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Malkangiri Kidnap in Orissa: Negotiating Peace

An account of the mediation/ negotiation on the Malkangiri kidnapping of government officials by the CPI(Maoist) in Orissa in February 2011.

COMMENTARY

Malkangiri Kidnap in Orissa: persons, R S Rao, G Haragopal and Dandapani Mohanty, who the media preferred to
Negotiating Peace call “interlocutors”, to mediate on a charter of demands. The interlocutors learnt
about the mediation through the media.
Varavara Rao, a well-known revolutionary
G Haragopal poet, informed all the three mediators

An account of the mediation/ negotiation on the Malkangiri kidnapping of government officials by the CPI(Maoist) in Orissa in February 2011.

Thanks are due to the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy and its faculty members, particularly S Japhet, for providing a conducive climate for work, and Shashikala for negotiating my cumbersome hand-written drafts. I also thank V S Prasad and G Vijay for their comments in finalising this article and R S Rao and Dandapani Mohanty mediating with whom has been a rewarding experience. The views and ideas expressed are solely of the author.

G Haragopal (profharagopal@gmail.com) is with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, National Law School of India University, Bangalore.

T
he kidnap of R Vineel Krishna, a district collector, and Pabitra Mohan Majhi, a junior engineer, by Maoists took place on 16 February 2011 in Orissa.

Orissa is one of the poorer states in India with very rich natural resources, particularly water and minerals. It has some of the largest deposits of good quality bauxite. In Out of This Earth Felix Padel and Sama rendra Das have brought out graphically the deepening crisis in the tribal areas of Orissa. The neo-liberal model of development that is out to loot the country has been slapped on the area which is hurting the tribals who have been living in the region for centuries. The authors point out that as the earth is being ripped of its resources, the tribals are being robbed of their lives and livelihoods. It is this brutal and naked exploitation of resources that has led to tribal resistance. In their words, “the trouble is, they face huge repression by security forces and company mafias, and their movements get confused in the popular imagination with the Maoist insurgency, which is growing in the region because of people’s outrage at the increasing repression and exploitation” (ibid: xxiii). They argue that “driving the insane overexploitation of east India’s resources is a ruthless capitalism, brilliant at making profits and demonic in its heedlessness of costs”. They hope: “If anything can save our earth for all of us, it’s the uncompromising struggles of these adivasi activists” (ibid: xxiv).

It is against this backdrop that the Malkangir i kidnap has to be analysed and understood. A sketch of this episode presents the developments that followed the kidnap and the democratic space available for mediation and peaceful resolution of the issues in an otherwise confrontationist and volcanic situation.

Space for Mediation

In the wake of this kidnap, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) suggested three

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about the Maoist choice and advised that they partake in the mediation. The Orissa government through its home secretary conveyed its endorsement of the mediation effort and the mediators. The discussion on the demands between the three mediators and two government representatives (U N Behra, principal secretary, home and S N Tripathi, panchayati raj secretary) commenced on 20 February 2011. The CPI(Maoist) nominated its two leaders Sriramulu Srinivasulu and Ganti Prasadam in Koraput jail for consultation on behalf of the party. The Orissa government for its own reasons agreed for consultation with Ganti Prasadam but not Sriramulu Srinivasulu.1 Not wanting to lose time in the procedural rigmarole, the Government of Orissa agreed to the proposal of the mediators that Ganti Prasadam be shifted from Koraput to Bhubaneshwar jail for ready consultations.

When the mediators met Ganti Prasadam in Bhubaneswar jail to discuss the technicalities and difficulties in the charter of demands, he took a broad democratic view and suggested that the release of the tribals languishing in the jails be prioritised over the other demands. He also felt that the demand for the release of the leaders as a top priority may not be democratic as the leaders and activists can always voice their views and take recourse to legal battles, while the voice of the tribals for whom their party was fighting was not often heard. He, on his own, suggested that in addition to the charter of demands a judicial inquiry into all the encounter deaths could be added. This, in fact, made the task of the mediators and the process of mediation easier and smoother.

Charter of Demands

As the charter of demands was taken up, the government representatives put them in an order which they felt was easy to deal with. The mediators chose not to object to the ordering of the demands. On

COMMENTARY

21 February, eight demands were taken up: these included; (1) declaring Nookadora, Konda Reddy communities as scheduled tribes; (2) stopping Polavaram project; (3) issuing of pattas to the tribals of Koraput, Malkangiri, Narayanapatnam and Vishakapatnam areas; (4) constructing a canal from Kotapalli to Maneguda;

  • (5) paying compensation to the families of tadangi Gangulu and Ratana Sirike, who died due to torture in the jail; and
  • (6) releasing central committee member Sheela’di and also Padma due to their illhealth. The seventh and eighth demands relate to the cancellation of the mining leases and withdrawing memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with various MNCs.
  • One will realise that most of these demands fall either in the development or welfare domain which the state government should be carrying on as its obligations to its own citizens. The state representatives obviously did not have much difficulty in readily conceding to four to five demands. They not only agreed to the demand for recognising the Nooka Dora and Konda Reddy communities as scheduled tribes, but informed them that they had already initiated steps by way of consultation with the Orissa Tribal Advisory Council and had recommended to the Ministry of Tribal Welfare, Government of India, that the Konda Reddy community be included in the list of scheduled tribes. It was promised that similar steps would also be taken up in the case of the Nooka Dora community and that they would pressurise the central government for an early consideration of this proposal. With regard to the Polavaram project that would submerge villages in Orissa and Telangana , they said that the Orissa assembly had already unanimously passed a resolution opposing the project and had also filed a case against the project in the Suprem e Court.

    Demand three about giving pattas to the tribals and recovering land from nontribals, the issue was not as simple to handle as the earlier two demands. However, it was agreed to protect the land rights of the tribals and constitute a high-level committee under the chairmanship of a senior officer (in the rank of member, board of revenue) and post officers of the rank of additional/joint secretary with statutory powers under the land laws to expeditiously dispose of the cases relating to land rights of the tribal persons.

    On the demand relating to construction of a canal from Kotapally to Maribada for providing irrigation facilities to Kalmela farmers, the government promised to construct an aquaduct for extension of the Kotapally minor canal to Maribada village, which can irrigate about 500 ha of additional land. Related to this was the issue of providing irrigation facilities to the excluded land of Manemkonda village. The government felt that this was not feasible because of the higher elevation and difficult topography, but promised that they would take up a lift irrigation project on a priority basis.

    Demand five related to payment of compensation to the families of Tadangi Gangaulu and Ratana Sirike, who died due to torture by the Koraput jail authorities and neglect of healthcare. The government held that they died when under treatment in hospital and not due to torture in jail. Since writ petitions had been filed in the high court by the family members, the govern ment would abide by whatever order the high court passes.2 Demand six was about the ill-health of Sheela’di and Padma. In the course of discussion, it was learnt that they were not in Orissa jails. However, it was promised that the Orissa government would write to Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand state governments where these two were detained and request the respective governments to take care of their health.

    Political and Ideological Position

    The seventh and eighth demands taken up on the first day were difficult to negotiate: they related to the cancellation of mining leases and withdrawal of MOUs with various MNCs. This concerns the very development model being pursued. As a response to this demand the government from its side promised to abide by all the relevant laws and rules such as the Panchayats Extension to the Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, Forest Conservation Act, Forest Rights Act and the environment laws in lieu of scrapping of the leases and MOUs. It was also promised that displacement of tribals would be confined to the minimum, and adequate compensation and proper rehabilitation would be ensured to the affected persons. As the mediators were not sure how far this demand could be stretched, it was thought that the response of the governmen t under the given conditions was acceptable enough. This issue was taken up for a serious discussion when the mediators met the chief minister on 25 February 2011.

    This particular demand of the Maoists had something to do with their political and ideological position on the brutal path of development that the Indian ruling classes, as stated earlier, have come to pursue during the last two to three decades. Almost all the political parties, irrespective of their allegiance to caste (including the oppressed castes) creed, colour, religion, region or sub-region and proclaimed ideologies have hammered out a consensus on the model of development. There is no political party (except the Left parties) which is openly opposed to the model. With the Singur and Nandigram episodes, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPi(M) also lost its credibility. The major failure of the Left parties was that they did not mobilise the masses against the model. It appears that the political character of the elite either remained comprador or it got denationalised in the course of time. The Maoists, located as they are outside parliamentary politics, seem to be a political force to reckon with in opposing the model. In that sense, this demand for cancellation of MOUs signified their politics but went beyond such negotiations.

    Other Demands

    The other six demands were taken up on 22 February, some of the demands were complex but had a serious political import. The easier to handle demands were the payment of compensation to farmers of the cut-off and submerged areas of Balimela reservoir and providing alternative facilities to the project-affected persons, and justice to the displaced persons of Nalco project in Damanjodi (demands 10 and 11). The difficult case was that of the disappearance of Sitanna and the demand to indicate his whereabouts (demand nine). The other three demands (12, 13, 14) were critical and much depended on the outcome of mediation on these demands. These were: stop Green Hunt operations, release central committee members and others, and withdraw the cases against the tribals and Chasi Mulia workers in Koraput and Malkangiri jails.

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    COMMENTARY

    The response of the government regarding the payment of compensation to the farmers of cut-off and submerged areas of Balimela reservoir was that no complaints have been received from the affected persons. They promised that they would enquire into the matter and take action as per prevailing guidelines. With regard to the alternative facilities to be provided in view of the possibility of submergence, the government held that there was no proposal to raise the height of the dam and there need not be any apprehensions of further submergence of the villagers. Similarly, to the demand for justice to the Nalco-affected persons, there were no grievances reported but if any grievance was brought to its notice, the government would redress it.

    In the case of the disappearance of Sitanna, a tribal, the government not only flatly denied it but said that Sitanna was very much alive and was in a hideout as he was afraid of the Maoists who he had chosen to desert from. The government asserted that he was in constant touch with his wife and family members.3 They agreed to order an administrative enquiry to investigate the matter. On the crucial demand of stopping Green Hunt operations, the government agreed not to take recourse to coercive action as long as the Maoists did not indulge in any unlawful activities. When the mediators suggested the initiation of peace talks on the lines of the Andhra experiment of 2004, they did not appea r enthusiastic.

    About withdrawing the cases against the tribals (demand 13) it was stated that the Orissa government had taken suo motu action for withdrawal of minor cases and in the past 9,013 such cases had been dropped; in keeping with this precedent, the government would initiate the process within 15 days, review the cases against tribals held on charges of Maoist activities and land-related disputes in Narayan apatna area, and complete the whole process of release within three months. They agreed to the suggestion of the mediators that Radha Mohan, a well-respected Gandhian, and Sudhakar Patnaik, a senior journalist from Orissa would oversee the process of review and release of the tribals.

    The last and important demand (14) was the release of central committee member Ashtosh Sen and other members, Sriramulu Srinivasulu, Gana Nayak, Jeevan Bose, Ganti Prasadam, Sirisha, Eshwari, Sarita and Gokul (a truck driver). During the mediation, as the other cases were far more complicated the list was confined to Sriramulu Srinivasulu, Ganti Prasadam, Sirisha, Eshwari, Sarita, and Gokul (the latter five were a part of Similiguda P S Case No 78). The Similiguda was a case where the three women and the truck driver were arrested when they were entering the forest to meet the Maoists, Sirisha alias Padma was to meet R K (her spouse) who was the party secretary. The charge against Ganti Prasadam was that he facilitated their going into the forest. The mediators argued that this was not a serious offence as the attempt to meet their family members was not a crime in itself. In response, the government agreed to take steps for withdrawal of the cases and that all the five implicated in the case would be released soon. In the negotiation on this issue the Government of Orissa was initially favourably inclined to withdrawing the cases against Sriramulu Srini vasulu but backtracked on this promise.

    Deadline and Sensitive Issues

    As this agreement was finalised, keeping in view all the logistics, the mediators appealed to the CPI(Maoist) through a press conference held on the evening of 22 February for the release of Vineel Krishna, the district collector and Pabitra Majhi, the junior engineer, in 48 hours. This appeal did not reach the Maoists as the print and electronic media have no reach in those remote hilly tribal tracks. In the meanwhile, the Maoists released the junior engineer and sent a message with him that the mediators should personally go to a venue suggested by them along with the freed Maoist leaders and other members, where the collector would be freed. They also suggested the presence of Swami Agnivesh. Puzzled by this unexpected development, the mediators took exception to adding new demands and sought the advice and help of Varavara Rao and Ganti Prasadam. Both of them agreed that given the distance and other complications, it was not feasible at that stage to do what was demanded. This was conveyed to the Maoists through All-India Radio and BBC. This message also reached them after 12 hours. It should, however, be noted that the Maoists expedited the release of the collector to keep their word to the mediators and handed over the collector to media persons and local tribals two hours ahead of the set deadline.

    The role of the media – print and the electronic – calls for deeper but separate analysis. The credibility and reliability of the entire national and regional electronic media came under scrutiny as they started telecasting on 22 February evening that the district collector and junior engineer had been released and that the district collector had reached his residence. They started interrogating the mediators on the news that they had engendered on their own and would not care to listen that the 48-hour deadline had been set after considerable deliberation. In their competitive, sensational, “first to announce” obsession, each channel committed the same blunder. We had to repeat again and again that the information was not correct. The next morning, of course, some of the electronic channels apologised to the viewers. In the whole episode the media did not conduct itself with self-respect and dignity, nor was it committed to transmit reliable information to build public opinion for peaceful resolution of a crisis.

    Enforcement of Agreement

    The three-month period for taking action on the demands by the government lapsed on 24 May 2011. There have been questions from different quarters as to what happened to the agreement. When contacted, the authorities sounded cool about enforcing the agreement.4 The mediators had to address a letter to Naveen Patnaik, the chief minister, reminding him of the commitment he gave to the mediators on 25 February 2011. The letter stressed that “non-implementation of the agreement will erode the confidence of the people in peaceful resolution of crisis, which in turn, adversely affects the credibility and legitimacy of State power”.

    In the meanwhile, the ceasefire agreement (the Orissa government is not comfortable with this expression) was violated; both the parties blamed each other. In the letter to the chief minister, a list of violations by the government that had been brought to the notice of mediators was enclosed.5 There is a long list of violations by the security forces during the last three months, vitiating the overall atmosphere. There was also loss of human life. The

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    COMMENTARY

    Orissa government could have taken advantage of the opportunity to initiate peace talks on the lines that the Government of Andhra Pradesh did to avoid loss of human life on either side.6

    On 24 May, after the deadline lapsed, the mediators along with Varavara Rao, Radha Mohan and Sudhakar Patnaik met the chief minister and had a discussion on the 14-point agreement. The chief secretary and the home secretary recounted the steps that they had initiated or proposed to take. This time to be more specific, the mediators prioritised four issues; (1) respect the peace agreement; (2) release Ganti Prasadam and others; (3) release of the 600 tribals; and (4) protection of the land rights of the tribals. It was also suggested to bring a tribal land rights legislation on the lines of 1/70 of AP. In fact, in the first meeting on 25 February 2011 the devastation that the neoliberal model had been causing was highlighted by the mediators. These concerns were reiterated in this meeting also.

    The chief minister who sat all through the discussion lasting for two hours promised that Ganti Prasadam and four others would be released in two weeks time and the release of at least 169 tribals detained in landrelated and Maoist cases would be completed by the end of June. With regard to protecting the land rights of the tribals, they would abide by their promise to constitute a high-power committee and complete the process in six months. About violations of the peace agreement, the government came out with an equally long list of violations by the Maoists.7 The mediators expressed their readiness to appeal to the CPI(Maoist) to observe restraint. The chances of peace, of course, do depend on both the sides observing restraint. In Andhra Pradesh, during the peace talks both the sides – Maoists and government – observed remarkable restraint and there was no loss of human life for about 10 months. That it did not last is a different story.

    Implications of Kidnapping

    Having witnessed the way the Rajshekhara Reddy government went back on the 2004 ceasefire agreement and the way the home minister Chidambaram broke the word he gave to Swamy Agnivesh, the way the Maoist leader Azad, engaged in finalising the process of peace talks, was killed, and the way the agreement in Orissa has been treated, peace initiatives do not seem to hold much promise at this point of time. Yet, the historical possibility of such an experiment persists.

    Kidnap as a method of resistance has its own multiple facets and it requires a separate and detailed analysis. This Orissa kidnap led to a debate on Maoist concerns and their approach to the development model. The media in the country has been debating and propagating their methods of resistance and not their politics. The State in the process of containing or countering the movement is becoming increasingly repressive and lawless in its behaviour. In this particular case officers like Vineel Krishna, unlike many other insensitive corrupt bureaucrats, emerged as more pro-tribal.8 There is an impressive goodwill for him among the tribals. An old tribal woman observed: “some of the previous collectors should have been kidnapped and not this collector”. A responsive and law-abiding culture on the part of the State in dealing with deprivation of the tribals and their resistance would have had a far-reaching positive impact rather than responding to such contingencies and later not abiding by its own commitment. The CpI(Maoist) should also rethin k this method as it cripples the sympathetic civil servants who work for the people, and the police force starts invadin g the space legitimately belonging to the civil bureaucracy.9 This has the danger of causing further brutalisation of the State.

    The kidnapping and consequent developments raise larger questions: the basic question relates to the implications of this method in settling political issues. This assumes importance against the backdrop of a decline in the quality of governance and an overall erosion of legitimacy of state power. Representative democracy in India has turned into a formalistic arrangement; its roots are no more in the grassroots. As a result, there is a range of movements outside the formal structure pressurising the system to deliver. The entire debate and fight against corruption is part of this syndrome. This is a fallout of the model of development which is driven by global economic interests. The model leaves no space for consultation, involvement and people’s participation. Any resistance against the model in any form is sought to be put down even through unlawful anti-social forces all over India, particularly in the hot-spots of political confrontation. Kidnapping in this process has come to be used as a method for settlement of political issues.

    The political potential of this method is limited as it lacks the political capacity to alter the terms and conditions of the development model. The charter of demands in the case of the Malkangiri kidnap had something to do with the faulty model, but a kidnap in no way makes the rulers reconsider or

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    COMMENTARY

    re-examine the path of development as their interests have got entangled with global interests and not with the future of the Indian masses. Kidnapping can at best be a part of a politics of contingency, it cannot be a catalyst in the politics of transformation.

    Notes

    1 The mediators got an impression that the Orissa government was taking the decisions under pressure from the central home ministry.

    2 Now the Orissa High Court has given a reasonably favourable judgment ordering the Orissa government to pay a compensation of Rs 3.5 lakh to the victims. The Orissa government, hopefully, will abide by the judgment.

    3 Sitanna’s wife filed a habeas corpus petition which the court did not admit. The fact of matter seems to be that Sitanna was picked up by border security force, ever since his whereabouts are not known. In all possibility he might have been killed.

    4 For instance, the government after some pressure called Radha Mohan and Sudhakar Patnaik and completed the formality of a meeting; neither was the government willing to give them the details about the tribals in prisons nor allowed them any access to the prisons or prisoners. When insisted the government took a position that such visits do not form a part of the agreement.

    5 This included an incident of killing of Lalit Kumar Dehuri who was under police custody at the time of mediation. His detention along with four other persons was brought to the notice of the home secretary who did not pay serious attention to the issue. The life of this young man could not be saved.

    6 In fact, the idea of peace talks has been in the air as the central home minister at least vaguely mentioned here and there about it. The Maoists seem to be favourably inclined for peace talks in West Bengal after the recent elections. There was such an initiative at the all-India level by the democraticminded and peace-loving individuals drawn from different walks of national life. The prospect of peace talks at national level is evasive but awaited.

    7 A list of Maoist violations given by the Orissa government.

    8 The district collector in his interaction with the press immediately after his release said that the Maoists took him to the most backward tribal belt and used his kidnap as a rallying point for airing the grievances of the tribals. He also added that he was treated well. Such sensitivity is of some value in the present day otherwise fast degenerating bureaucratic culture.

    9 Vineel Krishna has already been shifted from Malankigiri district.

    Reference

    Padel, Felix and Samarendra Das (2010): Out of This Earth (Hyderabad: Orient Black).

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