People in Orissa, especially those in seats of power, are heaving a sigh of relief, now that Malkangiri district collector R Vineel Krishna is free after eight days in Maoist captivity. However, it seems to be a beginning of a crisis, rather than an end to it.
The Maoists have abducted people in the past - policemen and government officials - to bring governments to their knees. But Krishna's case is different. This is the first time in independent India a high-level government officer like a district collector was abducted.
This sends a message, as a district collector is the representative of the central as well as state government. He is the totem pole of State power in a district. His abduction shows a vacuum in the State's authority in a district - undoubtedly a substantial patch in geographical terms.
The Orissa government's 'buckling under pressure', however, has sent a message to the Maoists: the higher the rank of a government officer, the better the bargain. Considering the rapid spread of Maoists across India, holding government officers, especially district collectors, hostage to be exchanged for a 'ransom' could become the norm rather than exception.
It is a fact that of late, State policies have pushed hundreds of thousands of poor people, mostly tribals, to the brink so as to make way for mining and industrial projects. The poor of Malkangiri were oustees of hydel power projects. Democratic movements against such projects are regularly quelled by force.
Maoists have poached on marginal people who have lost their land and livelihood to strengthen their armed wing, the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) to challenge the authority of the State. After Krishna's release, a bureaucrat engaged in defusing the hostage crisis, wrote in his Facebook: "… blessings of innocent and well-meaning simple tribals gave all of us an infinite strength to secure safe and dignified release of Vineel within deadline…"
To that, there was a reply: "Hope the tribals will get the same kind of solidarity and support from the State when some mining and industrial projects try to displace them forcefully."