D N Singh
Nothing sells as hot as sensation. During his visit to Lanjigarh in Orissa, Rahul Gandhi, on August 26, lured the hill dwellers riding on the crest of salvoes aimed at Vedanta.
Though it was not a direct attack on Naveen Patnaik government yet the impact was felt in the state capital. Enough space was devoted for the young Congress leader but that was nothing in comparison to what Lado Sikoko, a young non descript tribal did in minutes.
The day following Rahul`s visit this tribal youth from the deep woods of Niyamgiri was pitchforked to national limelight leaving the country engaged in a kind of frenzied conjecture whether Lado is a Naxal or not. The debate is still on, in fact with no concrete conclusion.
The thrill was, in fact subdued by a national English daily through an item ` Maoist Shares Stage With Rahul In Tribal Rally.’
Hence a large majority from the media community were seriously upset and dubbed it as a bad piece of news. And the reasons were all too familiar. One was jealousy and the other was the disgusting complex of having lost sight of an angle that sells these days like hot cakes-sensation…what else!
But, the issue centering Lado was never marked by any display of a convergence of opinions of the media on his Maoist link. It is no secret that Lado was one of the vocal opponents of Vedanta among the Dongria Kondhs of Niyamgiri and it was undisputedly consequential fallout that he was practically abducted by a few plain-cloth cops who had suspected him to be either a Maoist or a sympathizer of the Maiosts. However, such a politically propounded hypothesis drew flak once the police left him free due to lack of evidence (after a battery of queries from the media, of course).
If one can recall the response, over the telephone, from a top cop of Raygada two days after Lado`s abduction, he had said, “ Yes he is back home safely…no… there was no evidence against him about any Naxal link”. Yet the deep scars on his body manifest the desperation of the police to thrash him to submission. The police should have been a bit more circumspective before indulging into such brazen act.
However, many reports were deftly drafted to accommodate the impression that, whether Lado is a Maoists or not, the official suspicion had him entangled in an inescapable twist of politics for which he has to keep paying the price. And he can never be the same Lado Sikoko. So, Lado has suddenly transformed into a pariah which can be seen as grave injustice to someone who had simply voiced against a project to save Niyamgiri which for them is like a God. For these tribes in the hills, the word God is simply a hope that sustains their existence.
What is more disturbing is the surprising silence of the police over the entire issue. Obviously, it is a choice between the deep sea and the devil. The police can neither risk an open denial on Lado being a suspected Maoist, lest they would displease the local bosses, nor can they brand him a Maoist to the chagrin of the UPA. It is caught between the devil and the ditch.
But, a few of them (police) had agreed in private that the news reports pertaining to Lado Sikoko have caused a collateral damage to the ongoing process of confidence building measure among the tribals against the Naxal menace.
It is not surprising that the inadvertent media miscalculations had mercilessly ridiculed several innocents through sweeping generalizations and factual inaccuracies. Which, first, normally roots from communication gap between the media and the system and secondly, the intent of a scribe which comes out as the product of a febrile imagination that can be seen as a warning but not absolute truth.
But the debates on Lado Sikok had bandied out of the regional political boundaries and had engaged top leaders and panelists in a kind of pontification, as if, his presence on the dais with Rahul was seen as an attack on Rahul`s or his party`s cultural honesty. Nor Naveen Patnaik`s industrialization dream shall be fulfilled over-night if Lado is declared a Maoist.
It is often the follies committed by the media which allows the politicians to bask in the thrill of political longevity, getting electoral rewards . If Naveen is batting for Vedanta or Rahul or his party is out to scuttle the former’s tribal vote bank, it is their business. But we the scribes should not miscalculate the dangers of their brinkmanship and unnecessarily keep them in focus.