Winning war in Sukma key to breaking Maoists stranglehold in Odisha

Reported by Pradeep Mohapatra
Jeypore, May 9:

Though local Maoists have lost considerable ground in Odisha’s undivided Koraput district after the deployment of BSF personnel in the area, the ferquent and unhindered sneaking in of Maoists holed up in the safe havens of Sukma district in neighbouring Chhattisgarh continues to keep security forces on tenterhooks on this side of the border, especially in Malkangiri and Nabarangpur districts.

File piccture of a Praja Court in the Tulsi hills in Mathili block of Malkangiri district by the Darbha Divisional Comittee of the CPI (Maoists)
File piccture of a Praja Court in the Tulsi hills in Mathili block of Malkangiri district by the Darbha Divisional Comittee of the CPI (Maoists)

Just how well ensconced the Maoists are in Sukma was brought home when they held about 300 villagers hostage on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dantewada area today.

There has been a visible decline in Maoist violence after the deployment of BSF though there have been occasional attempts by Bansadhara-Ghumusar-Nagavali division in Rayagada district to make its presence felt.

Similarly, activities of the Malkangiri Divisional Committee too have waned in the area in comparison to earlier days.

But the increasing forays into the area by Maoist organizations from neighbouring Chhattisgarh have become a major headache both for the central security forces and the state police. Sukma district, which shares borders with Malkangiri district, has turned out to be a safe haven for the Maoists.

The dreaded guerilla wing of the Maoists ‘Janata Sarkar’ runs a virtual parallel government in the extensive densely forested area of the region. This guerilla wing freely moves between Odisha, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh from Sukma.

Unless Sukma area is freed from the grip of Maoists, there is little chance of Maoist outrages coming down in Malkangiri.

Besides, Maoists from Mainpur Divisional Committee in Chhattisgarh have dominance in Raighar block of Nabarangpur.

In Umarkote, it  may be noted, Maoists had killed MLA Jagabandhu Majhi a few years ago. The influence of the Red Rebels in this area has decreased following the surrender of Jani Salem, a leader of the Mainpur Divisional Committee, to the Andhra Pradesh police and the deployment of BSF in the area.

But Maoists from Chhattisgarh continue to put up posters in the area every now and then to make their presence felt.

Currently, the Darbha Divisional Committee of the Chhattisgarh Maoists is focusing on Mathili block of Malkangiri district. The committee has made its presence felt in the remote, inaccessible, densely forested hills of the area at different points of time.

During the last general elections, Maoists had made their presence felt in Ramgiri area of Baipariguda and different remote areas of Mathili block by way of booth capturing, threatening polling parties and torching vehicles carrying polling personnel.

Darbha Divisional Committee of the Red Rebels had recently abducted 13 villagers from Kartanpalli panchayat area in the same Mathili block and organized a praja court (kangaroo court) with more than a thousand people from nearby villages attending it at the Tulsi hills.

The praja court attended by hundreds of armed Maoists, including Maoist commander Vinod Kashyap, Surjyam and other top Maoist leaders, was a challenge to the security forces in the area.

The situation was such that even though security forces and senior police officers had advance intelligence inputs about the praja court to be held at Tulsi hills, no action could be taken.

Probably sensing that action by the BSF could endanger the lives of several innocent tribals, no action was taken allowing the Red Rebels to hold the praja court openly from early 7 AM to 6 PM in the evening.

In a bid to cover up the weaknesses of the police department, DGP Sanjeev Marik had stated before the media that all the abductees were Maoist sympathizers. They had gone with them of their own volition after being called by the Maoists and it was not a case of abduction, the DGP had averred.

The DGP’s statement speaks of how helpless the state police was in the said situation. The question is: if those who were abducted by the Maoists were their sympathizer,s why were they beaten up severely by the Maoists?

The locals are caught up between the security forces and the Maoists in these inaccessible areas in a classic Catch 22 situation.

While security forces beat them up to extract information about Maoists during the day, they live in perpetual fear of getting killed after being branded as police informers by the Maoists. Such is the situation of the people in Maoist affected areas that they are unable to decide which side to take.

The DGP calling the abducted villagers as Maoist sympathizers has been a win-win situation for the Maoists exposing the helplessness of the state’s police department.

Under the circumstances to make Malkangiri free of Maoists, Chhattisgarh’s Sukma needs to be brought under control. Maoists have been apparently ruling in Sukma area for the last three decades.

Despite deployment of 8,000 security personnel in this area, the situation remains far from being under control. The biggest Maoist attacks have taken place here. While 76 CRPF jawans were killed in 2010, several senior Congress leaders from Chhattisgarh and others totaling 33 were gunned down by Maoists in 2013.

Maoist activities will not die down in undivided Koraput district unless Sukma, the fortress of Maoists, is brought under control.

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