Chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who also holds the home portfolio, has been making special efforts to curb the menace of left-wing extremism in Odisha. His efforts have drawn praise from Union home minister Amit Shah who is currently on a visit to the state. Taking part in a series of programmes in Bhubaneswar today, Shah said Odisha had always supported the Centre in its fight against left-wing extremism.
Admitting that there has been a significant drop in the incidents of violence by Maoists and Naxalites of different hues, Shah thanked Patnaik for extending necessary cooperation to the Centre on this front. Before Shah, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also hailed Patnaik as a shining example of cooperative federalism.
The progress made by Odisha in the field of curbing Maoist violence has been truly commendable. The state in 2012 had 19 districts under the Centre’s Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme exclusively meant for capacity building in the areas hit by Maoist violence. However, sustained police operation combined with a developmental drive in these areas forced the ultras to retreat from many of their citadels.
The two-pronged strategy of coercion combined with development worked and in 2018 six districts – Jajpur, Dhenkanal, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Gajapati and Ganjam – were declared free from Maoist activities and removed from the SRE list. In 2020, five more districts were taken off this list.
The fact is that today the rebels are on the back-foot even in their best-known strongholds of Koraput and Malkangiri that share borders with Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, both of which have a long history of left-wing insurgency. One of the biggest successes of the Patnaik government in Malkangiri has been the inauguration of Gurupriya bridge connecting the district’s “cut-off” area (now referred to as the Swabhiman Anchal) with a population of around 25,000 with the mainland.
With Chief Minister Patnaik throwing the bridge open to the public in 2018, the government has not only been able to intensify its operation against the rebels in this rough terrain but also step up its developmental drive. The people of this once underdeveloped region are experiencing the joys of modern life for the first time over the past four decades. New roads have been laid in the villages where schools, hospitals and mobile towers have come up. With people tasting the fruits of development after a long time, they are beginning to resent the violent activities of the Maoists who have fled most of their strongholds in this region.
The two-pronged strategy of combining coercive action against the Maoists with a developmental drive in the areas of their dominance is the brainchild of the five-time Chief Minister, who decided to tackle the problem of left-wing extremism with all seriousness once he took charge of the home portfolio. The praise showered on him by Shah is more than well deserved as the ever-popular Chief Minister has set an example before the rest of the country.