ISSN 2330-717X

India: Maoists Winning Formula

By

By Deepak Kumar Nayak

On February 16, 2011, just two days before Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s scheduled video-conference with the Collectors of 60 Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist)-hit Districts, R. Vineel Krishna, District Collector of Malkangiri District in Odisha, was abducted by the Maoists while he was returning after an ‘interaction programme’ in Kudumulu Gumma block of the District. Along with the District Collector, the Maoists had also abducted two junior engineers. One of them was freed on the same day and was sent back with a note giving an ultimatum of 48 hours for the release of the Collector and the junior engineer, Pabitra Majhi. The Maoists raised a number of demands seeking to block certain development projects, and relief for tribal populations, but the principal objective of the abduction, beyond the theatre it generated, was to secure the release of a number of incarcerated leaders and cadre. These included, specifically, Central Committee Member Motilal Soren alias Ashutosh Sen, arrested in March 2009 from Rourkela, Sriramulu Srinivas, Gananath Patra, Jeevan Bose, Ganti Prasadam, Sirisha alias Padma, Ishwari, Roja Mandangi alias Sarita from Malkangiri jail; Central Committee Member Sheela di, from Jharkhand Jail and Padma from Chhattisgarh Jail; tribals and Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS) workers in Koraput and Malkangiri jails; and Sitanna Hikaka of Dumsil village, reported to be a close aide of Maoist ‘Chief’ Ram Krishna, allegedly taken away by the Police from Narayanpatna in November 25, 2010.

On February 17, 2011, Orissa Chief Secretary Bijaya Patnaik disclosed that the demands include discontinuation of Operation Green Hunt (OGH), the joint anti-Naxalite (anti-Left Wing Extremist, LWE) operations by State Police and Central Paramilitary Forces, and withdrawal of Security Forces (SFs) from the Malkangiri District. On the Maoists demand to stop OGH, the Naveen Patnaik Government conceded, “there will be no coercive action by the Security Forces as long as Maoists do not indulge in any unlawful activity.” State Home Secretary U. N. Behera, on the same day, declared, “All anti-Naxal combing operations in the State will be stopped,” and that the State Government was ready to talk to the Maoists.

India
India

Late in the night of February 17, the Maoists sent a Press Release written in Telugu to reporters, saying that Someswara Rao, former Professor of Economics at Sambalpur University, Haragopal, retired Professor of Political Science, Central University, Hyderabad, and Dandapani Mohanty, the Ganjam-based convener of Political Prisoners Release Committee, be appointed mediators. After three days of intense negotiations, the mediators announced, on February 22, in Bhubaneswar, that the hostages would be set free and safely return within 48 hours.

Meanwhile, CM Patnaik declared, “We will certainly honor the commitments made to the mediators.” Of the 14 original Maoist demands, eight were agreed upon:

  • The Odisha Government would write to Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh to take action on the extremists demand for release of Maoist Central Committee (MCC) members Sheela di and Padma.
  • Scheduled Tribe (ST) status would be given to the Konda Reddy and Nukadora communities.
  • The multi-purpose Polavaram project of Andhra Pradesh would be halted.
  • Pattas (land allotments) would be given to tribals dispossessed of their land in the District of Malkangiri and Koraput.
  • Irrigation projects would be executed in Maribada and Maniamkonda villages in Malkangiri
  • Compensation based on the High Court (HC) order would be given to the kin of Tadangi Gangulu and Ratanu Sirika who died in custody.
  • Relevant laws would be drafted to regulate mining operations in Mali and Deomali bauxite mines.
  • The Government would ensure minimum displacement of tribals and adequate compensation wherever development projects were implemented.

On March 4, 2011, the Odisha High Court granted conditional bail to four Maoist cadres, identified as Roza Mandangi, Gokul Kuldipia, A. Iswari and Kendula Sirisha alias Padma, whose release had been demanded by the Maoists. As for the release of Ashutosh Sen, Srinivas Sriramulu, Gananath Patra and Tapan Mishra, it agreed to examine the cases on their merits. On withdrawal of cases against tribals, the Government agreed to review the cases against 629 tribals lodged in Odisha jails. Further, the Government noted, “We have been taking suo moto action for withdrawal of minor cases against tribals. In the past, 9,013 cases involving petty offences by the tribals have been dropped. The State will, within a period of three months, review cases against the tribals held on charges of Maoist activities and land-related disputes in Narayanpatna area. The process will start in 15 days.”

In the interim, a media storm had been raging across the country over the Malkangiri Collector’s abduction, and a number of demonstrations in his support had been organized in Malkangiri, Bhubaneswar and other locations in Odisha. Vineel Krishna was eventually released on February 24, and returned home to a hero’s welcome. Several questions, however, lingered. The abducted Collector’s location was known virtually throughout the drama, and reports suggest that local officials were in touch and were even delivering food and supplies to him, yet the State Government did not consider any options other than immediate and complete capitulation. On his return, Krishna made a statement that was deeply sympathetic to their actions; nor was there any evidence of an awareness of the cost of his negligence, and consequent abduction, had inflicted on the State. According to media reports, moreover, he was in touch with his wife over the phone throughout. The Maoist leaders and cadre who were released in the exchange for the Collector had been arrested after great efforts and significant loss of life on the part of the Police and Paramilitary Forces, and would inevitably return to violence, costing further lives.

Despite the extraordinary media attention this incident received, the reality is that the Maoists have routinely used abduction to secure operational relief or release of leaders and cadre in the past as well. Indeed, the South Asia Terrorism Portal database records at least 923 incidents of abduction by the Maoists between 2005 and March 5, 2011.

Maoist Related Abductions: 2005–2011*
State
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
Total
Andhra Pradesh
11
01
01
25
00
04
00
42
Bihar
23
08
03
64
20
34
00
152
Chhattisgarh
07
130
90
57
30
30
06
350
Jharkhand
00
10
26
15
58
27
22
158
Karnataka
00
01
00
00
00
00
00
01
Maharashtra
00
00
02
00
00
02
00
04
Odisha
00
04
13
11
25
45
03
101
West Bengal
00
00
00
08
58
46
03
115
Total
41
154
135
180
191
188
34
923
*Data: till March 7, 2011

The data indicates that Chhattisgarh, with at least 350 such cases over this period, has been the State worst afflicted by such actions. Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha have also been seriously affected. Many of these abductions have included Government officials, and have resulted in the release of Maoist leaders and cadre.

Indeed, this has been an enduring trend, and one of the tactics the Maoists have been able to consistently rely upon to secure transient objectives, particularly including the release of cadre and suspension of SF operations.

Even in the early phases of the revival of the Maoist movement, in the 1980s and early 1990s, the rebels had carried out a series of high-profile abductions of politicians and officials. The most prominent among such incidents included the 1987 abduction of 11 Government officials, including seven Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, by the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist [People’s War Group] (CPI-ML-PWG) at Addateegala in the East Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh. The N.T. Rama Rao Government yielded to the Naxalite demand to release top PWG leaders from the Rajahmundry Central Jail, including Wadkapur Chandramauli, after Civil Liberties activist K.G. Kannabiran negotiated with the Naxalites. The Government officers were released after 12 days in Naxalite custody.

Four years later, the Naxalites abducted P. Sudhir Kumar, Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Hyderabad city, from his house in Basheerbagh in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, in 1991. He was released, again, after Civil Liberties activists intervened and the Government released some top Naxalite cadres.

In 1993, present Andhra Pradesh Tribal Welfare Minister Pasupuleti Balaraju, then Congress MLA from Chintapalli, was abducted along with IAS officer Dasari Srinivasulu and a few engineers. Balaraju and others remained in Naxal custody for more than three weeks. They were released after the Government agreed to free PWG leader Kranthi Ranadev and other cadres from jail.

More recently, Block Development Officer Prashant Kumar Layak was abducted from his office in Dhalbhumgarh, around 180-kilometres southeast of Jharkhand capital Ranchi, on February 13, 2010. The Maoists threatened to kill Layak if their demands were not met within 72 hours. The demands included the freeing of 14 arrested Maoists, the withdrawal of Forces from Ghorabandha Police Station area, an end to search operations, and a compensation of INR one million to the family members of Sanjiv aka Somen Munda, who had allegedly been killed by the Nagrik Suraksha Samity (NSS)-Police combine at Jiyan. The outcome was a foregone conclusion. CM Soren, like CM Patnaik, succumbed to the demands to secure the release of the BDO.

Civil Jamadar Lucas Tete was abducted during the Lakhisarai (Bihar) encounter on August 29, 2010. The outcome in this case was uglier. Though Tete was killed by his abductors, the Government conceded Maoist demands, allowing some 200 extremists, who had been surrounded by the SFs on the hill top, to escape.

In the latest incident, on March 3, 2011, cadres of the Maoist-backed People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA), abducted a Policeman from West Midnapore District in West Bengal. The Government, at the brink of Assembly Elections, has again been put on test in this case, which remains currently unresolved.

Despite an unending cycle of Maoist abductions and State capitulation, it is clear that no Government has yet formulated any coherent framework of response, or created the necessary pool of trained resources, either for negotiation with, or for coercive action against, the abductors. Nor has there been any effort to assess the cumulative costs of such incidents to the State, and the impact these have had on SF morale, capacities and operations.

Indeed, in the Vineel Kumar case, Union Home Minister Chidambaram was widely reported to have advised Odisha CM Patnaik against conceding to the Maoist demands. Significantly, however, shortly after Patnaik’s denials of any pressure from North Block, Chidambaram was reported to have declared that the Centre “did not object to any steps by Odisha”.

If anything, this apparent flip flop, compounded by the outcome of the Vineel Kumar abduction, can only underline India’s continuing inability to deal firmly with hostage crises. In what threatens to become a recurrent nightmare, more Maoist leaders and cadre, incarcerated at great cost in sweat and blood by the SFs, can be expected to routinely walk free, even as operations are compromised or suspended, every time the rebels hold a gun to someone’s head.

Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.