13 January, 2010

Uneasy Calm at Nayagarh

The following piece is part of a Book titled : "Naxalism: Issues and Concerns". It was a solicited article.
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It was probably any other day at Nayagarh. People were carrying on their daily chores as usual. Workers returned to home at dusk. Hardly the children or the aged or the women folk were aware of the thunderbolt that was going to strike the area, or did they know ? Whatever it was, the upshot is that the night of 15th February, 2008 remains a memorable one for the Nayagarh-ites and would continue to be so. Not unlike any commercial thriller, the Maoists pillaged the Police stations in the area, looted a huge cache of arms and ammunition and also killed the Assistant Sub-Inspector Dandapani Mishra. They had arrived in large numbers, about 500-600 in total, in trucks and on motorcycles.

Now in what way is this assault of the Maoists unique that it requires a threadbare analysis ? Moreover, keeping in mind the plethora of attacks they have had launched over the past five years, this one at Nayagarh might not be that pertinent to be ascribed so much importance; especially, after such dramatic events like that in Koraput in 2004 or the Jehanabad jail break in 2005. Agreed that such events or even the assassination bid on Chandrababu Naidu would be considered notches up in terms of intensity or ferocity, but the issue which warrants special attention here is the proliferation of the Maoists in the interior of Orissa.

And that has to be given due recognition. It is a fact that the Red Corridor passes through Orissa, but the border districts like Gajapati, Rayagada, Koraput and Malkanagiri in the south and Deogarh, Sundargarh, Jharsuguda and Sambalpur in the north are mostly affected. Penetrating so deep into the heartland not only speaks volumes of the military success of the Maoists but also signify their expanding socio-political network in the region. Moreover, the casual approach of the local administration along with the failure of their espionage system have to be held responsible for this ominous incident.

Starting from the deadly mine attack on the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu in 2003, the Maoists have thus come far in terms of their reach and military prowess. Or it may be that they are trying to create a notion in the mind of the administration regarding their penetrative abilities by embarking on sudden guerilla attacks on towns away from their core areas. Nevertheless, the Nayagarh event was startling and it was one among the series of such field actions of the Maoists which they are carrying out with √©lan since the camaraderie that they achieved after the unification of the two erstwhile warring factions : Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and People’s War Group (PWG) in late 2004; a decisive moment in the history of the Naxalite movement in India.

It all began in March 1967 with a young share-cropper Bigul Kisan, in the Naxalbari area being attacked by armed goons of the local jotedar when he had gone to till the land after having a judicial order. Oppression was thwarted by arms, autocracy of the landlord-bourgeoisie nexus was bludgeoned by a unified band of tribal-peasants : invigorated by the fiery speeches of the cult-figure Charu Mazumdar. Since then, the movement has seen several ups and downs, bitter internecine showdowns, severe State repressions as well as splits, mergers and a Mega-merger. But the central theme of the Naxalites has remained almost the same. They have viewed independent India as a multi-national country and supported the right of nationalities to self-determination, including secession. Moreover, they have clearly stated that the ruling bourgeoisie is comprador, Indian independence was fake, and that India has a semi-colonial and semi-feudal status. Thus, in order to establish a people’s government in India, Mao Zedong’s guerilla warfare tactics have to be employed and a protracted armed agrarian revolution is the only feasible solution in this regard.

Coming back to Nayagarh on the eventful night of 15th February, it would hardly be necessary to solve intricate mathematical equations to predict the future security calculus of the region. Nayagarh is strategically close to the pilgrim site of Puri in the south-east and the capital Bhubaneswar in the north-east. In fact, it was carved out of the Puri district itself in 1995. Thus a full-scale Maoist offensive on Nayagarh would act as an apparition for the nearby districts. Moreover, the incident can also have a debilitating effect on the influx of tourists to Puri. Furthermore, attacks of this class can stem the inflow of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) in future. Given the predilection of the Maoists against foreign capital and POSCO’s venture at Paradip, a port barely 120 km by road from Bhubaneswar; such a hypothesis cannot be ruled out. Apart from these, it is noteworthy that the civilian casualty was remarkably low (only one civilian was killed in the crossfire). The Naxalites, as they entered the area, kept on warning the locals regarding the coming tussle and requested them to stay indoors. The modus-operandi is similar to what they had adopted in such mass operations elsewhere. This goes to show that the Maoists are trying to establish themselves as an organization against the oppressive State machinery and not against the masses. They are determined to remove the ‘terrorist’ tag. Also, it is natural that a closer contact with the masses would help the Maoists to engineer the economy of the area. The sugarcane cultivation in the region may be the focal point of attraction for the Maoists.

Hence the state and the Union administration have started to act in unison to weed out the menace before it assumes cyclopean proportions. Indeed they have to, before it becomes too late. But to only consider the Maoist problem as an administrative hindrance would be myopic. Unless the tribals and peasants are properly empowered, the Naxalite problem would persist. The top rebel leader Sabyasachi Panda : the chief architect of Maoism in Orissa since 1996, belongs to the town. Well, he has a number of admirers in the political circles of Orissa !! Before Sabyasachi Panda of Nayagarh establishes himself in the annals of Indian History as a legendary figure, the administration has to assert itself, though not in the manner of “Salwa Judum“ in Chattisgarh. Till then, an uneasy calm prevails at Nayagarh and in Orissa.

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