How Odisha managed to ensure 2024 polls free of Maoist violence, 1st time since 1998 | India News – Times of India


BHUBANESWAR: Manguli Madkami, a 69-year-old voter of Sarkubandh village under Chitrakonda assembly constituency in Malkangiri district, recalled the nightmarish past of Maoist-orchestrated violence during elections, as he exercised his franchise without fear on May 13.
The peaceful transition this time was something he never imagined, with armed Maoists previously setting ablaze polling booths, snatching EVM and ballot boxes, assaulting polling personnel and killing civilians.
Odisha’s 11 Maoist-affected districts — Koraput, Malkangiri, Rayagada, Bargarh, Balangir, Nabarangpur, Kalahandi, Nuapada, Kandhamal, Boudh and Sundargarh — went to polls on May 13 and 20. Not a single Maoist-related violence was reported this time, a first-of-its-kind achievement for Odisha police since the 1998 Lok Sabha polls.
“From 1998 Lok Sabha elections to 2019 simultaneous assembly and parliamentary elections, Odisha had been witnessing violence triggered by Maoists. In every election, Naxals gave ‘poll boycott’ calls and fomented violence. For the first time, not a single Maoist-related incident was reported this poll season. Credit goes to the collective efforts by our personnel, operations wing and SPs of districts concerned,” director general of police Arun Kumar Sarangi said.
Past poll violence
Police sources said at least 51 violent incidents, including killing of five civilians by Maoists, were reported during Lok Sabha polls in 1998 and 1999, and assembly election in 2000, and simultaneous parliamentary and assembly elections in 2004, 2009, 2014 and 2019 in Odisha.
“In 1998 Lok Sabha elections, our state witnessed the first Maoist violence in Rayagada district. They attacked polling personnel and killed a havildar,” DGP Sarangi said.
Police sources said the 2009 poll season reported the maximum of 26 violent incidents perpetrated by Maoists, including four murders, among them an MLA candidate, in Malkangiri district. On March 28, 2009, Maoist cadres shot dead Nanda Katayani, ex-zilla parishad president at Sikhapali and burnt his motorcycle. On April 9, 2009, Naxals killed Somanath Madkami, an MLA candidate of Samruddha Odisha for Malkangiri assembly seat after elections, sending cops into a tizzy. In the intervening night of April 23 and 24, 2009, Maoists killed Kasa Madhi, ex-ward member at Palkonda. Maoists gunned down a civilian, named Badrinarayan Patra on May 29, 2009.
Maoists gave jitters to cops during the twin elections in 2019 too. On Apr 17, polling personnel who were on their way to Phulbani escaped a landline blast triggered by Maoists. Armed Maoists then torched the vehicle of the polling party, EVMs and VVPATs. The polling personnel were released unharmed.
On Apr 17, armed Maoists fired on a vehicle carrying polling personnel, killing one Sanjukta Digal, a gram rozgar sevak, who was assigned election duty in Malkangiri district.
What changed in 2024
ADG (operations) Dev Datta Singh said several factors led to no Maoist violence this time, including extensive anti-Maoist operations, accurate intelligence gathering and execution, and the state govt’s surrender and rehabilitation policy for Left-wing extremists.
“The state police have turned the tables over the last few years. Odisha police continue to have an upper hand on the Red rebels because of our sustained anti-Maoist operations based on accurate intelligence inputs,” Singh said.
In the run-up to the polls, police stepped up its operations from Jan. At least 10 exchanges of fire involving security personnel and Maoists have occurred, leading to the death of four rebels (two in Boudh and one each in Nabarangpur and Nuapada districts) between Jan and May.
Arrest of top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda from Berhampur on July 17, 2014 gave a body blow to the rebels in the state. Currently, only about 240 cadres are active in Odisha. Of them, 200 are from neighbouring Chhattisgarh.
The landscape of Maoist-dominated swabhiman anchal in Malkangiri, earlier known as cut-off area or bichhinnanchala, has completely changed after construction of the Gurupriya bridge in July 2018, about nine months before the 2019 polls. The 910-metre-long bridge improved connectivity to a great extent, facilitating smooth movement of security forces.
Nobody can better realise the transformation in Malkangiri than chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s special secretary R Vineel Krishna. While he was posted as the district collector of Malkangiri, Krishna was kidnapped by Maoists on Feb 16, 2011 and later released.
Challenges remain
Though the LWE situation has been under control and is now limited to 11 out of total 30 districts, the Maoists have reportedly been trying to make their presence felt by striking in a sporadic manner. Keeping in mind the strong presence of Maoists in neighbouring Chhattisgarh where at least 112 rebels have been killed in Bastar region this year, the Odisha police have constituted a joint task force (JTF), consisting of police of both states as well as central forces to strengthen coordination and sharing of intelligence to combat the LWE menace.


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