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Attack on Nagbhushan Patnaik

BJD-PWG's Joint Display of Vandalism

D.P. Buxi


Strange it may sound. But it happened on 25 July in Gunupur in Orissa. Right-wing lumpens of the BJD and ultra-left anarchists of the PWG found common purpose to jointly attack popular Naxalite leader, Com.Nagbhushan Patnaik, who enjoys legendary fame among the people of the state and neighboring regions.

On that day, a lumpen mob of about 150 people charged into the residence (which also functions as an office) of Com. Patnaik, and displayed the worst kind of vandalism. In the attack that lasted for about 30 minutes, Com.Patnaik’s entire office was ransacked and destroyed. Some of the more motivated ones wanted to finish off Com.Patnaik but some adivasis present at the scene obstructed them from doing so.

The attack was a result of a petty squabble between two communities that had over a period of one month, blown-up into a major controversy in the region. It all started on 26 June, the day of the Rath Yatra festival, involving a quarrel between one Saura adivasi and a person from the Relli community, a Harijan community. Quarrels like this are common and always die down very soon. However, in this case, due to the machinations of the local leaders of the BJD and later the PWG, targeted primarily at dragging Com.Patnaik into the controversy, the petty issue was fomented to the proportions of caste clashes. The next day a band of armed Sauras from the neighbouring village attacked a khalasi (porter) belonging to the Relli community at the Gunupur bus stand. In retaliation armed Relli men attacked a tribal and killed him on the spot.

From here the issue was taken over by the local politicians belonging to the BJD who tried further ignite caste tensions. In particular, BJD leaders, Aswini Gomango (a prospective candidate for the next assembly polls) and Brahamananda Patnaik spearheaded a rumour campaign aggravating the situation. On 30 June some peace efforts started due to the intervention of democratic and peace-loving forces and the administration too. Com.Patnaik also participated. But the vested interests didn’t appreciate this and they tried to keep the tensions alive. They spread rumours that Nagbhushan Patnaik was pro-Relli utilising the fact that some Relli men were members of the Khalasi union (affiliated to CPI (ML)’s trade union, AICCTU) of the Gunupur bus stand.

On the same day, i.e. 30 June, a press statement by Rajanna, Srikakulam divisional secretary of the PWG, described a false incident of molestation of a tribal girl by Relli lumpens as the source for the clashes on Rath Yatra day. Com.Patnaik was charged for fanning up conflicts among the poor people; he was termed as a betrayer of revolution for his class collaboration and parliamentary activities. He was also charged of ‘extorting’ money from traders and amassing a property running into lakhs. Further, two anonymous letters were sent to both the communities and these were later publicly distributed too. The letter addressed to the Sauras declared that the Relli community would finish the Sauras and that they enjoyed the blessings of Nagbhushan Patnaik who would supply bombs and arms to them. On similar lines, the one addressed to the Rellis warned that the Sauras would wipe out the Rellis and the Sauras too enjoyed the backing of important people.

In the growing tensions between the communities, two more persons were killed from both the communities. Incidentally, the non-Adivasi leaders of the BJD who posed as the leaders of the tribals, got one Saura tribal hacked to death so as to foment anger among the tribals and against the Rellis which essentially meant targeting Com.Patnaik. These leaders also worked on the disenchantment that local traders had against some Relli khalasis and in turn amassed the business community’s support too.

Meanwhile, on 25 July the BJD leaders called for a ‘peace’ march at Gunupur. More than 1,500 Sauras were mobilised from the neighbouring villages. The police imposed Sec.144 in Gunupur and permission was denied for the rally to enter Gunupur. Inspite of that, BJD and PWG leaders alike, spread fanatic appeal among the Sauras to mobilise more and more people for the rally. The traders too did their bit by providing money and liquor and food for the participants in the march. But almost without any obstruction from the administration the rallyists entered right into Gunupur. After the submission of the memorandum, the rally was dispersed. However, a mob of about 500 people headed straight for the Relli locality to launch an attack. It was then that one section of the mob, mostly non-tribals and outsiders, instead went over and launched an attack in Com.Patnaik’s office. Even though some tribals were present at the scene, it was only due to them that Com.Patnaik’s life was saved when they blocked some of the lumpens proceeded to kill him. In fact, some of the tribals from the villages from which they were mobilised for the attack, informed our Party from time to time about this conspiracy. Reports have also suggested that after the attack a large number of tribal people perturbed by the hooliganism witnessed that day refused to accept the food supplied by the organisers of the so-called peace march.

The police and the administration not only played the role of silent spectators rather they behaved in a fashion as if they were determined to materialise such an eventuality. Two police constables reached the spot five hours after the incident and only after waves of nationwide protests followed the next day, the Special Branch officers visited Com.Patnaik. Still, clearly displaying its mute involvement in the conspiracy, the Rayagada police issued a press statement that the outrage of thousands of Sauras resulted in the attack.

Since the impressive performance in the last elections, CPI (ML)’s popularity had been growing in Andhra-Orissa border area. Even among the tribals our influence has considerably increased. The whole month-long conspiracy behind the BJD-PWG joint attack was their bid to halt our progress. Following the attack we are gearing towards concentrating our political attack on the BJD and at the same time exposing the rank opportunism displayed by the PWG. As of now the tensions have subsided in Gunupur and many of the tribals too are disillusioned with the BJD leaders and also with the PWG. The fact that such a large number of essentially innocent tribals could be mobilised by the BJD and PWG for such a heinous attack is a matter for serious introspection. At the same time, the recent development has created ground for us to go for a bold expansion in that region.

Nationwide Protests

The attack on Com.Patnaik triggered a chain of widespread protests both among the masses and the progressive and democratic people in Orissa and throughout the country. As soon as the news spread the next day, on July 26, Gunupur spontaneously observed a bandh. The bandh continued on to the next day with the people spontaneously responding to the call given by our Party. On the same day, the matter came up in a big way in the Orissa Assembly and for a while there was pandemonium in the house over the issue. Gunupur and Rayagada Bar Associations condemned the attack and demanded for a high level enquiry and the arrest of the culprits immediately. A protest demonstration was organised before the Orissa Assembly on 30 July in Bhubaneshwar. Coms. Vinod Mishra, Nagbhushan Patnaik, D.P. Buxi and Khitish Biswal participated in it. The SUCI’s lone Orissa MLA and state leaders of CPI and CPI (M) also participated.

Protest demonstrations were organised in Patna and Calcutta on 26 July. Police resorted to lathicharge in both the places. More than a dozen demonstrators were seriously wounded in Calcutta, while in Patna the list of those injured included CPI (ML) Polit Bureau member and the leader of the CPI (ML) legislature group in Bihar assembly, Ram Naresh Ram.

On 27 July various protest demonstrations were organised in a number of cities and towns including Vishnupeta in Andhra Pradesh, Burdwan, Raiganj, Nawdweep and several other towns of West Bengal, Lucknow, Benaras, Allahabad, Pilibhit and a number of other cities of Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi. At Chennai a signature campaign of prominent citizens demanding a high level enquiry into the incident was also taken up. At Bhillai a dharna was staged on 29 July where several CPI workers joined us. In Delhi an effigy of Union Home Minister Advani was also burnt. On 26 July in Delhi, a CPI (ML) delegation met the Orissa Chief Minister J.B.Patnaik who feigned ignorance over the entire sequence of incidents. The Chief Minister assured to look into the matter and take all possible steps. However, even after 48 hours of the incident, no steps were taken.

The attack has evoked strong criticisms from the democratic and progressive intelligentsia in the country. Prominent citizens and democratic and civil liberty organisations of Delhi, Calcutta and Patna issued statements condemning this heinous act and demanded a high level enquiry. A statement issued by prominent citizens in Delhi, said, " We express our deep anguish over the apathy shown by Chief Minister JB Patnaik and the DGP of Orissa as well as by the Union Home Minister LK Advani, as a consequence of which no action against the culprit has been taken even after two days of the incident. This is tantamount to silent approval of assaults on the pioneers of people’s movement which is detrimental to the cause of democracy. We earnestly demand immediate institution of a high-level inquiry into the incident and arrest of all the culprits as well as action against the police and administrative officials guilty of inaction." The signatories included among others, Prof. Rajni Kothari, Prof. Sumit Sarkar, Sumit Chakravarty, Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Gautam Navlakha, Arvind N. Das, SP Shukla, Anand Swaroop Verma, ND Pancholi, Vinod Khurana and Prof. Uma Chakravarty.

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