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‘Freeing hardcore Maoists will be an insult to cops’

Author: Prakhar Jain
Publication: Tehelka
Date: April 21, 2012
URL: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main52.asp?filename=Ne210412Freeing.asp

Introduction: IT IS not for the first time that a strong voice has emerged from the Odisha Police warning the government against ignoring the force’s sentiments. In 2009, Sawarmal Sharma, president of the Odisha Police Association, had accused senior officials of not leading the fight against Naxals from the front. Now, he tells Prakhar Jain why he is opposing the release of hardcore Maoists in exchange for abducted Italian national Paolo Bosusco and Laxmipur MLA Jhina Hikaka.

EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW:

Q.: Why has the police threatened non-cooperation in Naxal areas if the state releases hardcore Maoists in exchange for the hostages?
A.: We have no objection to any positive discussion with the Naxals. But we oppose any dialogue that will cost us the release of hardcore Maoists. It would be an insult to the policemen who fight in Maoist-affected areas, and to the families of the slain policemen, whom we respect as martyrs. If the government bows to the illegal demands and agrees to release hardcore Maoists such as Ghasi, who has 48 cases against him, we will oppose it. We will stay away from any kind of operations in Maoist areas.

Q.: What kind of positive dialogue are you looking for?
A.: It should be about the work stalled in tribal areas. Roads not being constructed, electricity not reaching them, agriculture coming to a halt; let people talk about all these issues. What the Maoists want is equality and if they want to achieve that through violence, then it is wrong. They themselves have differences. Even after announcing in the media that they wouldn’t commit any acts of violence until the release of the hostages is brokered, an unarmed constable of ours was murdered. No one from the government expressed grief over it. Had they not announced a ceasefire, the constable would have carried arms and protected himself. This is injustice. We won’t accept or tolerate this.

Q.: Wouldn’t non-cooperation worsen the hostage crisis when the issue is on the verge of being resolved?
A.: Until now, we didn’t oppose the release of any Maoists who don’t face any serious charges. But taking advantage of that, the Maoists kept increasing their demands. Only when they asked for the release of the hardcore rebels, who had rewards against them, did we oppose it. Our demands are clear: criminals and those involved in the killing of policemen and people shouldn’t be released.

Q.: What is your support base?
A.: There are three police associations in Odisha. We have 100 percent support from all of them, right from the constable to the DSP and the additional SP: there are more than 70,000 policemen supporting us. We don’t want to withdraw from Maoist-hit places but we will be forced to take action if the government doesn’t listen to us.

Q.: Would that mean a head-on collision with the state?
A.: The government has realised the danger and is serious about our ultimatum. According to sources, the government has refused to release the hardcore Maoists. The home secretary issued a statement on 9 April regarding this. We aren’t objecting to the release of the 27 people who are not involved in big cases. According to our information, the local MLA will be released soon and we have requested them that the Italian be released too. We want the hostages freed, but not by freeing hardcore Maoists.

Q.: The Naxals allege that these people were falsely implicated by the police.
A.: No false cases were lodged against them. The police face numerous challenges and even getting food becomes difficult for them in these areas. They endanger their lives to catch a hardcore Maoist. The danger to their lives increases manifold if those Maoists are released.

Q.: Who will take responsibility if, because of your demand, the Maoists harm the hostages?
A.: I can assure you that it will not happen. They would have killed them by now if they wanted to but they have been stretching the deadline. The abducted MLA is a local tribal and if anything happens to him, the public would rise against the Maoists. And for the release of the Italian national, Maoist Sabyasachi Panda has demanded the release of his wife and colleagues. In fact, the order to release his wife has already come. This has become a family affair instead of their larger goal of equality.

Q.: Have you got any assurance from the mediators?
A.: The hardcore Maoists were not named in their initial demand but were subsequently added. If the government bows to this, there will be a third demand too. It would then become an industry, like the one in Bihar. This is the time to take strong action. Even the mediators are not in favour of releasing them.

Prakhar Jain is a Correspondent with Tehelka.

prakhar@tehelka.com
 
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