The recent incidents of Naxalite (left-wing extremist) violence in Orissa has once again highlighted the expansion and consolidation of extremist movement in the state. Ten security forces (SF) personnel were killed and eight others were injured in a landmine blast triggered by the People's War Group (PWG) near Bhijengiwada village under the Kalimela police station-limits, Malkangiri district, on the Orissa-Andhra Pradesh border, on July 30.
The incident occurred when the SF personnel were on a combing operation to flush out Naxalites during the
'martyrs' week,' observed every year by the PWG between July 28 and August 3, to commemorate Naxalites who had
lost their lives in the protracted conflict. On the same day, alert Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and state
police personnel foiled an attempt by the Naxalites to attack the Motu police station in the same district. On
August 1, Naxalites of the PWG killed a panchayat samiti (local body) member of the Teleraj panchayat,
Kasa Madhi, again in the Malkangiri district.
These attacks have not only exposed the vulnerability of inter-state border districts to Naxalite violence, but also the lack of preparation on the part of the state government to fight Left Wing extremism. In fact, even before the beginning of the 'martyrs' week', there were reports of an increase in Naxalite activities in Malkangiri, Rayagada and Koraput districts bordering Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Over the past few weeks, the Naxalites had held several meetings in these districts to mobilize tribals and plan future strategies. There were apprehensions that - as in the past - the Naxalites could attack government properties and police stations to mark the occasion, and the government had sounded a 'red alert' and launched combing operations in these districts. On July 23, the Police arrested 17 hardcore Naxalites in Rayagada and Malkangiri districts and recovered a huge quantity of explosives from their possession.
Over the years, Naxal groups such as the PWG and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) have established their presence in districts in Orissa that border Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. While the PWG is active in the Malkangiri, Rayagada, Gajapati, Ganjam, Koraput and Nabrangpur districts bordering Andhra Pradesh, the MCC is steadily increasing its presence in Sundergarh, Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts bordering Jharkhand and West Bengal. A careful examination of the growth of the Naxalite movement in Orissa would demonstrate that, apart from internal factors such as underdevelopment, poor functioning of institutions of civil governance, the persistence of traditional structure of exploitations in rural and tribal areas, and an ill-equipped police force, growing Naxalite violence in the neighbouring states has influenced the course of events in Orissa.
The Naxalbari movement in the late 1960s had a significant impact on the neighbouring districts of Koraput and Ganjam on the Andhra Pradesh border and Mayurbhanj on the West Bengal border. A state Coordination Committee had been constituted on March 14, 1968, with D.B.M. Patnaik as its Convenor. In 1969, the Coordination Committee was dissolved and the different regions of the state were attached to the Naxalite organizations of the neighbouring states. Thus, the Koraput and Ganjam districts of South Orissa were put under the jurisdiction of the Srikakulam regional committee in Andhra Pradesh, while Mayurbhanj and Balasore districts of North Orissa were linked to the West Bengal coordination committee. The Sambhalpur and Sundergarh districts of North West Orissa were attached to the South Bihar committee.
Over the years, as the Naxalite groups intensified their activities in the neighbouring states, they increasingly began using territories in Orissa for hideouts, maintenance of training camps and the recruitment of tribals into their cadres. For some time now, Naxalite groups have been attempting to form a corridor of strongholds running through Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal, up to South Nepal.
The expansion of Naxalite activities in Orissa intensified after the PWG formed the Andhra-Orissa Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) in 2001. The AOBSZC covers the four north coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh - East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam - and the five districts of southern Orissa mentioned above. After the formation of the AOBSZC, there has been a spurt in Naxalite activities in the bordering districts.
The biggest ever strike of its kind in Orissa took place on August 9, 2001, when approximately 230 armed
Naxalites of the PWG launched simultaneous attacks on Kalimela and Motu police stations in Malkangiri
district. They killed six police personnel and injured approximately 22 others, and took away a huge quantity
of arms and ammunition. Two Naxalite 'commanders' were also killed in the incident. Official sources disclose
that, while 30 of the Naxalites were suspected to have come from the bordering East Godavari district of
neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the rest were local activists.
Since then, the Andhra-Orissa border areas have become increasingly vulnerable. On December 5, 2002, an estimated 18 police personnel belonging to the Orissa Special Armed Police (OSAP) were injured in a landmine blast triggered by the PWG near Kolnara on the Rayagada-Behrampur state highway. On November 26, 2002, Naxalites of the PWG killed the district secretary of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Jajati Sahu, in Naira village under Gunupur subdivision, Rayagada district. On September 25, 2002, Naxalites beat to death an activist of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at Malyamkunda village, bordering Chhattisgarh. On August 11, 2002, seven security force personnel were killed and another five injured in a landmine blast triggered by the PWG in the Gunupur sub-division of Rayagada district.
Similarly, there has been a spurt in Naxalite activities in the Orissa-Jharkhand border areas as well. In April 2003, Naxalites of the MCC looted approximately 550 kilograms of explosives in the Sundergarh district in Orissa and sneaked into the dense Saranda forests in the West Singhbum district of Jharkhand. The explosives were intended for the Steel Authority of India's Meghahatuburu mine in West Singhbhum. Earlier, the vulnerability of the Saranda forest area had come to light on December 20, 2002, when Naxalites laid an ambush on a Police convoy, killing 18 and injuring 20 at Bitkilsoya in the Manoharpur police station-limits. They also looted an unspecified quantity of arms and ammunition and set ablaze 11 vehicles in the convoy. On April 20, 2003, Naxalites of the MCC set three houses on fire in Karamapada village in Jharkhand, two and half kilometers from the Orissa border. In the last week of March 2003, a BJP worker was killed at Siding village in Jharkhand, about 6 km from Jareikela, Orissa.
In most of these districts, a host of local factors such as poverty and exploitation of the tribals, have given the PWG an opportunity to consolidate its base. Naxalite groups have made concerted efforts to sharpen the economic differences in the countryside, aggravating local problems and widening their recruitment base. In the month of December 2002, Naxalites of the PWG conducted a series of attacks on houses of rich farmers, government godowns, private granaries and even Panchayat stocks, and looted approximately 1,000 quintals of rice.
Later, the rice was reportedly redistributed among poor tribals. On December 16, 2002, PWG cadres looted
approximately 100 quintals of rice from a government godown in Malavaram village, Kalimela block, Malkangiri
district. The PWG had also looted food grain from a godown in Koimetla village under the Kalimela police
station limits in Malkangiri district on December 15, 2002. The Naxalite groups had been mobilizing local
tribals against local government officials, including police and forest department officials as also elected
representatives, through their front organizations Chasi Mula Mukti Sangha and the Krushak-Mulia
Mukti Sanhga in areas bordering Jharkhand as well. They had also launched a drive to recruit youngsters in
the 15-19 age group.
To curb Naxalites activities, the state government has relied more on concerted police action and joint combing operation with the Police Forces of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand. Speaking in the state Legislative Assembly on March 27, 2003, Chief Minister Navin Patnaik claimed that the police had achieved 'unprecedented success' in destroying Naxalite hideouts and training camps in the state. He disclosed that, during the preceding year, one India Reserve (IR) battalion and Orissa state Armed Police (OSAP) battalions each had been raised to deal exclusively with Naxalite and extremist activities. Moreover, the police department had also launched a public contact campaign in the districts of Rayagada and Malkangiri districts to counter the anti-government propaganda carried out by Naxalites.
Surprisingly, the state government is still to ban the PWG. In fact, after the July 30-landmine blast, the Orissa Police Havaldar and Constable Association had demanded the proscription of the group, and had threatened a boycott of duties in the Naxalite-affected belt unless the government banned the outfit. Similarly, the Home Guards of the states have reportedly threatened to withdraw from anti-Naxal operations after August 15, 2003, if the government did not provide them with adequate facilities and benefits.
Speaking to media persons in Bhubneshwar on August 2, the President of the All Orissa Home Guards
Karmachari Mahasangha, Gangadhar Panigrahy, disclosed that the Home Guards were not even provided boots,
though they worked in jungle terrain. "Let alone any fire arms, Home Guards are not even given lathis (batons)",
he said. Moreover, unlike the neighbouring states, the Orissa government has yet to formulate a package for
the surrender and rehabilitation of Naxalites who seek to abandon violence.
Clearly, a coherent strategy to deal with the expansion and consolidation of Naxalite groups in backward tribal areas of Orissa is yet to be formulated. An efficient and effective local administration, better policing at the grassroots level, effective coordination with law enforcing agencies of neighbouring states, and the restoration of faith in democratic politics among the tribals will be necessary to counter the further expansion of Naxalite violence in one of the most underdeveloped regions of the country
Sanjay K. Jha is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.