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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 40, September 24, 2011

Interrogating State and Civil Society on Malkangiri Abduction

A Debate on the Praja Court Perspective of Development

Wednesday 28 September 2011, by Kamalakanta Roul



Corporate socialism and stashed black money are two tentacles of the neo-liberal mascot of the Indian state. It has owed little responsibility in regard to ensuring development for all, especially the poor and marginalised sections. The emergence of the global competitive market economy widens the huge gap between the urban-rural, poor-rich and state-society relations. It escalates the militant menace in the corporate corridors of the mineral-rich Adivasi courtyard. The militancy here alludes to the state-sponsored developmental terrorism on the poor and marginalised Adivasis. The new economic policy of modern capitalism represents a model of development that has led to inequities, suppression of human values, labour unrest, human rights violations, tribal alienation and breakdown of the social support system. The concerned model of development forms the genesis of deprivation. This kind of development deprives several marginalised sections of basic resources as in the case of the ‘cut-off’1 region’s inhabitants of the Malkangiri district of Odisha.

The abduction of the Malkangiri Collector, Veenel Krishna, in the month of February 2011 by the Maoists raised a question on the relevance of the present pattern of development strategy of the Odisha State in the ‘cut-off’ region of the Balimela reservoir. In these Adivasi regions, the Odisha State has adopted a ‘battalion approach’2 of development. Some of the civil society organisations watch the whole process as ‘passive spectators’.3 In fact, local civil societies claim to focus on multiple issues only within the ‘accessible’ areas of the mainland. However, the basic needs of the inhabitants of the ‘cut-off’ regions are yet to be made available. No serious attempt has been made by the state or members of the civil society to locate these basic wants of the inhabitants. The Malkangiri Maoists’ ‘Praja Court’4 has presented a perspective on development before the abducted Collector. The local Adivasis’ deliberations and the Maoist leaders’ comments on the neoliberal model of development in the afternoon session of the Praja Court was the mainstream debate at that gathering. The abducted Collector also responded to the deliberations and dialogue of the Praja Court to defend the government’s policies.

The economic debate in contemporary India is conducted between two schools that T.N. Ninan and Ramachandra Guha call ‘reformists’ and ‘populists’. The reformists ask for a “freeing of market forces, the abolition of subsidies, the removal of restrictive labour laws, the full convertibility of the rupee and a general retreat of the state from intervention in the economy. Some even want healthcare and education to be privatised.”5 The populists, on the other hand, “demand restrictions on foreign investment, the continued nationalisation of key industries and the protection of the interests of labourers and small entrepreneurs. In addition they demand that the state implement land reforms, fund programmes to end rural poverty and provide subsidised food, housing and energy to the urban as well as rural poor.”6 Since the argument is based on the ‘populist model’ of development, this paper would like to emphasise on the ‘Praja Court’ as an addition to this populist model for the ‘cut-off’ regions.

The present paper intends to theorise these debates and dialogue in a broad perspective for public discourse. It examines the Praja Court as a medium through which Maoists deliberate their democratic decisions contrary to the state apparatus before the Adivasis. The proposition of the paper is based on the ‘populist model’ of contemporary debates on development. The paper also examines different debates on develop-ment, including the state, civil society and Praja Court model, and their relevance for the ‘cut-off’ regions. It analyses the state’s approach of top-down policy as coercive, absolutist, dehumanising and problem-creating. Similarly, the civil society’s indulgence of the development strategy reflects the nature of the exclusive, limited, show-biz, and rhetorical intellectua-lism. The pathological presence of the civil society and its limited operation have been probed in Odisha. The paper proposes that the ‘bottom-up’ approach of the Praja Court is more relevant, democratic and inclusive as a developmental strategy. It emphasises on the ‘many-sided’ process of development which is based on the ethno-cultural identity and solidarity of the Adivasi community. Finally, the paper wants to conclude by justifying the ‘Praja Court’ as another dimension of the ‘populist-model’ of bottom-up policy as an alternative to the top- down ‘battalion approach’ of the ‘reformist model’. On the other hand, the ‘Praja Court’ is under continuous controversy regarding its style of functioning. Critics define it as a “kangaroo court” replete with undemocratic practices. Here, the paper does not go into the “controversial part” and “undemocratic violent methods” of the Praja Court. The purpose of the paper is to nullify the ‘absolutist approach’ of the Indian state towards the development trajectory of the ‘cut-off’ regions. Indeed the absolutist approach aggravates the Maoist problem and hinders the peace dialogue.

Understanding a ‘Cut-Off’ Region

The Maoist abduction and captivity of the Collector helped to discover the real face of India in the ‘cut-off’ regions. These are one of the state-engineered highly inaccessible isolated regions which got detached from the physical geography of Malkangiri’s mainland since decades. Such a zone has been created owing to the construction of the Balimela hydro-power project near the Gurupriya and Seluru rivers in 1962. Conse-quently, the tribal population has been facing state negligence over the years making them vulnerable to Naxalite influence. “The regions, that is, Tentuliguda and Chintalahiri of Janavi Ghat of Balimela are deep inside the jungle and reservoir area. Similarly other such villages are Panasput, Jalabh, Badapada, Badapadra located inside the ‘cut-off’ region of Balimela. These ‘cut-off’ regions are more than 60 to 80 km from Chitrakonda and Malkangiri mainland.”7 The Balimela reservoir completely disconnected this whole area from the mainland. “It is the Janavi Ghat where one has to cross the Balimela reservoir by a motorboat before making another 6 km journey inside the jungle to reach the Chintalahiri crossing in Tentuliguda village where the Collector was kept.”8 There is no scope to dig borewell to provide drinking water here. The concerned ‘cut-off’ region was created on Gurupriya river on September 4, 1962 after the second joint enterprise of the governments of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. A total of 151 villages is disconnected from the mainland after the installation of a hydro-power project to generate electricity for the service of the nation. Its consequences are severe:

It has displaced around 2000 tribal families who later on largely rehabilitated themselves through their own arrangements. The double displacement of the Kondhs and Parojas (once due to Machhkund hydro-power project and again due to the Balimela hydro-power project) resulted in large scale eviction, loss of their lands, destruction of their places of worship and burial grounds, disoriented them culturally and weakened their solidarity and made them vulnerable to the blandishment of the govern-ment.9

The ethnic composition of the Malkangiri district consists of ten different types of Adivasi communities such as Koya, Paraja, Dharua/Durua, Matia, Bhumia, Bonda, Kandh, Gadaba, Halwa and Didayee.10 Even though there are some Adivasi communities like Rana, Mali and Gonda, they have not been recognised as Adivasi by the government. Similarly, Konda Reddy and Muka Dora have to be recognised by the Odisha Government as Adivasi after the demand of the Maoists during the Collector’s abduction. Others such as Paraja, Kandh and Koya are the major Adivasi communities in the ‘cut-off’ region of the Balimela reservoir.

The Battalion Approach: State’s War Against its Own People

The state adopts a militaristic policy to fight to the finish the ‘Red rebels’ and dissenting Adivasis rather than carry out the integrated development strategy in the mineral-rich backward regions. Its mechanism is hellbent on finishing the Maoists by creating a war-like situation in the tribal corridors. The Balimela reservoir has been marked by the continuous stationing of high-level task forces. It has become a battle- ground of the state against the dissenting people. In July 2009 the government launched a special attack by the ‘Greyhound Force’ (a specialised force of trained military personnel against the Maoists).11 The ‘battalion approach’ of the state outrightly rejects the socio-economic, political and ethno-cultural aspects of development followed by the Adivasis of the ‘cut-off’ regions. The government has been disseminating false propaganda against the ‘Red rebels’ that they are opposing since 2000 the construction of a bridge over the Gurupriya and Motu rivers at a cost of Rs 100 crores. It cites the reason that the Gurupriya bridge at Janavi will connect the ‘cut-off’ area with the mainland and once the connectivity will be there, the extremists’ activities will come down. So far the government inducted many task forces via different operations such as Operation Green Hunt, Combing Operation, Kobra Commandos, Greyhound Force, Special Police Officers (SPOs), Special Operation Group (SOG), and District Voluntary Force (DVF) etc. “There are currently seven battalions of the Central Government, the CRPF and 5 battalions of the Border Security Force deployed across Odisha, accounting for about 12,000 paramilitary troopers. There are also about 700 prisoners currently facing trial in Maoist-related cases, indicating that the State Government in Odisha is faced with tough decisions.”12 According to a recent report, there are 4480 SPOs working in Odisha.13 Finally, the state has even resorted to the extreme recruit-ment of Adivasis as SPO as a policy to divide the locals and arm one against the other without any accountability.14

The arbitrary arrest of and fake encounters implicating the Adivasis fuel their ire against the government. The Indian state rewards the so-called ‘encounter specialists’ (cold blooded murderers15 ) as the ‘bravest’ officers. The nature of arbitrary arrests can be found through some of the cases: tribals were arrested on charges that they attended Arundhati Roy’s meeting. Ms Padma, the wife of Maoist leader Ramakrishna, runs an orphanage in Hyderabad; she was arrested on November 13 last year and was in jail. Padma was arrested on the charge that she was trying to meet her son, Prithvi, who was in jail; Ganti Prasadam was arrested a week later on the charge that he was helping Padma to meet her son.16

The trust deficit leads the government to induct more military into this region to fight against its own people. ‘Operation Green Hunt’ and ‘Combing Operation’ are the two main projects of the government to dislodge the Maoists from the entire zone. “The security forces kill the civilians in the name of Maoists and it virtually becomes a war between the state and people. The life and liberty of the people have been put under constant threat and trauma. Adivasis fear to go to the jungle or market as false arrests or encounters might endanger their lives. The Forest Rights Act is another blow to their rights, freedom and livelihood. Imposition of restrictions to access the jungle makes their life more miserable.”17 The government had made a promise in the charter of agreement before the interlocutors not to take coercive action against the Maoist leaders and tribal people during the period of abduction whereas the subsequent actions by the police were blatant violations of this promise. The volte face by the Government of Odisha would aggravate the Maoist-Adivasi problem rather than finding a purposeful solution. It is deplorable the Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, declared the Maoists in 2006 to be the “single biggest national security threat” and soon followed that up by calling them a “virus” that needed to be “eliminated” .18

Development: Role of the State

Development is a gradual process of transition of the society from the lower form to a higher one. It can be identified as a ‘many-sided process’.19 The theory of modernity emphasises on the value system, individual motivation, capital accumulation and belief structure that play a major role in the transformation of society. On the other hand, dependency theorists view the problem of underdevelopment within the frame-work of international structures and processes. Gandhi was convinced that India resides in the villages and the cities are alien to it. However, he emphasised on agriculture-based small scale-cottage industry. He was deeply concerned about the enormous gap between the rural and urban India. On the other hand, Nehru’s mixed economy promoted heavy industry, produced goods and social overheads while de-emphasising the agricultural sector. He incorporated the formula of ‘growth with equity’ for building a developmental state to stimulate the growth of the economy. Similarly his vision on India’s “Tryst with Destiny” remained unfulfilled.

Three broad streams of thought on the socio-economic development of India dominated the development discourse on the eve of indepen-dence. These were: capitalist industrialisation with minimal state control and support, socialist industrialisation under state guidance, and the Gandhian theory of Sarvodaya based on decentralisation of state power. The debates on development in India ranged from land policies to industrial development and planning. The contraption of the New Economic Policy in the 1990s escalated the first stream of thought. Viewing from the broader perspectives of the development debate, this paper would like to locate the very specific problems of Koyas as a majority tribe of the Malkangiri district.

‘During the first Five Year Plan period, the planned development experience among the Koyas and other tribes of Malkangiri district was few and far between. With the establish-ment of the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDAs) in the tribal sub-plan areas, the mainland Koyas and other Adivasi communities derived some benefits as their habitat came within the jurisdiction of the Malkangiri ITDA in Odisha.’20

Neoliberal Economic Discourse

“Neoliberalism is the systematic use of state power to impose the (financial) market imperative in a domestic process that is replicated internationally by globalisation. It is a particular organisation of capitalism, which has evolved to protect capital(ism) and to reduce the power of labour.”21 The Indian economy was liberalised under the New Economic Policy in July 1991 by Manmohan Singh, the Finance Minister in the Narasimha Rao Government, with the promise of raising the living standards of the poor sections which had not been fulfilled. However, the
ruling economic and political forces of India instrumentalised the process of integration to ensure neoliberal hegemony. Consequently, the neoliberal policy tramples upon the poor, under-mines rights and entitlements, and seeks to defeat resistance. The economic role of the state has been minimised. Corporate power and market fundamentalism have increased. The support of Western capitalist forces to the state and civil society organisations peddle neoliberal values through foreign aid, debt relief, balance of payments, and diplomatic pressure. Poverty and social dislocation destabilise the Indian economy with multiple problems such as uneven growth rate, unemployment, and despoilment of environment.

Hence, the contribution of the Indian state to inclusive growth and development has come under close scrutiny of the public and this needs to be probed further. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, opined in Parliament: “Whenever I go abroad, people marvel that there exists a country like India…We are now the world’s second fastest growing economy… people talk in terms of an Indian model of growth whenever I go.”22 The neo-liberal economic policies of the government have failed to address the serious problems affecting the people and economy, that is, high inflation and relentless accentuation of the food and fuel crisis. In fact, the Congress-led coalition government is not able to move forward with the nineties reform agenda. The neo-liberal economic reforms, following the global pattern, no doubt undermine egalitarian distributive justice. Consequently the rich are getting richer and vice-versa. Fiscal deficit and current account deficit are still high in the contemporary Indian economy. The neo-liberal policy has become absolutist to invite corporate giants into the mineral rich tribal regions. The UPA-II’s policy towards the Naxal areas is more aggressive, militaristic (for example, Operation Green Hunt) and dehumanising. This policy of developing a militaristic economy is largely followed by the state in the tribal areas, especially in the ‘cut-off’ regions.

At the same time, Naveen Patnaik, the Chief Minister of Odisha, has been claiming of a ‘revenue surplus Budget’ with all-round develop-ment, that is, industrialisation, infrastructure and rural connectivity. The Finance Minister stated: “To achieve the goal of inclusive growth of economy, it was necessary to increase capital investment to bridge the gaps in social and physical infrastructure to make larger devolution of resources to the local bodies, to increase the efficiency of fiscal management, to improve the quality of public expenditure and to attract private investment through PPP projects.”23 But the development strategy in the Naxal-affected regions is out of context from the so-called “inclusive growth” idea. The Odisha Government is planning to conduct more combing operations or drone attacks on Maoists. It is pertinent to note that the people’s democratic movements have emerged and successfully challenged the liberal hegemony of the Indian state.

Marxist Mode

When the Prime Minister is selling the dream of ‘global recognition of India’s growth model’ the Chief Minister is proclaiming credit for a ‘surplus Budget’. In fact, such ideas, based on hypothetical notions of development, are irrational and destructive. At this crucial stage Indian States need an alternative model of development. Manoranjan Mohanty suggests an “alternative strategy”24 of development for inclusive growth that the Eleventh Five Year Plan proposed. He made it clear that attracting greater investment and pursuing welfare schemes for short-term relief would not be effective for each and every section of people. Because the short-term relief excludes the vast masses of the poor all over the country. The alternatives are: (a) bridging the wide gap between the middle class and the poor; (b) existing livelihood and natural resources must be by and large protected; (c) skilled middle class human resources should be used towards bridging the gap between agriculture and industries; (d) local caste and class interests must be addressed; (e) natural resources should be utilised for the people’s long term benefits with their consent; (f) proper utilisation of youth energy to energise the rural economy as well as Panchayati Raj.

Similarly, the “alternative path”25 of Amit Bhaduri and Medha Patekar begins with the adoption of a few practical steps such as: (a) deepening of democracy and people’s rights; (b) uneven growth of different sectors within the economy leading to negligence of people’s problems; (c) the ongoing industrialisation should involve the poor, mostly uneducated and illiterate people, as a propelling force for the creation and distribution of wealth; (d) proper use of the poor and unskilled people’s energy for achieving high growth rate; (e) the composition of our GDP must change for the larger interest. Production should be by the majority for their own use, while playing their rightful dual role as consumers and producers. The protection of the natural resources and environment could be carrited out through minimising their use. Finally, by and large both ‘alternative strategy’ and ‘alternative path’ must be expansive and inclusive of the ethno-cultural problems of development. That is why the Praja Court’s perspective adds a new dimension to the ongoing debate on development.

Civil Society: Response to Development

Civil society refers to the collective entity of the voluntary associations for a specific and limited purpose. Generally it denotes the notion of being “well-bred, gracious, refined, civilised and decent”.26 It is also conceived in a ‘civic sense’ and guided by ‘civic virtue’. Some analysts concur that “civil society comprises of diverse social collectives. It is an aspect of our social and political reality that provides a space between the family and the state/market for translating individual consciousness into collective consciousness” .27

Subir Sinha locates civil society within the neoliberal domain. He argues that the “neoliberal (project), the grand political project of our time, ostensibly aims to roll back the state and redistribute its functions to the market, but it also has a politics with respect to civil society” .28 The state’s failure of assuring development opens up the space for the neoliberal policy and essence of the civil society to carry forward its legacy. Economic failure inspires the state to take up reform through the ‘good governance’ agendas including decentralisation, participation, accoun-tability and transparency. Subir Sinha further contends: “In developing countries, where markets have not sufficiently developed, they (neoliberals) have argued for the distribution of the government’s social functions to ‘civil society’. Neoliberal international development agencies identify ‘civil society’ with NGOs, and attempt to define their form and function by disbursing large flows of development funds by incorporating these in making and implementing policy .”29 Aseem Prakash agrees certainly to Sinha’s views; however, he adds a new debate on the nature of ‘civil society’ in India. His argument can be put into the paradigm of ‘reformist’ and ‘populist’ debate of development. Prakash categorises civil society (NGOs) into two groups: people-centric and pro-state neoliberals. People-centric groups are populist and work toward protecting the civil liberties of the citizen, draw on the legacy of the new social movements, and social collectives of lower castes, that is, caste-based advocacy. “The ideological proclivity of these groups varies, but all of them can be broadly classified as progressive and democratic in nature and most of them oppose the present form of globalisation.”30

The second category is of pro-state neoliberal groups that come under the reformist domain. These groups are the agents of the government “who have to work in a project and time-bound mode. Consequently, they have become centres for the disbursement of funds received from various donors. The dependence on the government for funds as also develop-mental intervention makes them ineffective in demanding state accountability. The silence of these civil society agents during the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002”31 as well as Kandhamal in 2008 are bright examples of their mode of function.

In the case of Odisha, Aseem Prakash’s argu-ment has profound relevance and importance. The role of people-centric civil society organisations is very outstanding in Odisha. Such organi-sations—Bisthapana Birodhi Samiti of Kalinga-nagar, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh and Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti—are quite active and integrated in their approach. These types of civil society organi-sations have been taking the mainstream leadership of ‘people’s democratic movements’ against the ‘deficit of democratic development’ in the State from Kalinganagar to Kashipur. They are organising people’s democratic movements against forcible displacement and acquisition of land of the marginalised in several parts of Odisha. Recently, Odisha has been ranked as one of the poorest States of India. The development disparity among the SCs/STs of western and southern Odisha as well as the rural areas is quite acute. Ramchandra Guha argues that economic liberalisation has improved the lives of millions but has left millions more untouched. The tribals of Odisha are the foremost of the groups that have suffered from economic liberalisation. On this basis, he divided Odisha into the ‘coastal region’ dominated by caste Hindus and the mountain ranges ‘interior’ part filled mostly by the marginalised and Adivasis..

Development is taking its stride in the coastal region, though it is ‘deficit of democratic development’ by temperament. The people of the interior area of Odisha are the poorest and most vulnerable. In this connection the role of the civil society has to be examined in reference to the ‘cut-off’ region of Malkangiri. Since some of the civil society organisations are funded by the government, they can’t truly oppose the stands taken by the latter. They are used as channels to facilitate the neoliberal policies undertaken by the government.

The other groups (people-centric) “came up because of the tendency of the state, in alignment with entrenched sections, to indulge in violence against its citizens, especially the poor. These groups are working against the centralised, unaccountable, patriarchal and at times communal character of the state/society. They primarily draw on the legacy of the new social movements. These groups focus on people-centric development, tribal self-rule, attempt to make the state and its institutions transparent and accountable, protest against ‘development’-induced displacement, patriarchal domination, caste oppression, and the communalisation of the polity and society.”32

Haragopal comprehensively narrated the flux nature of Odisha’s civil society organisations, especially in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack.33 Concerned questions have already been raised on the problems of the civil society in several incidents in Odisha. Biswamoy Pati sparked a debate on the nature of the civil society with regard to the Graham Staines murder case (1999) and on the issue of conversion/reconversion in Odisha. He argues that in Odisha the civil society is communally biased. Some of the civil society organisations defend the perpetuation of communal violence and genocide. Pati further states: “Orissa in the present context seems to pose a serious set of problems for the very exis-tence of ‘civil society’ and it is here that one needs to understand the deeper problems in case one has to confront them.”34 Pralay Kanungo, following Pati, admitted that ‘civil society organisations are also communalised in Odisha ’.35 Contrary to Pati and Kanungo, Jonathan Parry and Christian Struempell expressed their faith over the role of the civil society while remem-bering the CITU “special constables patrolling Rourkela in 1984 to prevent anti-Sikh violence from spreading”.36 It is clear that Odisha has a strong presence of civil society organisation. However, the civil society has not been able to give adequate articulation of its position on several issues. Its act of operation is very limited, specific and dormant. Many critics have expressed their doubts pertaining to the passive nature of the civil society in Odisha. Pati sets the problem regarding the existence of the civil society. But the real problem lies with its functional aspects. In fact, Soumya Ranjan Patnaik contends that the “Odisha civil society needs a broader consensus and agreement on several issues for its healthy presence and effective functions”.37

Most of the State level civil society groups remained passive whereas the political parties in particular were active participants in the abduction issue. The nature of political civil society organisations was quite different. In an unprecedented move MLAs of different political parties unanimously passed a resolution in the Assembly for the safe release of the civil servant and extended support to the government and interlocutors. After the release of the civil servant they started to abuse the government and interlocutors that there was a financial kickback between them. The local media accused the interlocutor, Someswar Rao, as a fund-raiser for the Maoists and Dandapani Mohanty as a broker. G. Haragopal spoke of how the press made the false propaganda that the Collector had been released and walked free before one day of his actual release. It was for this reason that some national as well as local media apologised before the nation. Some of the civil society organisations raised doubts over the role of the interlocutors. Kalinga Sena, a fundamentalist group in Odisha, filed an FIR against Haragopal, Someswar Rao, and Danda-pani Mohanty alleging them to have taken bribe from the government. This organi-sation very derogatorily accused Dandapani Mohanty as a blackmailer and extortionist. On the other hand, Manash Kumar Parida, a social activist who hails from Jagatpur of Cuttack district, filed a PIL in the Odisha High Court demanding a CBI enquiry into the whole episode.

The civil society organisations in Odisha are more conscious of the interest which is specific to their nature and are least concerned about the general issues of the larger society. It is unfortunate that the collective response of the civil society on issues like farmers’ suicide, female foeticide, communal violence, reconversion, Dalit atrocities and so on is poor. Most civil society organisations are highly concerned over political issues rather than social and economic issues. They become more active and sensitive when a high-profile politician is involved in sex-related scandals such as the Anjana gang rape and Gayatri Panda issue. The collective effort of the civil society organisations has not been seen for the rescue or development of the inhabitants of the ‘cut-off’ region of the Balimela reservoir. It was manifested during the abduction of the Collector when these groups expressed their concern through protests and prayers for his release. But they didn’t bother to raise questions regarding the people’s sufferings or the nature of development in the ‘cut-off’ regions. Some of the local civil society organisations have been working on the socio-economic and cultural development of the indigenous tribals of the Malkangiri mainland. The Social Education for Environment and Development (SEED), a civil society organisation in Malkangiri, claims to promote active participation of the concerned community in the district on socio-economic and cultural development.38 Similarly, the Organisation for Rural Reconstruction and Integrated Social Service Activity (ORRISSA), which has been working in the Malkangiri district, emphasises on the importance of the traditional tribal institutions for the inclusive development of each community.39 On the other hand, the Malkangiri Zilla Adivasi Sangh has been continuously working for the development of the Adivasis on the cancellation of tribal debt, organises movements against land grabs and wrong doings of forests officials, fake arrests and such related cases.40 The discrepancy between the development strategy in the ‘cut-off’ regions and the development strategy elsewhere is very prominent. This has led to the growth of a negative approach among the civil society which is focusing on the accessible areas only.

Debate on Development: A Praja Court Perspective

‘The Praja Court’s perspective of development came out during the abduction of the Collector who had also shared his views on it before the court.’41 Maoist leader Prasad, a member of the Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zone, made it clear that “Maoists were not targeting the Collector; their only aim was to send the message to the government that its activities were anti-people and anti-tribal”.42

The Functioning of the Praja Court

The Praja Court is the people’s court, that is, ‘public gathering for consensual decision in a local region. People of the concerned locality are informed to take part in it and to share their opinion on a particular issue for which they are called.’43 ‘The people would get all the facts and information about the accused person or any concerned problem. Then they express their opinion as to what kind of decision has to be taken on it.’44 Before releasing the Collector of Malkangiri, Maoists produced him before the Praja Court attended by about 2000 Adivasis. The Court began with a dance performance by about 10 women Maoists around 1 pm, followed by a lunch and speeches by Maoist leaders and the Collector. The session of the Court was attended by a few local journalists who were the invitees of the Maoists.45

‘The Maoist leaders hit out at the government failures on the cut-off connectivity of the Balimela reservoir, that is, communication, information and infrastructure, PDS, drinking water, health care, anganavadi and primary school, police atrocities on tribals, electricity and so forth and then they asked the Collector to respond to these issues.’46 The Collector admitted the state’s failure and expressed concern over the people’s decade-long sufferings. The Praja Court debate on development with the Collector and their demands before the Odisha Govern-ment shows a clear understanding of their notion of development. Such invaluable thought-provoking views and many hard facts therein would go a long way to properly theorise the alternate Praja Court perspective of develop-ment.

Praja Court: An Alternative Idea of Development

The modern state-sponsured development assumes that the traditional livelihood system of the adivasi communities is ‘underutilised, wasteful and inefficient’.47 So, the market economy model of state policy tried to have control over the resources from the ‘inland territory’. The process of intrusion into the ‘inland territory’ was started by the colonial state through its forest conservation policy. However, the customary rights of the Adivasi people over livelihood resources and their territorial sovereignty face a lot of conflict from the ‘state’ and ‘outsiders’. This was a cause behind the widespread organised protests and movements. ‘The Praja Court perspective of development is an attempt to combine socio-economic, political and ethno-cultural factors in their (tribal) community life.’48 The customary rights of the Adivasis over land, forests and livelihood, traditional Adivasi institutions and practices such as numerous healing systems, agricultural practices etc. must also be integrated in this perspective. All these factors are fundamental to the growth of human capacity and individuality. However, the Praja Court considers development as a ‘many-sided process’ that enhances an individual’s capacities and skills, choices and freedoms; protects human rights and culture; preserves ecology and environment; maintains social balance and a support system; and deepens the democratic dictum. It focuses on a development strategy which is free from exploitation, domination, coercion, exclusion, disparity, deprivation and despoilment of environment. It demands right and justice as the core theme of development. The Praja Court is ‘committed towards the ethno-cultural identity and solidarity among the Adivasis. The Praja Court argues to make the Panchayati Raj institution free from the domination of feudal elites.’49 It contends that some companies, contractors and forest officials are the biggest looters of ecology and natural resources. Sustainable growth would be possible if Adivasis are given the right to the forests.

The Praja Court emphasises the role of the traditional Adivasi institutions in the develop-ment process. It reflects upon the spurt of ethno-cultural consciousness among the Adivasi communities. “The tribal traditional institutions are the starting point for defining ethno-cultural identity and launching of socio-economic development and socio-political or socio-cultural movements.”50 These traditional institutions exert pressure and assert the natural rights of the Adivasi people over their traditional resources. “Adivasis feel that their resource-base is being steadily eroded, and in order to protect their traditional rights over land, forest and water resources they have to keep their flock together by revamping their ethno-cultural identity and solidarity.”51

The Praja Court ‘condemns atrocities or militarisation of tribal regions and supported the peace dialogue. It opposes the government’s policy of mixing of battalion measures with socio-economic development.’52 Prasad released a list of five demands before the state:

the withdrawal of the Central paramilitary forces from Odisha and an end to Operation Green Hunt; the release of all political prisoners in Odisha; an end to police atrocities against the State’s tribal population; suspension of contracts signed with MNCs, particularly in Niyamgiri; and compensation for the families of two Maoists, Taringe Gangulu and Sirka Ranola, who died in Koraput jail (allegedly due to negligence of the jailors). Besides the Maoists demanded the distribution of land titles in three places in Odisha, including Narayanpatna where the Adivasis are struggling to retain ownership over about 2500 acres of land, and compensation for villages submerged in the Balimela reservoir. They want the Polavaram Dam project to be stopped.53

They also demanded that illegal mining from the resource-worthy areas be stopped.54

The idea of articulating a model of the Praja Court perspective is to simply reiterate the broader notion of participatory democracy.55 This was observed in the fact that the Collector was brought before the tribal congregation in order to seek the mandate for his release. The Praja Court seeks the people’s consent and consensus on a number of pertinent issues. The device of referendum is also used in certain cases. It endorses the view that class division and Hindu caste hierarchy obstruct the prosperity and development of human beings. The Maoists’ idea of indusive development involves the local youth, women, poor, unskilled and illiterate Adivasis as a propelling force for growth. ‘The opening session of the Praja Court started with a women’s dance performance based on tribal culture which is symbolic of the fact that the Maoists give due importance to the gender role in the development process.’56 They put emphasis on individual growth as well as community prosperity. The Praja Court condemns the present model of development as state-sponsored ‘developmental terrorism’ on the poor and marginalised Adivasis. It condemns the militaristic approach of the state in the development strategy. It strongly believes in the participatory model, that is, bottom-up strategy of development. So, the Praja Court particularly argues for the participatory notion of develop-ment where everybody will have a say and share. It mainly emphasises on tribal rights, peaceful community living, liveli-hood and justice.”57 It hints at giving power to the local people in capacity building measures and their improvement by empowering the local people whereas the State Government believes on the contrary.

However, the violent and undemocratic method resorted to by the Praja Court is a matter of concern. A media report states that a school teacher of Dantewada area was killed by the Maoists’ Praja Court on the day of the Malkangiri Collector’s abduction.58 Similarly, the report says: “Maoists held 75 Jana Adalats or people’s courts in 2010 which ordered the execution of 36 civilians.”59 Playing with the blood of innocent people cannot be tolerated at any cost. Instead of professing violence, the Praja Court must actively participate in the political process. It must co-operate with the popular leaders of the local Panchayati Raj system for a smooth functioning of the democratic apparatus. Above all, its demand for radical and partici-patory democracy needs to prevail over the bourgeois democracy in India.


The top-down policy of development carried on by the state in a militaristic manner is challenged in the face of the alternative local model of development emanating from the grassroots level as mirrored in the Praja Court perspective of development. The complete absence of the state in any positive sense in the ‘cut-off’ regions, that has resulted in increased isolation of the people, needs to be reversed by creating a viable channel of communication between the people living in these regions on the one hand and the state and civil society groups elsewhere on the other. The Malkangiri hostage crisis and its solution through the mediation of some constructive negotiators has brought out a clear message that a political solution (as against a military one) of the Maoist problem is very much possible provided there is political will and fruitful use of diplomacy by involving constructive negotiators of proven reputation. The civil society in Orissa, though present, is unable to articulate its position adequately on a number of substantial issues concerning the public at large. Moreover, a considerable segment of the civil society has revealed that its democratic credentials are questionable on several counts.

[The Praja Court’s perspective of development has been theorised after a round of talks with academicians, activists, Maoist sympathisers and journalists. I hardly found literature on the Praja Court and its perspective of development. The theorisation of the Praja Court perspective of development was immensely helped by telephonic conversations with Iswar Patnaik, Dandapani Mohanty, Gladson Dungdung, the study report of “Orrissa”, and news reports of The Times of India. The concerned paper would have been impossible without the help of N. Sukumar, G. Haragopal, Kumar Bimal, Bishnu Satapathy, Gilbert Sebastine and Karunakar Patra. I am also grateful to Achin Vanaik, Manoranjan Mohanty and Biswamoy Pati for their constructive comments and suggestions for the improvement of the paper.—K.R.]


1. Cut-Off Region—This is one of the state-forced isolated regions of highly inaccessible zone in the hinterland of the Malkangiri mainland.

2. Battalion Approach—This refers to the state’s strategy to dislodge the ‘Red rebels’ and dissenting Adivasis at first hand rather than carry out the integrated socio-economic developmental process.

3. Passive Spectator—The expression mute spectator is not being used deliberately, as I would like to argue that the civil society organisations are not mute; they do fight back, howsoever ineffectively.

4. Praja Court—The term Praja Court or Jana Adalat is a Maoist expression of delivering justice in a local congregation. It refers to the people’s court, that is, public gathering for consensual decision on a local issue.

5. Ramchandra Guha (2007): India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy (London: Picador), pp. 707-708; and T.N. Ninan (2006): ‘Big Growth, Bigger Debates’, January, Seminar.

6. Ramchandra Guha, ibid.

7. I got this information repeatedly over my telephonic talk with Iswar Patnaik, a Malkangiri based local journalist, who was invited by the Maoists to attend the Praja Court session where the decision of releasing the Collector was taken. More than five to six local journalists were invited by them and Iswar Patnaik was one of them. It is this Court where the abducted Collector was produced for the mandate of the local people whether he should be freed or not.

8. See The Times of India, New Delhi, February 25, 2011, p. 10.

9. For details access

10. Ibid.

11. See

12. See The Hindu, New Delhi, February 25, 2011, p. 10.

13. See The Times of India, New Delhi, April 26, 2011, p. 10.

14. Excerpts from telephonic conversation with Dandapani Mohanty, an interlocutor between the Maoists and the Orissa Government in the Malkangiri Collector abduction issue.

15. This term was coined by Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra of the Supreme Court while hearing a bail plea of five policemen of Maharastra on a fake encounter case. See The Times of India, New Delhi, May 14, 2011, p. 11.

16. See The Hindu, Delhi, February 20, 2011, p. 18.

17. Excerpts from the direct conversation of the writer with Gladson Dungdung. Similarly, the article benefited from his paper on ‘Taking Stock of Citizenship Rights in the Red Corridor’ which was presented at a national Grassroots Colloquium Politics on ‘Who is a Citizen?’ organised by the Developing Countries Research Centre (DCRC), University of Delhi, Delhi on March 26, 2011. Dungdung is a human rights activist and writer from Jharkhand.

18. For more details of the debate see Achin Vanaik (2009): ‘India’s Paradigmatic Communal Violence’, in ‘Violence Today: Actually Existing Barbarism’ edited by Leo Panitch and Colin Leys, Socialist Register, 2009, (New Delhi: Leftword), 2009, p. 147.

19. Walter Rodney (1974): How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.

20. See

21. Subir Sinha (2005): ‘Neoliberalism and Civil Society: Project and Possibilities’ in Alfred Saad Filho and Deborah Johnston (eds), Neoliberalism: a Critical Reader, p. 3.

22. See The Hindu, New Delhi, Friday, February 25, 2011, p.12.

23. For further information see htpp://

24. Manoranjan Mohanty (2006): ‘KBK to Kalinganagar: A Dangerous Drift for Orissa and India’, Mainstream weekly, October 13-19, Vol-XLIV, No. 43, pp. 28-29.

25. Amit Bhaduri and Medha Patekar (2009): ‘Industrialisation for the people, by the people, of the people’, Economic and Political Weekly, January 3, Vol-XLIV, No-1, pp. 10-13.

26. ‘The Anna Phenomenon’ (editorial), Economic and Political Weekly, April 23, 2011, Vol.-XLVI, NO 17, p. 7.

27. Aseem Prakash (2004): ‘Is Civil Society the Panacea?’, Seminar, May 31.

28. Subir Sinha.

29. Ibid.

30. Aseem Prakash.

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid.

33. These excerpts are taken from the lecture of G. Haragopal, the civil rights activist who was an interlocutor between the Maoists and the Government of Orissa in the Malkangiri Collector kidnapping issue. He delivered a lecture on “Malkangiri Kidnapped: Challenges to Human Rights” in the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi on March 6, 2011.

34. Biswamoy Pati (2001): ‘Identity, Hegemony, Resistance: Conversions in Orissa, 1800-2000’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 36, No. 44, November 3-9, p. 4210.

35. Pralay Kanungo (2008): ‘Hindutva’s Fury against Christians in Orissa’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 43, No. 37, September 13-19, p. 18.

36. Jonathan Parry and Christian Scrumpell (2008): ‘On the Desecration of Nehru’s ‘Temples”: Bhilai and Rourkela Compared’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 43, No. 10, May 10-16, p. 55.

37. Excerpts are taken from the lecture of Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, editor of daily Odia newspaper ‘The Sambad’. He delivered a lecture on “Odishara Nagarika Samajaku Shakta Dhakka Darakar” organised by Ama Odisha on April 28, 2011 at Bhubaneswar. I obtained his argument from Kumar Bimal, a Bhubaneswar based journalist, and also from the news report of The Sambad, April 29, 2011.

38. For more details see

39. For details access

40. For more details about the activities of the Sangh, see

41. See The Times of India, New Delhi, February 26, 2011, p. 18.

42. See The Times of India, New Delhi, February 26, 2011, p. 18.

43. Excerpts inducted here from the telephonic conversation with Iswar Patnaik.

44. Ibid.
45. See The Times of India, New Delhi, February 26, 2011, p. 18 and Ibid.

46. Ibid and from Iswar Patnaik.

47. For detail access

48. See The Times of India, February 25, 26, 2011, pp. 10 and p. 18.

49. Excerpts taken from Dandapani Mohanty.

50. For details access

51. Ibid.

52. Views expressed by Dandapani Mohanty.

53. See The Hindu, Delhi, February 20, 2011, p. 10.

54. See The Hindu, Delhi, February 26, 2011, p. 10.

55. Information from Iswar Patnaik.

56. See The Times of India, February 26, 2011, p. 18.

57. Information from Iswar Patnaik.

58. For more information See The Times of India, New Delhi, April 24, 2011, p.18.

59. See

The author is a Ph.D scholar, Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Delhi. He can be contacted at e-mail:

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