A fortnight before the panchayat elections in Odisha, the Maoists are engaged in mortal muscle-flexing if last Wednesday’s outrage on the state’s border with Andhra Pradesh is an index to go by. The killing of seven policemen in a landmine blast has tragically buttressed their resolve to boycott the local elections in the absence of development and grinding poverty in a predominantly rural state. A cruel irony when one reflects that Odisha has fared commendably in terms of industrial investment. This is the crux of the issue; it is public policy and development, and not ideology, that predominates over the current philosophy of the Left radicals as well as the reluctant revolutionaries of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The burial of ideology is manifest in West Bengal's Junglemahal no less. It would be labouring the obvious to cavil at the colossal failure of Intelligence; more accurately, this is the thread that runs from Koraput (February 2017) to Dantewada (April 2010). It is pretty obvious too that the extremists were aware of the movement of the police team, that was on its way to Angul for training. The landmine was strategically planted beneath a culvert on the National Highway fairly close to the inter-state border, blowing up the police vehicle to smithereens. The enormity of the tragedy must raise questions about the priorities of the administration in Bhubaneswar which has been riveted to the smooth conduct of the campaign.

As it turns out, the Maoists have struck despite the security forces being on “high alert” in view of the poll boycott call. With the election campaign now in full swing, the butchery has happened despite the beefed up policing ever since the Maoists resolved to thwart the electoral process, a determination that is fearsomely reminiscent of the early 1970s. For all the “campaign security”, the extremists have managed to strike at a point along the National Highway where traffic is heavy and checking/patrolling not as stringent as in the Maoist-dominated areas in the periphery of Odisha’s border with Andhra Pradesh. After three months, last Wednesday witnessed the first major strike by the Left-wing extremists who had appeared to be on the back foot after as many as 31 activists were shot in a joint security operation carried out by the Andhra Pradesh and Odisha police in Malkangiri district. It may not be wholly coincidental that on the day of the mayhem, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik highlighted the abysmal failure of development in what they call the “KBK” region, comprising Koraput, Bolangir, and Kalahandi districts. Juggling with alphabets such as GDP means little or nothing in rural Odisha in terms of opening of bank branches, the “un-banked” gram panchayats, or even improvement in the quality of life of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Altogether, a fertile ground for the extremists to strike.