ISSN 2330-717X

India: Odisha Red Bastion In Koraput

By

By Deepak Kumar Nayak

On February 26, 2011, Jayaram Pangi, Member of Parliament (Koraput District) and Ramamurty Mutika, Member of Legislative Assembly (Koraput District), reportedly received threatening letters from ‘Azad’ of the Bansadhara ‘division’ of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), stating that they would receive the death penalty if they continued with their ‘anti-tribal activities’. Both Pangi and Mutika are known tribal leaders from the tribal belt of southern Odisha.

Koraput, is one of the two Districts worst affected by Maoist activities in Odisha, The other is Malkangiri, adjacent to it. Located towards the southern part of the State, Koraput shares its borders with Malkangiri, Rayagada and Nabarangpur Districts in Odisha; Bastar District in Chhattisgarh; and Srikakulam, Vijayanagaram and Vishakhapatnam Districts in Andhra Pradesh. Koraput’s geographical proximity to Chhattisgarh, the worst Maoist-affected Indian State, and Andhra Pradesh, the Left Wing Extremist (LWE) ideological and leadership base, as well as its densely forested, hilly terrain, have contributed to its consolidation as a Maoist safe-haven.

India
India

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal database, Odisha stands fourth in terms of fatalities, after West Bengal 425, Chhattisgarh 327 and Jharkhand 147, with 108 killed – 62 civilians, 21 Security Force (SF) personnel and 25 extremists in 2010. 26 persons have already been killed in the current year – 4 civilians, 2 SFs and 20 extremists (till March 13). Koraput recorded the highest fatalities (43) in 2010; followed by Sundargarh and Malkangiri (17 each). The District witnessed 47 Maoist related incidents in 2010 and has already registered at least four incidents in 2011. Significantly, out of eight major incidents (each with three or more fatalities) in the State in 2010, Koraput accounted for four. 35 fatalities were recorded in 32 incidents in 2009, and eight out of 17 incidents in 2008, when the present spurt began. A stray incident in which two Maoist cadres were killed had been recorded in 2005.

Fatalities in Koraput District: 2005-2011
Year
Incidents
Civilians
SFs
Extremists
Total
2005
2
0
0
2
2
2006
0
0
0
0
0
2007
2
0
0
0
0
2008
17
5
0
3
8
2009
32
5
22
8
35
2010
47
18
11
14
43
2011*
4
1
0
0
1
Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal
* Data till March 13, 2011

LWEs have targeted Odisha since 1951, and, for much of the initial period, their activities were confined to the undivided Koraput District. In 1962, LWE cadres from this area – prominent among them being Bhuban Mohan Patnaik, Nagabhusan Patnaik, Purna Chandra Gomang, Purshottam Pali, and Jaganath Mishra – with the cooperation of their counterparts in Srikakulam (Andhra Pradesh), managed to start a movement called “food Liberation”, from the Gunpur area of then undivided Koraput (now in the Rayagada District). However, the Naxalite (LWE) Movement in Koraput has gained momentum and strengthened its position during the last two decades.

During the 1990’s the Andhra Pradesh Government declared the Naxalite movement illegal, and this had far-reaching impact on Odisha. Initially, the Andhra Naxalites began to use Odisha’s dense forests as their hideouts. It was during this phase that a base for the then People’s War Group (PWG) was created in the rural areas of Koraput. The Naxalites attacked corrupt bureaucrats and exploitative contractors and money-lenders to win over the local tribals. Violence intensified in Odisha after the PWG formed the Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC), controlling the four north coastal Districts of Andhra Pradesh — East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam – and the five southern Odisha Districts – Malkangiri, Rayagada, Gajapati, Koraput and Nabarangpur.

A co-ordinated Naxalite attack on the District Headquarters and armoury at Koraput on February 6, 2004, exposed the authorities’ lack of preparedness to face the Naxalites. Initiating a pattern of ‘swarming attacks’ using armed cadres and militia in India, some 200 Maoists decamped with about 200 weapons including SLRs and carbines and 60,000 rounds of ammunition, leaving the District Headquarter without being challenged by the Police, in the first Naxalite attack of such intensity. LWE-related incidents continued to occur erratically thereafter, as the Naxalites created a transit route through the District. On November 3, 2007, for the first time, the Maoists put posters in the Bandhugaon Block (administrative division) of the District, to observe the Peoples’ Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) week. Through the posters and banners, the Maoists exhorted the people to evict landlords from the villages. The posters also asked people to bring Praja administration (people’s administration) for justice in the villages.

Through this period, with a view to bring the entire State under the ‘Red Corridor,’ the Maoists were targeting teen-aged tribals to join their fold. Poor tribals, frustrated with large-scale unemployment and underemployment, were easily lured, with a particular emphasis on the recruitment of girls.

The Maoists have also established a number of front organisations for focused political mobilisation and recruitment. The Chasi Muliya Adivasi Sangh (CMAS) has successfully stoked fires in the Narayanpatna Block of Koraput. CMAS ostensibly worked under the leadership of Nachika Linga to protect the land rights of the tribals. In an agitation against alleged exploitation in May-June 2009, CMAS forcibly occupied nearly 2,000 acres of land belonging to non-tribals. It was during this period that CMAS blocked the Lakshmipur-Narayanpatna road by felling trees, and nine Policemen, including eight belonging to the Odisha Special Security Force (OSSF) and one belonging to the Odisha State Armed Police (OSAP) were blown up by the Maoists during a road-opening exercise.

In a show of strength, the Maoists have executed other major attacks in the District. 11 troopers of the anti-Maoist Special Operation Group (SOG) were killed and eight others seriously injured in a landmine blast triggered by the Maoists at Tanginiguda on the Govindpalli Ghat Road in Koraput on April 4, 2010. The vehicle in which the troopers were travelling was thrown 40 feet in the air and its wreckage strewn across 100 metres. A 15-foot crater was created by the explosion.

To check the Maoist recruitment drive, the Odisha Government initiated a scheme to deploy 2,100 Special Police Officers (SPOs), recruited from the tribals, in five Maoists-afflicted Districts. An Odisha Home Department resolution of October 25, 2008, indicates that tribal men and women in the age group of 18-25 years from Maoist-infested Districts of Malkangiri, Koraput, Gajapati, Rayagada and Kandhamal would be appointed on a contractual basis for the first three years, and would undergo training like a regular Policeman. As SPOs, they would be paid INR 4,000 in the first two years and INR 4,500 in the third year after which they might be absorbed as sepoys or constables against regular Police vacancies.

In an effort to strengthen the District, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, on December 4, 2008, directed that a Counter-Insurgency Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) of the para-military Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) would be stationed in Koraput for anti-Maoist operations. In addition, on February 2, 2009, State Home Secretary Aditya Padhi told reporters in Bhubaneswar, that two counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism schools were to be set up in Odisha to train Police personnel to fight the growing threat of terrorism, of which one was to be located at Koraput. On June 2, 2009, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said that training of all the newly appointed Police personnel would be completed by November 2009 in view of the growing Maoist insurgency in the State. Patnaik also directed Police officials to expedite fortification work of the Police Stations and jails in the areas affected by Maoists.

On June 10, 2009, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, in the aftermath of attacks by the CPI-Maoist, including the blowing up of two Police Stations and an outpost in Koraput District in the night of June 7, declared, “We are trying our best to tackle Maoist extremism. But the Centre is not cooperating.” Replying to an adjournment motion moved by the opposition Congress party, Patnaik asserted, “Instead of providing more force to tackle the Maoist violence, the Centre has withdrawn 48 of the 76 CRPF companies deployed in the state.” The Chief Minister claimed that the Government had been successful in utilising funds provided by the Centre for security related expenditure and Police modernisation. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, at the end of his two-day visit to the State, on June 26, 2009, responded by pointing out that combating the Naxalites was the primary duty of the State Police and the State Government should commit more forces to fight LWE. The Centre would extend support on the basis of a 1:1 ratio, Chidambaram said, “For every company of the State Police, I will commit one.”

An insufficient commitment by both the Centre and the State, and endemic deficits in Police capacities across the worst affected Districts, including Koraput, has enormously facilitated the Maoists consolidation.

The State responses have unfortunately fallen into a long tradition of the Central Government’s efforts to combat the Maoists by relying principally on combing operations following any large-scale incident perpetrated by the extremists. In almost all cases, however, the Maoists successfully retreat from the incident site, and ensuing combing operations have largely been devoid of any spectacular achievement. While such combing operations may register occasional and marginal successes, they constitute no more than a temporary and insufficient measure to deal with the LWE threat and to re-establish the confidence of people.

Marginal improvements in capacity and the occasional fortification of Police Stations have not resulted in any restoration of the state’s domination in Koraput, even as a sustained strategy of consolidation extends the Maoist influence and power in this, Odisha’s worst affected District. A Maoist bastion has been established in Koraput, and it will facilitate their spread into other areas in the State, unless a coherent effort to systematically whittle away their power is not exerted. Regrettably, as demonstrated by the capitulation of the Government in the R. Vineel Krishna abduction case, when the state conceded all Maoist demands to secure the release of the Malkangiri District Collector and one Junior Engineer, there appears to be little determination or understanding in the administration to confront the challenge squarely.

Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

Click here to have Eurasia Review's newsletter delivered via RSS, as an email newsletter, via mobile or on your personal news page.

SATP

SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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.