Robin Hood like Odisha tribal leader walks out of jail after 6 years
On Friday evening, soon after he was released from the Koraput jail, Nachika Linga was given an emotional welcome by people of Bhaliaput village in Narayanpatna block of Koraput district. Back home after a painful six years in jail as an undertrial with 45 cases against him, the 47-year-old Linga hugged tight his mother Juro Nachika, whom he had not seen since he went behind bars. He did not sleep the entire Friday night, busy chatting with his mother and family members, trying to catch up on the lost years and recounting his prison experiences.
Declared the most-wanted Maoist by Odisha police more than a decade ago for trying to convert Narayanpatna block of Koraput into a Maoist fortress, Linga, a Kui tribal, was released two days after the Orissa high court granted him bail in the last of the 45 cases with charges ranging from loot to waging war against the state.
In 44 cases, the trial courts acquitted him due to lack of evidence and witnesses while he continued to be behind bars in a 2009 case of attack on Narayanpatna police station. After a nudge by the Supreme Court last month, the Orissa high court early this week granted him bail. On Friday, the trial court of Koraput district judge released him on a bail bond of Rs 50,000 with two persons standing as guarantor, a little more than 6 years after he surrendered before Odisha police.
“I would like to thank the government and the law. I could become free due to the blessings of everyone. I would continue to work for people,” said a much-mellowed Linga, the poster-boy of a tribal movement that threatened to turn Narayanpatna block into a Maoist fortress a decade ago.
Under the banner of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, a Maoist-backed outfit, the tribals of Narayanpatna block in 2006 launched a movement to drive the moneylenders and landlords of the area whom they called ‘Sundi-Sahukar-Sarkar’ (liquor vendor-landlord-government). Led by Linga, CMAS mobilised over 30,000 tribals in the block with the slogan ‘mada mukti, jami mukti and goti mukti’(freedom from liquor, freedom from usurping of tribal lands and freedom from bonded labour).
In his 2020 book, “Land alienation and politics of tribal exploitation in India”, Surath Malik, a political science professor of Midnapore’s Vidyasagar University wrote that using the age-old issue of tribal land alienation by non-tribals in the block, CMAS immediately became popular.
“Of the 43,000-odd population in the block, around 82% were tribals. Though it was a Scheduled Area and tribal land could not be transferred under Odisha Scheduled Areas Transfer of Immovable Property by Scheduled Tribes Regulation, 1956, the executive could not properly implement it. The landlords from the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh joined the liquor vendors of Narayanpatna area and exploited the tribals forcing them to become daily wage labourers in their own lands. Though the tribals in Narayanpatna were 85% in population, the actual land possessed by them was about 10–15%. The tribals of Narayanpatna under the banner of the CMAS launched the movement to drive the moneylenders and landlords out of the Narayanpatna area and posted red flags on the land,” Malik wrote in his book.
Like his father and grandfather, Linga too started as a bonded labourer working under an upper caste landlord in Bhaliaput village of Narayanpatna block for a wage of Rs 5 per day. Five generations of Linga family were bonded labourers, but he was determined not to let that continue and fled to neighbouring Parvatipuram of Andhra Pradesh in early 2000, where he probably came in contact with Maoists. He returned home a few years later.
In 2006, Linga became one of the key members of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha, a tribal body that had Maoist links. The Ryot Coolie Sangha, a tribal body, had been banned in Andhra Pradesh in August 2005 over its alleged links with Maoists. In anticipation of a similar ban by the Odisha government, the RCS-Koraput changed its name to Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh in 2006.
Under Linga, the tribals of Narayanpatna launched a movement to drive the moneylenders and landlords away, bringing more and more tribals into the fold of CMAS.
In 2006, Genua Vahini, the militant brigade of CMAS led by Linga captured some 50 acres of non-tribal land in the Podapadar gram panchayat after which he was charged with several cases including that of waging war against the State and sent to jail. He was released in 2008. In that period, CMAS had chased away upper caste landlords and distributed around 3000 acres of land among the landless poor tribals. The CMAS activists would post red flags on the occupied lands, and cut crops from the acquired land despite the presence of police force.
“For tribals, he had become some sort of Robin Hood who would get their land back by terrorising the upper caste people as well as Dalits,” said a senior CRPF official posted in Koraput in mid 2000.
Activist Prafulla Samantra, who for long has supported Linga, says in his short stint with CMAS movement, Linga had achieved what was thought to be impossible. “Alcoholism is believed to be the bane of the tribal society and that leads to indebtedness and prolonged exploitation by the ruling elite in the area. By taking on the liquor mafia, he ensured prohibition in Narayanpatna. It was his success in the anti-liquor movement that led him to the land reclamation movement. In many ways he was perhaps the most popular tribal leader to have emerged from the grassroots in undivided Koraput,” said Samantra.
Though Linga was on a path of confrontation with the state, police officials who worked in Koraput during the CMAS days said the government wanted a political resolution. However, the state government shut out the idea of a political resolution when a landmine blast on the Laxmipur-Narayanpatna road near Palur killed 9 policemen of the Odisha Special Striking Force.
“When the policemen were killed in the blast, any chance of a political resolution to the tribal movement was swiftly over. It was just an overground arm of Maoists. The situation turned worse in November 2009 when Linga led over 1,000 tribals under the banner of CMAS to launch an attack on Narayanpatna police station, in which 2 CMAS leaders were killed. He was declared the most wanted man by the Odisha police and posters with his photo were all over Koraput,” said deputy inspector general of police Anup Kumar Sahoo, who worked as SP Koraput during that time.
After the attack on Narayanpatna police station, Linga went underground for five years and kept giving police the slip while the CMAS unleashed their fury in the region, killing anyone who opposed the organisation, often slitting their throats. Linga fell out with the CPI (Maoists) in 2012 after the kidnapping of Biju Janata Dal MLA Jhina Hikaka. The tribal MLA was released after prolonged negotiations, but led to souring of relations between Maoists and Linga.
Without the active help of CMAS, Maoists could not remain active in Narayanpatna which they wanted to make a red fortress. The schism between Maoists and Linga helped police gain an upper hand in the treacherous region. In October 2014, Linga finally surrendered before Odisha police and was charged with 45 cases including murder and waging war against the state. Like most cases involving Maoists, no one came to testify against Linga leading to his acquittal.
Activist Samantra said despite being away for a long time, Linga still has the potential to revive the movement. “Due to his absence the organisation had become inactive. But the spark of resistance that he lit in the tribal minds a decade ago may light up again as the ground realities that triggered the birth of CMAS have not changed in the district. He still can go make it work,” said Samantra.