Odisha: Maoists: The Revolution in Retreat
By Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
Ending all speculations, on October 28, 2014, Nachika Linga, the leader of the Narayanpatna-based Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) front organization Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS), who was on the list of most-wanted in Odisha, surrendered at Bhaliaput village before a Police team led by the Inspector- in- Charge (IIC) of Narayanpatna Police Station in Koraput District.
The surrender occurred in the presence of some local Panchayat (village level local self Government institution) representatives of the Narayanpatna block. Four of Linga's associates, Sekru Sirika, Ansu Wadeka, Kandru Huluka and Birsu Wadeka, also surrendered before the Police. However, Inspector General of Police (IGP) of South West range, Yashwant Jethwa, disclosed, “He was arrested after his surrender.” Nachika and four of his associates are presently in a jail in Koraput District, after the Laxmipur Judicial Magistrate First Class (JMFC) Court rejected their bail applications on October 29.
Nachika, had been evading arrest for his alleged involvement in around 43 cases pending against him in Koraput District, including that of murder, attempted murder and instigation of violence, and had 33 non-bailable warrants (NBWs) against him since November 2009. On November 20, 2009, while protesting outside the Narayanpatna Police Station for the removal of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel from the area and an end to combing operations against the Maoists, CMAS activists engaged in a brawl with CRPF personnel, which subsequently led to Police firing, in which two persons were killed. Following the incident, 110 persons were arrested, while Nachika Linga was declared “most wanted” by Odisha Police. Linga also had cases pending against him in Police Stations in the Parvatipuram area of Andhra Pradesh.
Nachika Linga was thought likely to surrender at a local court in Koraput District on March 11, 2014, in the presence of hundreds of his tribal supporters. Media reports indicated that he wanted to surrender and contest as an independent candidate from the Laxmipur Assembly seat of Koraput District, where elections were scheduled to be held on April 10, 2014. However, Linga did not show up at the court, apprehending imminent arrest after noticing the presence of a large number of Border Security Force (BSF) personnel and local Policemen.
The Maoists had described Linga's intended surrender move as “drama”. In a signed two-page letter written in Odia and released in the night of March 16, Chemella Kristaya alias Bhaskar alias Daya, 'secretary' of the Koraput-Srikakulam 'joint division' of the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) of the CPI-Maoist, and Aruna, 'secretary' of the CPI-Maoist Narayanpatna Area Committee, accused Linga betraying the movement and striking a deal with the Police to get rid of the cases that were pending against him. They urged the tribals to disown him as their leader and his ‘selfish personal agenda’ of joining electoral politics, at the cost of larger interests of the tribal people.
When the Ryot Kuli Sangham [Peasant Labourers Association] of Parvatipuram (Vizianagaram District of Andhra Pradesh), which had spread its roots in Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon area of Koraput District in the name of Chasi Mulia Samiti, was declared a banned organisation in 2006, it reincarnated itself as the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (Peasants, Labourers and Tribals Association), under the leadership of Nachika Linga, Arjuna Kendruka, Nachika Chamara and Wadeka Singana; Gananath Patra acted as their advisor.
By 2009, serious differences cropped up between Arjuna Kendruka, who led the Bandhugaon Block and Nachika Linga of the Narayanpatna Block. While Kendruka believed in a non-violent movement to secure land (by requests and donations) from the big land owners, Linga went on to grab land violently from these landlords. Linga also sought to mobilize people for violent movements to capture land from land lords, and to secure freedom from liquor and freedom from bonded labor. Difference also emerged over the utilization of CMAS funds. A political rivalry, less visible, but potentially more significant, also crystallized. Kendruka quietly secured a ticket from the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) to contest from the Laxmipur Assembly constituency (Koraput District), during the 2009 State Assembly Polls, with CMAS support, while Linga was interested in getting the ticket. Subsequent developments gradually brought CMAS-Narayanpatna and CMAS-Bandhugaon to loggerheads.
Linga, who headed CMAS-Narayanpatna, progressively engaged in more and more violent activities, while Kendruka, heading CMAS-Bandhugaon began to express opposition to these methods. Finding an opportunity to corner the support of the tribals, the Maoists also increased their influence among CMAS-Narayanpatna followers, and the faction under Linga's leadership increasingly acted as a Maoist front organisation. However, unhappy with CMAS-Narayanpatna, the people of Laxmipur vowed to resist the organisation's attempts to expand activities its area or activity. Further, a meeting attended by around 15,000 supporters at Laxmipur under the leadership of Kumuda Saunta (chairman of the Laxmipur Block) on September 11, 2009, demanded a ban on CMAS-Narayanpatna for its recurrent violent activities.
After being declared “most wanted”, the fugitive Linga was driven even closer to the Maoists. The Maoists also provided all possible help to fugitive CMAS-Narayanpatna activists in their efforts at reorganisation in the District. Subsequently, Linga allegedly helped the Maoists in the abduction of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MLA Jhina Hikaka, while he was returning home to Laxmipur from Semiliguda, near Toyapet village in Koraput District on March 24, 2012. Linga, however, denies any hand in the Hikaka abduction.
The surrender of CMAS supporters in large numbers in 2013 and the gradual decline of Maoist influence in the area appeared to prompt Linga break with the Maoists. As noted earlier, Linga's close associates and supporters from his native village, as well as other villages, surrendered before the Police and pledged not to support the Maoists. Odisha Police claimed that more than 2,400 CMAS supporters and sympathisers have surrendered. Further, with the Maoists finding him to be increasingly useless, they publicly disowned him in the wake of his failed attempt to surrender on March 11, 2014. Linga was eventually left with few options, other than surrender.
With the arrest of Sabyasachi Panda from an aide's house in the Mangalavarampeta locality of Berhampur town in the Ganjam District on July 17, 2014, and now the surrender of Linga, the Maoists in Odisha have lost the services of their most violent face and their most prominent front organisation in the State.
Nevertheless, the Maoists continue to hang on. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, as on December 14, Odisha has recorded a total of 40 Maoist-linked fatalities in 2014, including 30 civilians, one Special Police Officer and nine extremists, as against 54 such fatalities, including 22 civilians, seven Security Force (SF) personnel and 25 extremists through 2013. Significantly, fatalities had peaked in Odisha in 2010 - at the height of CMAS activity - with 108 killed (62 civilians, 21 SF personnel and 25 extremists). Crucially, the dramatic reductions in SF and Left Wing Extremist (LWE) fatalities, and the increase in the civilian category, indicate that the Maoists are avoiding confrontation with the SFs, while they quietly go about eliminating opposition at the ground level. Any complacency on the part of the state at this juncture may, consequently, galvanise the Maoists to more violent action.