Listen to the tribals during ‘Green Hunt’

DN Singh

While the top police fraternity of Orissa sits in the state capital or at the police headquarters at Cuttack to discuss the strategies regarding the much-touted Green Hunt Operation, the most noticeable absentee in the entire process is the common man of Malkangiri or Koraput or Raygada, the districts where the ultra menace has stung the people to submission virtually. In the midst of the Operation euphoria, what seems lost in the din is the series of protesting voices of the tribals from Malkangiri and Koraput, openly urging the government to stop Green Hunt. This may be seen by many as a paradox unexpected.

As usual the Chief Minister of Orissa, Naveen Patnaik, in a show of his deep concern towards the increasing Naxal menace, held a high-level meeting in the state capital and told his officers to make regular weekend visits to the people and ensure development and safety. It is, perhaps, the third time that such a call has been given by the chief minister as regards the development works in the interiors are concerned. However, this time it was probably a prelude to the Operation Green Hunt. But, who is there to see how many of them really do it in practice? So, such exercises usually suffer from morbidity and the politics over it ultimately acquires an image of frivolity. Flippancy may serve, sometimes, an unwitting political purpose but, the bottom reality worsens further.

But tribal ire against the Operation is something which the government or the police can ill-afford to ignore as a passing parade on the streets plagued by fear of death. Raygada, Koraput and Malkangiri jointly not only have a vast contiguous forest patch, serving as the most formidable hide-out for the ultras, but the districts also provide safe conduits to Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and some fringes of Jharkhand, the most deadly triangular hub of Maoists. However, Malkangiri plays the role of an arm-pit niche for the Naxals with a continuous stretch of forests right upto Dantewada in Chhattisgarh. Significantly, these are the places with common features like the dominant tribal population and backwardness, hostile terrains and an unmindful administration, which has paved the roots for pain and vacuity.

That is exactly what the ultras try to cash in on socially and with a massive annual turnover, the Maoists enjoy a leverage to play the cards of money and terror. When the voice of dissension is dubbed as anti-government or an act of sedition, the common man is left with no option but to brood, which leads to erroneous thoughts as a tool for freedom.

Tribals have a point

The state`s police force which, in the past, had made many tall claims of delivering hard blows on the Naxals or their sympathisers, the tribals by implicit, now cannot deny that its position in these areas in general, and in Malkangiri in particular, has suffered a precipitate nosedive. Before the advent of the so-called Green Hunt, the red rebels had carried out much bloody mayhem which they dubbed as the deterrents against the operation, by their own yardstick. During the year 2009, Malkangiri suffered over 30 instances of Maoist-triggered violence of which some were very ruthless in nature.

For instance, made vulnerable by a vast spread of water bodies from three sides, about 151 villages located in Malkangiri`s Balimela area, now constitute one of the few places in the country that the Naxals have virtually converted into their make-shift capital. Cut off from the outside world, geographically, extreme neglect during the last four decades or more has rendered this patch as most vulnerable and volatile today.

Sharing the boundary with Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, it had at last ushered in the Red rebels to exercise their writ the way they like. This is the spot where the Naxals killed 38 elite Grey Hound commandoes of Andhra inside the water reservoir. Ironically, for the 24,000-odd population the only means of contact with the outside world are just three boats and an occasional use of mules. The reservoir and the bordering hills today serve as a safe hub for deadly ambushes. It was there where a group of visiting government officials was summoned by Maoists to explain the reason behind their visit and was later released! In many places, people hardly manage a two square meal a day as abject poverty and unemployment haunt the majority.

It is not to say that all the schemes are eyewash. True, some of these have been executed well but, what is the percentage of such success. It would not be prudent to brand every dissenting tribal as a target for whipping. Otherwise, a vocal sympathizer of the tribals, the chief minister of Orissa, who in the last 10 years had demonstrated serious concern for the forest dwellers in the state, now must take the call himself and evolve the means to placate their psyche with a deft political acumen, unmindful of what his set of advisors, sitting in the capital, think. Often, good advisors prefer silence to an encounter with the mighty ones.

The three or four massive tribal rallies against the Green Hunt should neither be seen as an affront nor as a certificate in favour of the Naxals. If the acid tongues and the writings on the wall by the ultras can whip up the emotions of these people, a single stroke of developmental action, in practice, by the government can numb the critical faculties on the other side of the divide.

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