Though bereft of the ideological fury that had once influenced the Naxalites ~ the embroidery of “Maoists” was woven much later ~ there is little doubt that Wednesday’s mayhem in Odisha’s Kandhamal district, on the day before the Assembly election, was intended to disrupt the second phase of the general election to five Lok Sabha and 35 seats of the state legislature.
Trashed in the event is the administration’s smugness after the fairly peaceful first phase on 11 April in the Maoist nerve-centres of Malkangiri, Koraput and Nawarangpur.
It thus comes about that the Left radicals were able to trigger a landmine explosion, shoot a woman polling personnel dead, and then attack a vehicle in which the rest of the team was travelling with an “election duty” sticker.
The Maoists would appear to have carried out their operation with impunity and without a trace of the security forces, Central or state, around. The gathering strom clouds ought to have put the district administration on alert in view of the poll boycott posters across the poverty-stricken Kandhamal district.
More than 45 years after the spirited call to boycott elections ~ Paliament, the extremists had then contended, is a ‘piggery’ ~ the Maoists have renewed the call to boycott the tryst with democracy. While there appears to have been a burial of ideology across the Red Corridor, they have pursued their anti-election rhetoric with their customary intent, mortally violent.
From circa 1972 to 2019, there has been no change in the goalpost so far as elections are concerned. From one Wednesday to the next, unmistakable is the thread that links Odisha to Chhattisgarh, more accurately Kandhamal to Dantewada, the second a hotbed of Left radical activity.
On 9 April, two days prior to the first phase of the Lok Sabha election, a BJP MLA and four security personnel were killed in an ambush. The Maoists blew up their vehicle in a targeted attack ~ or surgical strike, if you will ~ on a group of BJP leaders in a state that was ruled by the saffronite party till a few months ago.
In Chhattisgarh too, the extremist war-cry was against elections and notably bereft of any class underpinning and the annihilation agenda… as in the early 1970s. In both states, the state security network was palpably caught with its pants down.
As at Dantewada during the outrage in April 2011, the lacunae in terms of security have scarcely been addressed either in Odisha or Chhattisgarh. It is all very well for the administration in Bhubaneswar to ensure the deployment of 40 platoons of CRPF, BSF and the Cobra Battalion in Kandhamal.
On closer reflection, this is only to be wise after the event. As in Dantewada, the central forces are not expected to be readily familiar with the topography. On the contrary, the state police almost definitely is. Sad to reflect, they have been found wanting in the season of elections… both in Chhattisgarh and now in Odisha.