Column: Pushing Rebels Back

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Finally state government’s developmental efforts in Malkangiri’s Swabhiman Anchal are paying dividends. Officials admit that with roads, bridges and culverts coming up in the area, which was once known as the “cut-off” belt because of its near-complete insulation from the district’s mainland, Maoist, who had turned it into their fortress, are on the back foot for the first time.

This region, with shares borders with Andhra Pradesh, has been a Red bastion for the last several decades. The rebels carried out several major attacks in this belt which were almost impossible to penetrate for the security forces until the Gurupriya bridge was inaugurated by the chief minister, Naveen Patnaik in 2018. The area’s reputation as a Maoist citadel was re-affirmed when the ultras kidnapped the then Malkangiri collector, R. Vineel Krishna from there in 2011. The radicals released him after nearly a week following acceptance of some of their major demands by the state government.

While the people of the region comprising 151 villages in nine-gram panchayats lived in the perennial fear of the Maoists the radicals ensured that government officials kept away from the area. Consequently, the area remained badly under-developed in terms of road connectivity, education and health. With roads in the villages in poor shape and boats being the only means of communication with the mainland around 25000 people inhabiting this belt faced all kinds of hardships for more than three decades.

The construction of the Gurupriya bridge itself was delayed inordinately because of the rebel threat. The project which was conceived when Congress stalwart, JB Patnaik was the chief minister of the state had to be postponed repeatedly with Maoists scaring away the contractors. Finally, the work began when present chief minister, Naveen Patnaik decided to deploy BSF at the worksite and protected by the troops a Kolkata based agency began the work in the right earnest. Last year when Naveen threw the bridge open to traffic a wave of joy swept through the region which had road access to the mainland for the first time in several decades.

But the most important aspect of this development has been that it has opened the doors of new opportunities for the people of the region. While the state government has since launched several initiatives in the shape of road projects and strengthening of gram panchayats the people are now increasingly willing to cooperate with the security forces in their drive against the Maoists who have been pushed back to the borders of Andhra Pradesh.

Now the challenge before the administration is sustaining the developmental drive on the one hand and stepping up its campaign against the rebels on the other. Even experts agree that Maoists, who have been ruling the roost in this belt for several decades, would be forced to quit if the government can sufficiently develop the area and ensure that people cooperate with it in its drive against the ultras. This is a crucial moment in the history of the region and the government cannot afford to make any mistakes at this juncture.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)