maoist cadres remained with the original outfit even after Panda's expulsion. Panda was believed to have taken away no more than 25 to 30 cadres. However, the Maoists did suffer a reverse as a result of Panda's expulsion on other issues, such as raising funds, sourcing explosives, maintaining secret communication lines, intelligence gathering, logistics, hide outs and training camps. On May 12, 2013, for instance, Maoist leader Nikhil, who is now heading the CPI-Maoist Vansadhara Divisional Committee, accused his former boss and Odisha Maobadi Party chief Sabyasachi Panda of embezzling INR 10 million (INR 6 million in cash and other materials worth INR 4 million) from CPI-Maoist assets. Nikhil warned Panda to return the money or face 'dire consequences'. Despite Panda's continuing losses, the CPI-Maoist does not appear to have recovered lost ground in Panda's area of domination.
It remains to be seen whether the Maoists are able to engineer a recovery in Narayanpatna, to reverse the damage of the desertion of CMAS-Narayanpatna supporters. For the moment, however, an opportunity has opened up for the State Forces to interdict any efforts of revival in this troubled region.
(The writer Fakir Mohan Pradhan is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)
(Posted on 18-06-2013)