Abductions and Political Degeneration among Maoists in Odisha

(The abduction episode in Odisha is still unfolding as we go to press; BJD MLA Jina Hikaka is yet to be released, while the two Italian tourist hostages have been released.)

Social transformation calls for an organized revolutionary mass struggle, which is naturally much harder to achieve than the politics of kidnapping and abductions. The Maoists, having little faith in the painstaking task of mass mobilization and mass movements, have for long had a one-sided emphasis on militarized actions. The increasingly common acts of abduction by Maoists are essentially measures to bargain for some temporary relief like release of some comrades. While the abductions are accompanied by lofty rhetoric and some demands on people’s issues, it has been seen time and again, that the negotiations hinge essentially on release of their own cadres from jail. For instance, some of the points raised by the Maoists in exchange for release of the Italian hostages, and ‘conceded’ by the government are just standard government policies and platitudes that exist on paper but are little implemented on the ground. Such abductions, therefore, do not advance people’s confidence, initiatives, or struggle in any way.

And there are reports that the recent kidnappings in Odisha had more to do with fierce competition between Maoist factions, than with a contention with the State. Observers have widely held that Maoists in Odisha are sharply divided into two warring groups; the larger one led by Daya, Secretary of the Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zone Committee, and another led by Sabyasachi Panda, Convener of Odisha State Organizing Committee.

The Odisha State Organizing Committee led by Sabyasachi Panda kidnapped two Italian Tourists from the Ganjam–Kandhamal border forest area on 14th March, 2012. Within four days he appeared on a private TV channel, owning the kidnapping, calling for the Odisha Government to negotiate their release, and suggesting some names for mediators. The main demand was the release of several Maoist comrades of Odisha, including those who had been jailed in the Nayagarh and Koraput Armory loot case, and Sabyasachi Panda’s wife. Sabyasachi Panda declared a ceasefire till the conclusion of negotiations for the release of the abducted Italians. Meanwhile the Andhra-Odisha Border Committee broke the ceasefire, and abducted BJD MLA Jina Hikaka.

Sabyasachi Panda released a series of audio tapes, in which the tension with the Andhra-Odisha Border faction was evident. One tape mentioned “criticising and condemning violent acts by other Maoist groups and Andhra Odisha Border Committee,” and said that as long as the Odisha Government “does not bring in references to violent acts by Maoists elsewhere including the Odisha Andhra Border Committee, treats us as a separate entity and signs a formal cease-fire pact with us, we promise to abide by it.” Another tape, reported in the Odisha media, reminded the AOB Committee that the raid of the Koraput and Nayagarh arms depots had provided all levels of the Maoist party with ammunition, and yet the comrades who achieved this daring raid remain in jail because no attempts were made to free them during the Vineel Krishna abduction negotiations in 2011. He also threatened to form a separate party in Odisha. Odisha media also carried reports of a press statement by one comrade Nikhil of the Odisha State Organizing committee, appealing to adivasis of Odisha to deny Andhra and Chhattisgarh Maoists shelter and food, because they are anti-Odisha, torture Odisha cadres in camps and sexually exploit Odisha women comrades. There were also reports that the AOB group was seeking to eliminate Sabyasachi.

In this backdrop, both factions of the Maoists in the State are also competing to hobnob with the BJD Government in exchange for concessions and peace talks, forgetting the results of similar opportunist political pacts in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.

This is illustrated by the developments in the Umerkote by-elections last year and the recent election to the Koraput zila parishad. The Maoists called for a poll boycott in the Umerkote by-elections – but in the 5 panchayats which are their stronghold, they adopted their familiar tactics, of enforcing the ‘boycott’ selectively to prevent non-BJD candidates from campaigning, and organizing votes to help the BJD secure a win.

The Chasi Muliya Adivasi Sangha (having a presence in two blocks – Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon), too has been extending support to the BJD. In the recently held panchayat elections in Naryanpatna, where the CMAS is strong and no other candidate dared to contest, the CMAS candidate was elected uncontested to the Zila Parishad. When Zila Parishad chairperson election was to take place in Koraput, Congress and BJD both had 14 members each, and the CMAS ZP member had a deciding vote. Instead of abstaining from voting, the CMAS supported the BJD, reportedly in exchange for an assurance that the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik would release all jailed CMAS members.

These developments point to the growing opportunist and underhand deals between the various Maoist factions and the BJD Government in Odisha, and is evidence of the political degeneration that has accompanied their militarized functioning.

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