Odisha hostage crisis: A prophesy come true

Odisha hostage crisis: A prophesy come true

This is just the beginning. There will be more such incidents in the coming days. Just wait and see,” were the prophetic words of many analysts, journalists and observers soon after the release of former Malkangiri Collector Vineel Krishna, kidnapped by the Maoists last year.

Abducted Italian nationals Paolo Bosusco (C) and Claudio Colangelo (inset) along with tribal women at an undisclosed location in Odisha state.

Their words came true within a span of just one year as the Maoists struck again - this time in another troubled Odisha district of Kandhamal, where they abducted two Italians, Paolo Bosusco and Claudio Colangelo, who were in the tribal dominated hilly district to enjoy a trekking expedition and get a first hand account of tribal lifestyle.

The shocking kidnapping hit the national and international headlines within no time, primarily because this was for the first time in more than three decades of the Maoist movement in India that the left-wing extremists had kidnapped foreign nationals.

The incident, apart from tarnishing the image of the country in general and Odisha in particular, has thrown up several unanswered questions which, perhaps, the BJD government in the eastern state led by Naveen Patnaik would find difficult to answer in the coming days.

To start with was the confusion over the exact date of the high profile abduction, soon after the incident came to light on March 18. The state home secretary U N Behera went on record that the two foreigners had been kidnapped the previous day - March 17.

 However, just hours later, two youths from Puri who had also been kidnapped by the red rebels while accompanying the two Italians and subsequently released, revealed that the kidnapping had taken place on March 14 and not March 17 as announced by the home secretary.

 Soon after, the Kandhamal district and police administration confirmed that the youths’ version was true. But by that time it was already known to everybody that neither the authorities in the state headquarters nor in Kandhamal were aware of the kidnapping till March 18. The district administration in Kandhamal had no option but to acknowledge the youths’ version.

Now the question is how could the local police and higher authorities in the police headquarters as well as home department not know for four days about the abduction? Kandhamal is known as a sensitive district. In fact, this is an unique district in the entire country which has two serious problems - communal as well as naxalism. The district had witnessed unprecedented communal riots just three and half years back.

Poor policing
It was expected that at least after the riots the state police would realise the importance of intelligence gathering and accordingly strengthen the network in the troubled district. However, the foreigners’ kidnapping confirmed that the machinery still remains extremely poor. “The kidnapping has proved that the police intelligence network has completely collapsed not only in Kandhamal but also in the entire state”, insisted senior Congress leader Bhupinder Singh, Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly.

 Senior home department officials admitted that there were lapses, especially on the intelligence front. “The matter, in fact, have already been discussed at the higher level. Stringent action will be taken against those responsible for the negligence. Just wait till the kidnapping crisis gets over”, said a home department official who did not want to be quoted.

The day the kidnapping came to light, State Chief Secretary Bijoy Patnaik told reporters that the two foreigners had been warned by the local police at Daringibadi, the nearest block headquarters town from the spot of the kidnapping, not to venture into the forest as they were naxal infested. “They went into the forests at their own risk”, he said.

This is hardly an excuse. For, was it not the duty of the police to check whether its warning had been heeded to or not, especially when the two tourists were foreigners? The police officer who gave them the warning should have guaged the repercussions and the damage it would inflict on the image of the state and the nation if some serious harm befalls both of them. Instead he, perhaps, quietly went to sleep.

This careless and callous attitude of the state police must have prompted the observers to predict more naxal orchestrated kidnappings in the state after the Vineel Krishna episode last year.

After the abduction, it came to light that one of the kidnapped Italians, Paolo Bosusco, was running a travel and tourism business in the temple town of Puri for more than a decade now in an absolutely clandestine manner without obtaining the required permissions. And neither the district administration nor the local police were aware of his activities.

People now question how can the authorities be so casual about the security issue of a town which is considered to be a major tourist attraction in the country. Lakhs of people visit the popular coastal town from both within the country and abroad  every year. Moreover, the authorities should have been extra alert as Jagannath temple in Puri has been identified by central intelligence agencies as a possible target of terrorist attack.

Major blow
A section of the analysts believe that by kidnapping foreign nationals, the Maoists have inflicted a major blow to their own image. “Maoists had never been tagged as terrorists waging a war against the country. They had always been described as extremists who were fighting against the government and the system. However, after this incident, that image may change,” an analyst commented.

The high profile kidnapping has also prompted many people, particularly youngsters, to observe that the time has come for the naxal hit states and the union government to take a final call on how to deal with the Maoists’ growing menace.
“If the government has the capability to take them militarily, it should do it.

Otherwise it should stop the ongoing police action against them, initiate a dialogue and accept all their demands. The government has to solve the problem anyway”, argued Suhas Mishra, a second year student of a Bhubaneswar based engineering college.

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