Centre's travel advisory ignored by kidnapped officers, MLA

Centre's travel advisory ignored by kidnapped officers, MLA

A post mortem of the recent high profile kidnapping of ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MLA Jhina Hikaka by Maoists operating in the tribal-dominated southern Odisha districts reveals that the young tribal legislator could have easily avoided his abduction had he followed the travel advisory by the union home ministry for high ranking officials working in naxal infested districts as well as elected representatives, particularly MPs and MLAs, from the red corridor.

Dense smoke billowing out of oil tankers of a goods train after it was blown up by MCC Maoists during their bandh in Champaran, Bihar.  file photo

Sources in the state home department said, the union home ministry sent a travel advisory to the state at regular intervals and that was immediately forwarded to the officials as well as MPs and MLAs of the naxal hit areas.

Hikaka’s kidnapping confirmed that the elected representatives were not taking the important advisory seriously.

A key feature of the travel advisory was, before embarking on any tour, the MLAs and MPs should share their travel plans with the Superintendents of Police (SP) of their district.

In Hikaka’s case, let alone the SP, even the local police in his home town of Laxmipur (in tribal-dominated Koraput district) were not aware of his movements. Soon after his kidnapping, the officer in charge (OIC) of Laxmipur police station reported that he had no knowledge of the MLA’s travel plans.   

Another important suggestion in the travel advisory was that elected representatives should avoid night journey in the naxal affected areas of their respective constituencies.

Hikaka clearly violated this as it was well past midnight when armed Maoists stopped his vehicle on the highway between Koraput town and Laxmipur, and whisked him away.

“The highway which runs right in the middle of an intense naxal activity zone was considered unsafe even during day time. I wonder what prompted the MLA to travel on that road without adequate security so late in the night. He could have made a night halt in Koraput town and returned to Laxmipur next morning,” said a senior police official who had recently served in one of the naxal infested southern Odisha districts.

Hikaka’s driver told the police that the MLA, who is in his 30s, had made similar midnight journeys several times in the past. This, perhaps, had given the tribal leader the confidence that he would make it to his home that fateful night but landed in trouble instead.

Over confident

Hikaka was also apparently confident that the Maoists would not touch him as he had been working hard for the upliftment of the poor tribals in the area. He was proved wrong. Similar over-confidence had landed the former Collector of neighbouring Malkangiri district, Vineel Krishna, in Maoists’ net last year.

Elected representatives like Hikaka and able administrators like Krishna and Alex Paul Menon, the Collector of Sukna in neighbouring Chhattisgarh, another victim of Maoist menace, should not lose sight of the fact that the Maoists are waging a war against the state of India. As representatives of the state, the red rebels would not spare them despite their good work.

Observers, therefore, strongly advocate that officials serving the red corridor and MLAs and MPs from the area should draw lessons from these kidnappings and take security aspects more seriously while discharging their duties.

Throughout Hikaka’s captivity for more than a month, all development activities in the backward, tribal-dominated southern Odisha districts came to a grinding halt.  A similar collapse of administration was witnessed in Malkangiri district during Vineel Krishna’s abduction.

Hikaka was not the first MLA from the region who became a victim of the Maoists after ignoring travel advisory. Jagabandhu Majhi, former BJD MLA from Nowrangpur in neighbouring Nowrangpur district, who was shot dead by armed Maoists at Raigarh in the same district last year, had travelled to the highly naxal infested area with only one personal security officer (PSO), who too was killed in the brutal attack.

After the Hikaka incident, the state home department has issued a fresh travel advisory to all the MLAs and MPs from naxal infested districts and asked them to follow it strictly.
The MLA kidnapping episode has once again exposed the Odisha government’s failure to evolve a competent police intelligence network in the naxal hit districts.

The Maoists’ got active the day Hikaka was abducted. Had the government intelligence network been good, it could have alerted the legislator about the Naxals’ plans and the possible danger.

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