India

Cornered Maoists Strike with Abductions

Sangita Jha

Maoists have clearly taken the role of blackmailers. After setting on abduction spree, Maoists are dictating their demands to the government. Some in government are of the opinion that the abduction spree of Maoists is desperate measures in desperate situations. This is for the reason that the security forces are closing in on them, while the government is showing the glimpse of development works to tribals.

Maoists who practice the art of guerilla warfare must have desperately sought breather from the continuous security operations deep into the forest. By setting off on an abduction spree, they have clearly ensured a kind of “ceasefire” for the moment. This helps them in regrouping, fine-tuning their strategy and at the same time asserting their positions among the tribals.

There are about 20 districts in the country, which are said to be in strong control of the naxals. These districts are in southern Chhattisgarh, western Odhisa and southern Jharkhand. The Maoists call these districts a “liberated” zone. However, there are 78 districts, which the government recognises being naxal infested, and are administered through Integrated Action Plan (IAP).

Sukma was the recently carved out as a district from Dantewada which is considred the den of the Maoists in Chhatisgarh. Sukma happens to be the most southern part of Chhattisgarh too seen part of the “liberated” zone. Alex Paul Menon, 31 years old collector of Sukma, has all the zeal that one can associate with a young blood drafted into civil services only five years ago. Menon was abducted while he was going to a village to inaugurate a government centre there on a two-wheeler. Driver and a security guard were killed and Menon taken hostage.

Critics rushed in to suggest that Menon did not need to show such zeal to move around in a two-wheeler and should have been adequately secured. However, the gruesome fact is that just a few days before Menon was taken hostage the Bijapur collector, Rajat, was ambushed and he survived only because of the stroke of luck, as he had decided to sit in an another vehicle than the normal one. The Maoists ambused the vehicle, which Rajat should have been sitting in. This makes it very clear, that security or no security we are in a very difficult situation. In fact, most of the civil servants are said to be holed in their offices most of the time in these 20 districts across the three states. Menon was brave and tried to take government to the tribal villages.

Ask R Vineel Krishna, former collector of Malkangiri district in Odhisa, who was the first civil servant abducted in over two decades why it’s so difficult to work in these areas. “The problem is of terrain, which is mostly hilly and forested. Most of the roads are mined,” said Krishna. Clearly, Menon should not be faulted.

In the recent months, Maoists have taken to abduction as their new strategy in fact. They took two Italian tourists to hostage in Odhisa and alter on a legislator too. In a first of its kind, the Maoists took two Italians – Paulo Basusco and Claudio Colangelo – from Daringbadi area of Kandhamal district in Odhisa. Later on the Maoists abducted Jhina Hikaka, an MLA of the ruling BJD in Odhisa, from Narayanpur in Korapur district, which is also considred badly in the clutches of the naxals. Menon is also alleged to have been taken to Odhisa after his abduction.

While the Maosists have released two Italians, Hikaka and Menon continue to be in their captivity. Hikaka is likely to be tried in a “kangaroo” court of the Maoists. Krishna too was tried in a “kangaroo” court, where he was declared not “guilty” and was released.

Though the “kangaroo” court is a clear sham given the Maoists release their demands within hours of taking people hostage. In fact, the Maoists finding that the Odhisa government is agreeing to their earlier set of demands are further adding to their list of demands clearly following the adage, that when someone is bending make him crawl.

Same is true in the case of Menon also, as list of demands are now growing only, which includes sending security personnel to barracks permanently.

The Chhattisgarh government has named two negotiators from its side – Nirmala Buch and Suyoga Kumar Mishra, former chief secretaries of Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh respectively – to talk to the mediators picked by the Maoists.

Human Rights activist and academician Hargopal and All India Adivasi Mahasabha president Manish Kunjam, former National SC and ST Chairman B D Sharma and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan were named as negotiators by Maoists. Bhushan declined, saying that he did not like the idea of talking by putting gun the temple of somebody, though empathizing with the demands of the Maoists.

Notwithstanding the immediate challenge of freeing Menon and Hikaka from the clutches of the Maoists, the government is faced with the utmost task to free these 20 districts from the Maoist control.

Union minister of rural development Jairam Ramesh advocates “PDS” approach to deal with the Maoists. The PDS stands for political, developmental and security. So, the PDS in complete coordination can only defeat the Maoists.

Ramesh’s prescription is not off the mark either. One just needs to look at Jangal Mahal in West Bengal where the Purulia and Bankura districts are also affected by the Maoists. However, the Maoists in Jangalmahal are strongly challenged by the local political leadership.

Jairam has praised Lok Sabha Shubendu Adhikari in particular for standing up to the challenge of the Maoists.

The Centre is in fact making efforts to implement this “PDS” approach. The move has begun by strenghening the Gram Panchayats so that the local leadership can be groomed.

Another move is in the form of the first batch of 152 young people currently being trained in Hyderabad for Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellowship (PMRDF) programme.

These young people would be working with the collectors in the 78 Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected districts.

Krishna is of the view that even if 25 of these people choose to opt for a career in rural development there could be a strong beginning to expose Maoists’ credentials, that the government neglects tribals.

(This article was first published in Sopan Step)

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy.

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