Odisha buckles under Reds' pressure
The unprecedented swap deal — 27 prisoners for 2 hostages — that the Odisha government has decided to strike with Maoists has set alarm bells ringing in the administrative circle, which believes the move will set a bad precedent and encourage reruns of the tactic. Particularly anguished is the police department, which has borne the brunt of extremist violence in the past few years. Though it is still unclear whether at this juncture the rebels would finally agree to release the two hostages — MLA Jhina Hikaka and Bosusco Paolo, the Italian national — for 27 of their comrades and supporters, or extract more from a seemingly nervous Naveen Patnaik government. The Odisha government on Thursday named 27 people, including at least eight Maoists and top rebel Sabyasachi Panda’s wife Subhashree, to be released in exchange for the two hostages. “The government will take necessary legal steps of facilitating the release of a total of 27 persons,” CM Patnaik told the state Assembly while declaring the names. “The state government has made this gesture on humane grounds. I do hope the Maoists will reciprocate in a similar spirit and release the honourable MLA and also the Italian national immediately.’’ Those to be freed include six women.The government, official sources said, did not agree to Sabyasachi’s demand to free CMAS advisor Gananath Patra, Kamalakanta Sethy and his wife Sujatha and Sudarshan Mandal, among others. Officials feel the deal could prompt not just Maoists but even other agitating groups to adopt the hostage tactic as, besides escalating Maoist menace, Odisha has witnessed a series of movements against land acquisition by the government for private industries and unrest in other social sectors. Police records rank Odisha third after Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand in incidents of abduction by Maoists. In the past four years, the rebels have abducted nearly 140 people and killed 15 of them. But the trend to kidnap high profile people and force government to release their cadres from jail began in February 2011 when they abducted the then Malkangiri collector R Vineel Krishna at gunpoint. The extremists had succeeded in getting at least five of their people released from police custody then. This time, the Maoists with two Italians and one ruling BJD MLA in their captivity seemed more confident of getting the government to agree to their terms.