Following the abduction of two Italian nationals in Odisha’s Kandhamal district on 14 March, the state leadership of the banned Maoist party has declared ceasefire and issued a set of demands (see box). Late last night, the party named three mediators and gave the Odisha government a 20 March deadline by which to invite the mediators for dialogue. The deadline expires tonight.
On Monday afternoon, Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik acknowledged the Maoist demands. “A pamphlet containing 13 demands of the Maoists has been received,” Patnaik said in a statement at the Assembly. He added that the government could not take any further step until the Maoists named negotiators. The three names released by the Maoists last night are Narayan Sanyal, a Maoist Central Committee member currently in a Jharkhand jail, Biswapriya Kanungo, a human rights activist in Odisha, and Dandapandi Mohanty, convenor of Odisha’s Jan Adhikar Manch. There has been no official reaction from the government since.
“The Maoist party wants Narayan Sanyal to lead the talks. He must be released from jail so he can be present at the talking table. The government must also declare ceasefire before any dialogue can begin,” Mohanty told TEHELKA. Mohanty was also one of the mediators during the last hostage crisis. Speaking to TEHELKA before his name was declared by the Maoists, Mohanty expressed anguish over how recent peace talks have fared. “Look at what happened with Sujatro Bhadra in West Bengal, or with Swami Agnivesh. If the government asks me to mediate and gets someone killed in my name, what is the point? I am waiting to see what the government says.” Two former Central Committee leaders, Azad and Kishenji, were killed during the process of peace talks. The Maoist party alleges that both were fake encounters.
This recent abduction comes almost a year after the kidnapping of Vinnel Krishna, a district collector in Odisha’s Malkangiri district. Mohanty further added that the Odisha government had not yet honoured any of the promises made last year, despite the safe release of Krishna. “Last year, five people were released from jail and the cases against them withdrawn. But this happened through the courts with the due process of law. The government did not itself meet any of the other demands.”
While the demands broadly remain the same, there is a key difference between the two abductions. While Krishna’s abduction was led by the Andhra-Odisha Border zonal committee, this one appears to be the brainchild of Sabyasachi Panda, the Odisha State Secretary. Last year, sources close to the Maoist party had told this correspondent of a possible conflict between the Telugu and Oriya cadre of the party. While the demands last year had asked for the release of 600 tribals and several Maoist leaders, a key name had been missing from the list: Subashree Panda, Sabyasachi’s wife. Her release is now one of the key demands.
TEHELKA has a list of the 13 demands. Of all the names mentioned below, TEHELKA can confirm that two are top Maoist leaders. “Of 430 people we want released, about 20 could be Maoist cadres or people related to the party. The rest are innocent ordinary citizens,” a party source told this correspondent. Here are the demands as they appear in a pamphlet signed by Sunil, Odisha State Organising Committee of CPI (Maoist).
1. Foreign tourists should stop photographing adivasis, selling their photographs, and treating them like objects and monkeys.
2. Stop Operation Green Hunt. Combing operations should be stalled and paramilitary forces withdrawn from all districts of Odisha.
3. The ban on the Maoist party and seven mass organisations should be lifted.
4. The deaths of Lalit Devri, Junesh Badareita and Pradeep Majhi should be looked into by the Odisha High Court and the Odisha Human Rights Commission. Officers responsible should be booked for murder under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. (The Maoist party alleges that one was killed in a fake encounter and the other two are custodial deaths.)
5. Arati Majhi should be unconditionally released. (Majhi is a tribal woman who the Maoists allege was raped by the forces in 2010. She has been in Behrampur jail for two years. A fact finding report by PUCL has also alleged rape.)
6. Ashutosh Soren, Kamal Kamsetti, Kishore Jena, Sujata, Pratap Pindhaka, Mandeu Lata Mudali languishing in Bhubaneswar jail should be released. (Soren is a Central Committee Member of the CPI (Maoist))
7. Despite her case being squashed by the Odisha High Court, Subashree Panda has been again implicated in false cases. She along with Lalit should be unconditionally released. (Panda is the wife of Sabyasachi Panda, Maoist Odisha State Secretary)
8. Shatragun Biswal, Uttam, Shehkar, Sudharshan Mandal, Ramesh Nayak, Lata, Bijal, Ratna, and all other tribals in the jails of Gajapati, Ganjam, Kandhamal, Bhubaneswar, Sambalpur, Mohirganj should be released. (Uttam is a former Maoist Odisha State Secretary)
9. Ten tribes should be given adivasi status including the tribes of Jharia, Kandadora, Abakoi, Gorakoi, Sora, Khundarkoi.
10. All Odisha tribal areas should have drinking water and irrigation facilities, and every panchayat should have a “sarkari daftar”. The government should provide free education until high school.
11. Gananath Patra, Junesh Pradhan, Manmohan Pradhan, two students and 50 tribals of Kandhamal district, wrong jailed, should be released. (Patra is a former professor and advisor of the Chasi Muliya Adivasi Sangh, Junesh Pradhan is the ex-chairman of the Daringbadhi block in Kandhamal district, from where the duo was kidnapped. Manmohan Pradhan is the hushand of the sarpanch of Sonpur.
12. Sandeep Pradahan has been illegally detained for a year by the Keonjhar police. He should be unconditionally released. (Sources say Sandeep’s wife had won a court case against the police. Sandeep was released for a day and picked up again)
13. Meet all promises made by the government before the release of Vineel Krishna.