The Indian media has now reported what was common knowledge in Kandhamal: that the murder of Laxmanananda Saraswati, the VHP activist which resulted in further reprisals and attacks on Christian tribals by the VHP and its associated organisation, was committed by none other than the Maoists.
The Maoists are establishing a presence in Orissa, home to yet another of the poorest regions in the country, neglected by the state and where social institutions are monopolised by religious groups, competing against each in trying to instituting hegemony among the tribal poor. That explains the fact that the work by Christian groups who have set up schools and health institutions have been tried to be emulated by Hindu "evangelical" (if I can use the term) groups led by the VHP. It was a conscious effort by the Sangh Parivar to send in people like Lakshmanananda Saraswati in the late 1960s to this region to counter the hegemonic influence of the Christian missionary groups.
Years of competitive communalism have resulted in a dangerous polarisation in Kandhamal accentuated further by the dimension of a clash of castes between the predominantly Hindu kandhas and the predominantly Christians panas.
All this is brought about in an article in the EPW written by Prof. Pralay Kanungo, whose PhD dissertation was on the influence of the RSS and the Sangh Parivar in Orissa. I would only be belabouring the argument if I had to build upon this article. I would therefore want to focus on an aspect that Kanungo has not covered in the article: i.e. the role of the Maoists in the Laxmanananda affair.
As mentioned earlier, the Maoists are building a solid base in Orissa. Just before the murder of the VHP activist, there was the incident in Malkangiri where members of the commando squad, Greyhounds were targetted in a daring attack on the Malkangiri reservoir. A friend of mine, who was just a few months ago with the IPS told me how this was unprecedented involving as it had, Greyhound commandos who are noted for their "higher" professional rigour in policing, planning and anti-insurgency operations. There must have been a serious intelligence problem that resulted in this situation, he said.
Getting back to the point, the Maoists are also very active in the Koraput region adjoining Kandhamal (Phulbani) in the south. The killing of Laxmanananda and the intervention of the Maoists in the communally sensitive region (which was already under tremendous riot stress since last year) is only a means for the CPI(Maoist) to extend its influence in this region.
What is questionable is not whether the Maoists want to establish their presence. They have tried to work their praxis in regions where the Indian state has been a total failure in many senses and have tapped the dis-affection so rising in these regions. That has helped to retain an influence in such parts by mobilising the poor, mostly the tribals and the landless.
What is questionable is whether the praxis that the Maoists have engaged in, in order to establish/ retain their influence in those regions, is correct or reasonable. In the Kandhamal case, the reason offered by the Maoists for murdering Laxmanananda are omissions/ commissions and sins of terrorising the Christian populations in the course of the conversion-reconversion issue. But has murdering Laxmanananda enfeebled the communal atmosphere in the region or has it helped those poor Christian tribals under the brunt of the RSS/VHP communal offensives?
The answer is a simple no. What the Maoist act of violence has brought upon is merely more misery on the very same Christian tribal population for whose "cause", the Maoists had acted upon. Many a Christian institution has been razed to the ground, many a tribal has been affected due to the riots-a fallout of the murder while the State (the BJD-BJP government) has just played a silent spectator to the whole mess.
Far from bringing any change in riotous atmosphere or empowering the poor from getting out of the spiral processes of violence and hatred-generation, the murder has only heightened and accentuated such processes, making everyone, Christian, Hindu or anyone else an easy target for the "other".
Therein lies the problem with the Maoists' praxis in this country. Armed struggle and all that in an un-responsive and irresponsible state get easily justified by the Maoists who point out to the failure of the state. But their praxis only exacerbates the situation and forces the very same person whom the Maoists claim to represent, to be caught into a vortex of even great misery and violence.
Surely, the democratic route of mobilising the poor and making them get out of the rut that they are forced into because of the presence of the communal institutions cannot be ruled out altogether, as the Maoists have so recklessly done.
As for the state, it is even more imperative that some capture of the "welfare hegemony" by its secular apparatus is to be done in order to normalise the communally sensitive region where the civil society is itself hegemonised by the communal groups. Under the BJD-BJP alliance led government however, that seems to be an impossibility. As for the Congress, they are only too keen to play the same game as their counterparts in power in Orissa- this time serving the interests of the petty bourgeoisie and the elite of the Pana community in the region. There is no hope for Orissa if such a bipolar political system involving the BJP-BJD versus the Congress persists; not to mention the reckless violent praxis of the Maoists.