In a quiet coup of sorts, Maoists have taken control of panchayats in about 30 blocks of Malkangiri and Koraput districts in the ongoing panchayat elections in Orissa. All their nominees have been elected unopposed after the Maoists warned local people against nominating any other candidate. Close to 2,500 members of these panchayats have also been elected unopposed. Sources said at least 32 heads of panchayats (sarpanches) have known Maoist links.
Wary that this could undermine anti-Naxal efforts by helping them expand their base, an alarmed centre has asked the state government to step in. The main cause of worry is that panchayats have access to considerable funds under various social schemes including NREGS, besides what accrues from the devolution package.
A few months ago, Maoist groups had issued a call to boycott these elections in eight districts including Malkangiri, Koraput, Kandhamal, Nuapada and Nayagarh. This was followed by a more specific threat against candidates who attempted to file nominations without Maoist consent.
These districts benefit from the Backward Region Grant Fund and much of it has to be implemented by panchayats. The prospect of Maoist groups controlling development funds and dispersing it as per their priorities, officials say, is a “very disturbing trend”.
The central government has asked security agencies to keep a close watch on the situation.