Naxal Violence: Is the Maoist Base Slipping in Odisha?

08 Mar, 2013    ·   3836

Deepak Kumar Nayak evaluates the implications of the recent mass surrenders in Narayanpatna, Odisha

Deepak Kumar Nayak
Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Officer

On 20 February 2013, 113 tribal activists shunned ties with the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS), said to be a frontal organization of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), and surrendered before Narayanpatna police in Koraput district. Since January this year alone, around 778 CMAS activists of the Nachika Linga-led faction of CMAS in Narayanpatna, from 22 villages, have already dissociated themselves and expressed their desire to join the mainstream. The CMAS activists, who have left Linga, include 62 from his own village, Bhaliaput. The surrendered activists made it clear that they should not be considered as sympathizers of the Maoists anymore. Is this event a sign of a greater trend at work in the region? What can this mean for the hold that the Maoist movement has in the area?

The CMAS was formed by tribal leaders like Kendruka Arjun, Kondagiri Paidama, Nachika Linga, K. Singanna and Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) [CPI (ML)] Kanu Sanyal group activists like Srikant Mohanty and Gananath Patra, who pioneered and led the CMAS to prevent acquisition of tribal lands by non-tribals in Koraput district in 2006. It was a reincarnation of the banned Ryot Kuli Sangham [Peasant Labourers Association] of Parvatipuram in the district of Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh, which was founded in the year 1994. Subsequently, however, CMAS was divided into the Bandhugaon and Narayanpatna factions, due to differences in the use of violence. While Arjun preferred to lead the CMAS of Bandhugaon block through peaceful methods, Linga led the CMAS of Narayanpatna block, which provided logistic support and shelter to the Maoists. Apart from this, CMAS- Narayanpatna activists have also been providing information to the Naxalites, regarding the movement of security forces involved in anti-Maoist operation.

In October 2006, about 180 acres of land were reclaimed by CMAS activists in Narayanpatna in Koraput district. They alleged that non-tribal people had fraudulently taken away tribal land in the past. Meanwhile, because of the forcible land occupation, Nachika Linga was sentenced to prison and charged with several cases including charges of being a Maoist. After he was acquitted of all charges in 2008, CMAS staged a massive rally of Ghenua Bahini (men wearing red shirts and armed with bows and arrows) and landless tribals. This was the final stroke, which led to the CMAS emerging in a militant form in Narayanpatna, vis-à-vis Bandhugaon, with about 3000 acres of land under its control. In subsequent years, CMAS strengthened its hold, encouraging tribal people to take control of the land, and Narayanpatna block turned into a stronghold of the Reds, and, later on, percolated to areas such as Kasinagar and Chandragiri in Gajapati and Sorada in the Ganjam district.

Consequently, in November 2009, the CMAS-Narayanpatna, emboldened by the administration's tactlessness and the Maoists' support, attacked the Narayanpatna Police Station with about 300 of its activists, demanding the removal of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans from the area, and an end to the combing operations against the Maoists. During the protest, two CMAS leaders were killed in Police firing. Intensified police action then led to the arrest of around 100 CMAS cadres, including its convenor Gananath Patra. The CMAS retaliated with violent and non-violent protests. After a lull of few months, the CMAS-Narayanpatna began to regroup in April 2010 with the help of the Maoists. Since then it served as a very useful purpose for the Maoists in stepping up their activities in the area and helping them to identify prospective cadres.

The Maoists' influence was especially visible in the Narayanpatna block of Koraput district, when the CMAS activists abducted Laxmipur MLA Jhina Hikaka in March, 2012. In the aftermath of the hostage crisis, combing operations and patrolling was intensified in all Maoist-prone areas of the state and many of the CMAS activists were arrested, including Lingama Habika and Kameya Habika. However, the surrender of Nachika Chamara aka Samara, the body guard of Nachika Linga, on January 4, 2013, revealed that the Maoists were using the tribals as human shields to further their gains in the area. He also revealed that the Maoists killed the tribals, accusing them of being police informers, when they actually had no such links with the police. Moreover, he said, the promises of Maoists to cadre members that their families would be looked after once they got arrested, was a mere eyewash. The tribals had also started realizing that the Sangh was not coming to the rescue of families, as they had promised. To compound their problems, once they had been branded CMAS activists, they were failing to reap benefits of the Government’s welfare schemes for the tribal poor.

The surrender of Samara was followed by the surrender of 121 CMAS activists on January 11, 12 and 13 respectively. Tribals deserting the CMAS have now become a veritable phenomenon in the area and the number of surrenders has started to swell in recent days. All the surrendered CMAS activists are voluntarily approaching the administration now want to avail benefits of developmental schemes of government. In the past, due to pressure of Maoists and CMAS they were not availing them.

Earlier in 2009, when more than 60 CMAS activists had surrendered in Narayanpatna police station after the arrest of hundreds of their activists by the police, the trend did not continue as expected. Nevertheless, the numbers and volume of the present mass surrenders has certainly given a clear indication that the Maoist clout is losing its credibility among the people of Narayanpatna and if the tribals continue to snap their association with CMAS, it will help weaken existence of the Maoists in the region.