It’s a similar story, headed for a similar ending. Koraput, an under-developed Orissa district, has been cut off from the world for the last five days and looks in danger of becoming another area “liberated” by Maoists.
Like Lalgarh in West Bengal, before it was won back.
Dispossessed tribals on one side and alleged grabbers on the other are in the middle of a violent battle for land waging in Koraput, which is 560 km from Bhubaneshwar. And no prizes for guessing who is winning.
The administration exists on ground but only just. It has no clue as to how much land was lost by tribals and is able to only hazard a guess about how much has been reclaimed by them through peaceful or not-so-peaceful means.
The tribals don’t bring their complaints to the local administration any more. They go straight to organisations backed by the Maoists. In fact, the tribals are not complaining at all. They simply grab back what was grabbed from them.
“They come and hoist a red flag in our agricultural land, signaling the end of our possession over it. I owned 11 acres of land. Now, I’m hiding in the houses of my relatives,” said Madhusudan Pondu, 72, of Balipeta village.
Both the locals and the administration said Chasi Muliya Adivasi Sangha, an organisation of dispossessed tribals, is spearheading the agitation. But its violent ways are blamed on a more radical section within it.
The targeted non-tribals have no choice but to leave the area completely – an estimated 200 people have left the Narayanpatna block of which Pondu’s Balipeta village is a part, in recent days.
The Narayanpatna area has been completely cut off for the last five days as sangha activists have blocked the main arterial road with trees.
On Thursday, nine personnel of the Orissa Special Striking Force who tried to clear the road were killed in a landmine blast triggered by the Maoists. Now, no policeman wants to go anywhere near Narayanpatna.
The mainstream sangh leaders held a convention on Saturday but the hotheads from Narayanpatna stayed away. One of them, Nachika Ling, a tribal in his 30s, is believed to be leading the radicals.
This is where the Maoists come in — they are believed to be Linga’s chief backers. And this is where the story begins to sound like Lalagarh’s, where a committee of locals agitating against the police took on the state with the help of Maoists.
“The Maoists want the hawks within the CMAS to take over the organization so that they can guide the tribal movement in the manner the Naxals have done in Lalgarh,” said a senior official refusing to be identified.
“Linga is hand-in-glove with the Maoists,” Sanjeev Panda, DIG of Koraput area, told Hindustan Times. “He was arrested before and spent two to three years in jail before he was released on bail.”
Linga and his group are reported to have forcibly occupied hundreds of acres of land and handed them over to the tribals. The group has also damaged nearly hundred houses belonging to alleged “land usurpers”.
But the state hasn’t given up here yet, unlike in Lalgarh. “Presently, 100 CRPF personnel, about 30 men of India Reserve Battalion and one unit of Orissa Special Striking Force are deployed in Narayanpatna,” said police officer Panda.
And they are not leaving.