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Understanding the Maoist Challenge through the Development Debate

Kishalay Bhattacharjee was Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • May 12, 2011

    As one drives from Bhubaneshwar to Koraput, the sharp contrast of the road conditions between Orissa and Andhra Pradesh is what strikes an average outsider. This contrast is almost symbolic of other state machinery as well; for example, the anti-Maoist preparation.

    Koraput is a small and almost forgotten town like many district headquarters in the country. But not quite. The district of the same name is the place where the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has its engine division and the National Aluminium Company Ltd. has been extracting bauxite for a long time. Its rich mineral deposits are well known.

    It is the month of April and the evenings are still pleasant. The local newspaper headline says a big Maoist attack is expected following the arrest of one of its leaders Gasi (Khatru Chedda Bhusanam), who could not even recall how many people he has killed in his career. But the entry gate to the office of the district superintendent of police in the heart of the town where Gasi is in custody has no one to check visitors. I found my way right to the officer’s doorstep. Incidentally, one of the biggest and most daring armoury loots by the Maoists was carried out here on February 6, 2004. The same security presence or absence is what is alarming across the district now declared as Maoist-affected.

    As one hits the narrow state highways they appear more like garden paths and certainly an impediment for the movement of security forces. For kilometres, which could stretch to hundreds, there is virtually no movement of any security forces.

    The township of Narayapatna is volatile with a lot of unrest following large scale arrests of a people’s movement Chasi Muliya Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), partially subverted into a Maoist front. BSF personnel are patrolling the town in motorcycles, but a little distance away their camp looks tentative. It was Ram Navami, so orange squash juice was offered to the rare visitor crossing the barricade. Bhaliaput, the village beyond the camp, is deserted because the men escape to the hills during the day and return by night when nobody will venture to even patrol those areas. In another direction the villagers of Dumsil have dug up the road in two places to counter any police movement. But where are the security forces? Partly, the answer lies in the fact that since 1976 no direct recruitment of DSP-ranked police officers has taken place in the state. The strength of the state cadre is 188, of whom only 78 are physically available. So this acute crisis in the police force accounts for the absence of deployment.

    The road to Malkangiri is unusually quiet, broken only by the regular potholes of the state highway. The town doesn’t even allow one to form an opinion. It is conditioned by the recent high profile abduction of its Collector who was on leave. His colleague, the district’s police chief, says that beyond twenty kilometres of his office his control ends. In reality, his control perhaps doesn’t even exist. He admits that in many places the only outsiders the villagers have ever met are the Maoists given the complete absence of state administrative personnel.

    The sense of a liberated zone is apparent as one enters Chitrakonda. Three storey tombs painted in red with the comrades’ name and a hammer and sickle dots the arid landscape. Bus stations bear the Maoist imprint and even a welcome signpost is clearly visible. A busy office of a paper mill in the middle of all this has been running without a glitch and so is the major ore plant of Essar Steel. Locals are not surprised.

    Though the Maoist movement was apparent, we moved toward the reservoir where 36 Grey Hound personnel were killed in an ambush. Last year, eleven special police personnel were killed here. The boatman refuses to take us across claiming that 200 Maoist cadres have descended on the other side and, without their permission, I cannot be taken. Meetings are being held. Apparently a big leader has arrived. It was from there that the Collector was abducted and later released against an alleged ransom. This abduction and release has raised a very pertinent question. The officer was regarded as an efficient civil servant but his theory of buying peace by carrying out projects without affecting Maoist interests and even movement was contentious. How could the head of a district not make efforts to counter a terror group’s activities? He had constraints, but to accept their presence is to give up the fight. That precisely is the underlying tone and tenor of travels across these districts. As if the government has voluntarily withdrawn to make way for the Maoist brigade to take over.