The Malkangiri drama

Maoists and development

It is with a sense of déjà vu that one views the happenings in Malkangiri, Orissa. The state government has abjectly surrendered to Maoist demands in order to get back the kidnapped district collector R V Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Majhi. The engineer had been released on Wednesday and after some drama, the mediators secured the collector’s release on Thursday night.

Among the 12 Maoist prisoners released in the exchange are two high profile rebels —  CPI state committee member, Sriramalu Srinivasalu, alias Sudarshan, and Ganti Prasadam, who is facing charges in about 100 cases in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
Sriramalu spearheaded the regrouping of Maoists in Andhra and was arrested in July, 2007.

We have seen all this before. In October 2009, the West Bengal government had to meekly free 22 Maoist prisoners in exchange for abducted state police officer Attindranath Dutta. The Maoists had made their intentions clear about such demands when, earlier in the same month, they beheaded Jharkhand police inspector Francis Induwar. The Jharkhand government had been reluctant to free three arrested ultras in exchange for the kidnapped officer.

As usual, the Orissa episode will again ignite a stormy debate on TV channels and in print about such issues as ‘soft State,’ ‘no bargaining with terrorists,’ ‘bring in the army,’ ‘follow Israel’s example’ and so on. In fact, with every headline-grabbing kidnap drama, this brouhaha emerges in knee-jerk fashion and remains in ferment till the authorities cave in, the exchanges are made and the storm dies down.

But then, frankly, can the government of the day afford to take a rigid stand? After the exchange of Maoist prisoners for the kidnapped police officer, West Bengal’s then home secretary Ardhendu Sen was queried by a TV channel about the need for some kind of a hostage policy. His said: “Yes, I get the point that you are making. I really doubt if a piece-set guideline or a policy can be set in these matters. One has to take each incident on its merit, case-by-case. I don’t think a black and white policy will happen.”

Unfortunately, he is correct. There will always be exceptions to a rigid, no-bargaining policy. Like the Indian Airlines flight hijacking episode back in 1999. With the plane ensconced in hostile territory and the relatives of over 200 passengers exerting tumultuous emotional blackmail over myriad TV channels, the only option for the government was to give in to the hijacker’s demands, even though the prisoners to be exchanged were the most heinous terrorists.

Bypassing the rule

Let us also not overlook the fact that political expediency can tempt any government to bypass the ‘no bargaining’ rule. One has to only recall the alacrity with which five top terrorists were released by the Centre in December 1989 in exchange for Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of then Union home minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who was kidnapped by the JKLF. One wonders if such quick decisiveness would have been showed if the abducted one had been an ordinary citizen.

However, the Malkangiri episode had one curious facet which may not have been noticed by many. This is the fact that villagers in the area where the kidnapped collector and junior engineer were lifted, voluntarily got together to try and rescue them. The reason: the collector, R V Krishna, had involved himself passionately in implementing development works in the area and had won the hearts of the local inhabitants. In fact, reports say that the Maoist team was so hassled by the determined villagers that it had to split into two teams, with one captive in each and keep hopping from place to place.

Now, if this is true, then it is fantastic. For, if there is one thing Maoists are not comfortable with, it is that state-sponsored development should reach the areas in their control. Do not take at face value the paeans of praise showered on them by bards, troubadours, human rights activists, intellectuals with facile pens, Leftists and other assorted fellow travellers.

Maoists need disaffection for spreading their hold. That’s why they make it a point to bomb and destroy village schools, rural health centres, railway stations, bus stands, panchayat meeting halls and other facilities which could enhance the quality of rural life. That’s why they terrorise teachers, small traders, petty bureaucrats, lower level engineers, lower rank policemen and the like.

Fortunately for the Maoists, the general run of politicians and bureaucrats are on the make or on the take and have little time for reaching development to the people. But, occasionally there come persons like Krishna, who are of a different breed and actually take the trouble to bring development to the people.

Such persons are dangerous to the Maoist cause. They have to be checkmated. His kidnapping was a means to do that and also teach a lesson to other sincere bureaucrats who would like to follow suit. It would be a pity, though, if this tactic succeeds in scaring away other sincere officers like Krishna.

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