BHUBANESWAR: Come March 11, Narayanpatna block in Odisha could officially be under Maoist control! At least seven of the nine panchayat samiti members of this extremist-dominated block in Koraput district are believed to enjoy strong backing of the Red guerillas, police sources said.
Maoists ensured the block chairperson would be a camp follower by getting seven of their supporters unopposed in the nine-member panchayat samiti (PS), police sources disclosed. Consequently, the extremists would, for the maiden occasion in Odisha, participate in governance through proxy. They are also in a position to play the decisive role in at least two other blocks, Bandhugaon in Koraput and Kalimela in Malkangiri, police sources added. Election of chairperson and vice-chairperson of panchayat samitis is slated on March 11 and 21 respectively.
In Bandhugaon, police and intelligence sleuths believe five of the 12 PS representatives belong to the extremist fold, while in Kalimela eight of the 21 PS members are suspected to have strong Maoist links. Barring elections to zilla parishads, political party symbols were not used in ward member, sarpanch and panchayat samiti polls which concluded two weeks ago.
Though the Odisha government outlawed CPI (Maoist) in June, 2006, and the ultra Left party is also ideologically opposed to participating in elections, the recent rural elections in Odisha saw the Red rebels push their representatives into the panchayati raj institutions through proxy, police sources said. “On earlier occasions, they usually gave election boycott calls and did not set up significant number of candidates. This time around they ensured at least 32 sarpanch and 43 panchayat samiti members were elected uncontested. This is a big jump in numbers compared to 2007,” an official source quoting intelligence reports said.
Official sources said, of the total 6228 for which polls were held 227 sarpanchs won unopposed. This includes 32 Maoist-backed contenders, including 13 each in Malkangiri and Koraput districts. Further, 358 of the 6231 panchayat samiti members got elected without contest, of which 43 are said to enjoy the Maoists’ support. Even the zilla parishad member from Narayanpatna is believed to be from Maoist camp and holds the key to who would control the 29-member Koraput ZP as both BJD and Congress are tied with 14 seats each. Of the over 87,000 ward members, around 2500 are suspected to have ties with Red ultras, sources added.
“Since 2008 they are calling the shots in Narayanpatna, which they intend to make a ‘liberated zone’. Now, they would administer through proxy,” a senior cop said, adding, “Narayanpatna could end up becoming a model in Odisha as people would see how Maoists govern. They have been waging a war against the democratically elected government. Five years later they would have to prove what difference they made to improve the state of affairs in Narayanpatna.”
While the administration of Narayanpatna block slipping into extremists’ hands has become a foregone conclusion, both the central and state governments are worried over the growing presence of Maoists’ in the three-tier panchayat institutions as they could easily misappropriate money under social welfare schemes, including MGNREGS, and use it to promote extremism.
Concerned, the Union home ministry recently asked the state government to countermand polls in pockets where Maoist-backed candidates have won through coercion and intimidation, sources said. But the state government, wary of possible legal and other repercussions suggested the Centre to stop funding such panchayats. This, sources added, has led to a tussle between the Union home and rural development ministries with former supporting the “no-funding” idea while the latter sees no merit in it.