Maoists lose three-decade-old ‘safe haven’ in Odisha

Bhubaneswar: While the killing of at least 24 Maoists, including seven of their top leaders, dealt a major psychological blow to the outlawed CPI(Maoist) in Odisha, it has boosted the morale of the security personnel as the Maoists have lost their “safe home” in Malkangiri district.

The killings took place during a joint operation by Odisha and Andhra Pradesh police at Bejingi in the Panasput gram panchayat area under Chitrakonda police station in Malkangiri district, surrounded by hills and forests on three sides and Balimela reservoir on one.

The ultras used to take shelter there after committing violence in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh or Chhattisgarh, said Nihar Nayak, a researcher of the Maoist movement in Odisha, adding that they used to take advantage of the geographical location of the area since they started operating from these parts in the 1980s.

When the Maoists had started using the place as a “safe haven” in the 80s, the then Odisha government had taken little action because the ultras refrained from creating any disturbance in the state. Their activities were mostly confined to Andhra Pradesh, said a senior police officer.

The Bejingi area, where today’s operation took place, had hosted a meeting of top Maoist trainers last night. The rebels did not think that the security personnel would launch an assault in the deep forests surrounded by hills and flanked by a reservoir, the officer said.

The Maoists had eliminated at least 38 security personnel, including 35 members of Greyhound, Andhra Pradesh’s elite anti-Naxal force, while they were crossing the Balimela reservoir in a mechanised boat in 2008.

At least 24 Maoists, including seven of their top leaders, were today gunned down in a fierce gun-battle with the security forces in Odisha’s Malkangiri district on the border with Andhra Pradesh. .

While using the place as a “safe haven”, the Maoists also used the carrot-and-stick policy for the locals. The villagers who opposed them were eliminated after being branded as “police informers” and those who supported them got praise from the rebels, said a panchayat level politician from Chitrokonda area.

In their bid to keep the “cut-off area” safe and out of reach for the security personnel, the Maoists in the past had destroyed equipment used in road construction, mobile phone towers and government buildings.

Now that the Odisha government has been constructing a major bridge (918-mtr) at Gurupriya to connect 151 villages in the “cut-off area”, the Maoists would further lose their “safe shelter”, said a local engineer, adding that the construction of the bridge was likely to be completed by the end of 2018.

Meanwhile, the Maoists’ stronghold of Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon blocks in Koraput district are now “within the reach” of the administration after a series of police operations.

“After today’s operation, the Maoists have suffered a major setback in the entire south Odisha, particularly in Koraput and Malkangiri districts,” a top police officer involved in anti-Maoist operations said.

Earlier, the Maoist movement had suffered a setback when Sabyasachi Panda quit the CPI(Maoist) and formed his own group, ‘Odisha Maobadi Party’. Panda is in jail, leading to a decline in Maoist activities in Gajapati, Rayagada and Ganjam districts.

However, the Maoists have re-grouped in Kalahandi, Boudh and Kandhamal. Naxal cadres, mostly from Chhattisgarh, operate in the western region of the state, while the guerrillas from Andhra Pradesh operate in south Odisha, the officer said.

Today’s successful operation took place when the Maoists were threatening the people to boycott the three-tier panchayat polls slated for February next.

Maoist leader Ramakrishna had reportedly addressed a meeting in the Jantri area in the “cut-off zone” earlier this month and asked the tribals to boycott the polls.