Maoist Consolidation Intensifies in Orissa

Nihar Nayak

Despite incessant combing operations against Maoists in the jungles of both affected and targeted districts since 24 March Ramgiri Udayagiri Jail attacks, the Maoist mobilisations continues unabated in Orissa. Undoubtedly, the operations had least impact on the Maoist movements in the Northern Orissa districts adjacent to the borders of neighbouring Jharkhand. They continue to camp freely in the inter-district borders and visit the villages at night to collect water, rations and organise village meetings. Even armed Maoists are roaming on the village streets in a group of three to five members.

Interestingly, the Maoists training camps at Chingirijharan and Khardhagada of Sambalpur districts are still operational, although closed for few days during recent combing operations. At the Chingirijharan camp, the cadres get training on firing, collection of information, martial arts and special training to the women intelligence wing of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist). The Khardhagada camp has been engaged in recruitment of new cadres from Redhakhol, Jampalli, Kuchinda and other nearby areas. Similarly, the Marahatu training camp in Sundargarh district provides training of bomb making, landmines and operation of rocket launchers. The duration of these training to a cadre is approximately over three months. Presently, around 40 youths from Samda, Redha, Goelkera, Karampada, Karaikela, Sanramloee, Badramloee and Jharbeda regions are taking training in the camp. The cadres are getting training under the regular guerilla squad members like Anmul Hemram, Sandeep and commander Bharat Mundari. Sources indicated that Jharkhand based local regular guerilla squad commander Chammeli Ekka has been giving training to ten women in the same training camp.

While levels of Maoist violence in Orissa remain low, the pace of consolidation has accelerated rapidly in urban and semi urban areas. On 27 April the Maoists distributed leaflets in Cuttack and in the state capital Bhubaneswar. Through leaflets Maoist rebels criticized the bureaucracy and political leaders while urging the state police personnel to support them. Police sources said “Not that they could be planning a strike in Bhubaneswar since it would need an action team which Orissa unit (of Maoist) currently does not have. But it can not be completely ruled out.” Interestingly, on 14 May Orissa Home Guards association declared that if the government did not increase the salary then they would seek support of Maoists. Not only home guards, but also many other marginalized groups in the State having similar thinking towards Maoists. As the Government schemes fail to reach tribals living in remote areas of the districts, the Maoists are trying to cash in on their sentiments and are trying to win over them. As a result, the CPI-Maoist is making rapid strides in forming its organisational base in Orissa.

Till recently, the Orissa operations which were run by the Andhra- Orissa Special Zonal Committee have formed CPI-Maoist Orissa State Committee headed by Sabyasachi Panda who planned and executed 24 March R Udaygiri attack. According to official sources, the state organisational committee was constituted a couple of months of back and Panda is fast gaining control of the operations in Orissa. As a new strategy, the committee has decided to take retaliatory measures against counter insurgency operations in the State. The Maoists on 7 May, though a faxed message to media organisations over Riamal encounter said the outfit would take strong actions against the security forces. The committee has also decided to intensify movements against mega projects, which are responsible for large scale displacement of people in Orissa.

However, in southern part of Orissa, the Maoists have again become active in the Gajapati district despite the State police launching a 24 hour combing operation with the Special Operation Group (Grey Hound). The small groups recently formed are conducting meetings in the villages, close to the district headquarter town of Parlakhemundi. Maoists have split themselves and reduced the size of their groups to escape police detection. A group now consists of not more than six to eight members. Each group has one sharp-shooter and a couple of gunmen who are trained to provide cover fire while escaping during combing operations conducted by the police. The Maoists are allegedly regrouping to strengthen their ground support in the villages of the Gajapati district.

While the Maoists are consolidating in the state, the Central Government’s non acceptance to the Orissa Government's proposal to include Sambalpur as a Maoists-affected district under the Security-Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme of the Union Home Ministry could affect the State government’s counter insurgency policy. Sambalpur is one of the worst Maoist affected district in Orissa. The central government argued that since the district has been proposed for inclusion under the Backward Regions Grant Fund (BREF) scheme of the Planning Commission, it might not be possible to declare it as a Maoists-infested district. The Central Government has so far released Rs 11.42 crore under the SRE scheme and Rs 73.49 crore in the last three years under the police modernisation scheme to the State and deployed three battalions of paramilitary forces in Sambalpur for anti-Maoist operation.

As counter insurgency policy, with the establishment of an anti-extremist training (AET) centre and plans to fortify police stations in the Naxalite-infested districts, the security forces are also being sent for 'jungle war' training in neighbouring Chhatisgarh. According to DIG of police (Western Range) Satyajit Mohanty, "After providing proper training, adequate equipment and fortification of police stations, the state will have the upper hand in dealing with the ultras in 2008." Under the fortification programme, an amount of Rs 30-35 lakh each would be spent on each police station. As per the plan, the police stations would be three-storied buildings to accommodate one platoon of force with a watch tower at the top. As of now, Bonai, K. Balang, Gurundia, Banki, Koida and Tikayatpali police stations under Sundargad police district and Nandamunda and Lathikata under Raurkela police district had been upgraded. However, one major lacuna is still present that is an inadequate police force at helm. There are at least 5,000 vacancies at the level of constables, who actually work in the theaters of conflict.

The State government has accepted that the Maoist having influence over 14 districts so far. But the irony is all Chief Ministers have avoided banning the Maoists so far.

Author Note
The author is a New Delhi based security analyst