August 5, 2013
The mass surrender of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS) (Association of Peasants, Bonded Labours and the Tribal) members, in Koraput district in Odisha virtually every week has been making headlines in both the local as well as national news papers for the last several months. The important reason being, according to media reports, more than 1600 members of the CMAS (all of them from different villages of Narayanpatna Block of Koraput district) have surrendered since January 2013. Earlier the CMAS, led by Nachika Linga, was in news when the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), Maoist-in short, demanded the release of some 25 members of the CMAS as a condition to release Jhina Hikoka, (Member of Legislative Assembly), who was abducted by them on March 24, 2012 from Toyaaput village of Koraput district. This time around, while the police are taking all credits for these surrenders, there is a general feeling that the mass surrender is because the Maoists are loosing ground in one of their strong holds in the state.
The issue of surrenders as well as arrests of CMAS members is perplexing given the fact that the CMAS is not a banned organisation in Odisha. The Police maintain that the CMAS is a frontal organisation of the Maoists and it is through the CMAS that the Maoists are carrying out their activities in Koraput, Malkanagiri and some parts of Rayagada districts. The president of the CMAS, Nachika Linga, who is absconding, refutes Police allegation and claims that they do not have any links with the Maoists.1
Against these backdrops it is important to explore whether the CMAS is an independent organisation working for the betterment of the tribal, peasants and bonded laborers or does it has some links with the Maoists.
The origin of the CMAS goes to the Rythu Coolie Sangham (RCS), an Andhra Pradesh based peasants organisation which was founded by pro-Maoist peasant leaders in the Vizianagaram district of Andhra Pradesh. A branch of the RCS was opened in Odisha by Bhaskar Rao alias Basa in Almonda of Bandhugaon block of Koraput district in 1995. The RCS, once established in Koraput, was successful in garnering support of the local tribal, peasants and the bonded laborers, mainly from Bandhugaon and Narayanpatna blocks of Koraput. There has been a close association between the RCS branch of Odhisha and its parent organisation in Andhra Pradesh. Some of the important leaders of Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML) such as Gananatha Patra were actively involved in the activities of the RCS (both in Andhra Pradesh and Koraput). Some members of the RCS-Koraput had also participated during the Anti-Arak (local liquor) movement2 of 1990s in Andhra Pradesh. The Anti-Arak movement influenced the activities of the RCS in Koraput as well. Kondagiri Paidamma from Bada Bankidi village spearheaded an anti-liquor movement in Koraput in 1995. She was arrested by the police as she was alleged to be involved in violent activities through the mass movements but later released in 1997 due to lack of evidence.
The RCS-Koraput with active support of the CPI-ML leaders such as Gananath Patra, Brahmananda Muli, Srikanta Mohanty and Bhaskar Rao, organised mass rallies demanding land to the tribal, peasants and landless; ban on consumption and selling of liquor; and effective administration in their areas. By 2001, Kondagiri Paidamma had emerged as the leader of the RCS-Koraput with some active members such as Nachika Linga, Arjun Kendruka, Nachika Chamara, Wadeka Singana and Gananath Patra as their advisor. The RCS-Koraput intensified its activities arguing that Jal, Jamin and Jungle (Water, Land and Forest) belong to the tribal and the peasants.
The RCS was banned in Andhra Pradesh on August 17, 2005 following a ban on the CPI-Maoist and its frontal organisations.3 In anticipation of a similar ban by the Odisha government, the RCS-Koraput changed its name to Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh in 2006. The first ever rally under the banner of the CMAS was organised on October 10, 2006 demanding registration of land in names of the tribal and release of ‘their members’ (some of the tribal and local individuals) arrested by the police. The activities of the CMAS, however, were not all that altruistic and peaceful. There had been reports that the CMAS activists were engaging in violent activities during the rally. From 2006 to 2008 the members of the CMAS were allegedly involved in grabbing lands from non-tribal owners; organising rallies against liquor consumption; giving veiled threat to the ‘corrupt government officers’; and mobilizing people to join the CMAS. The activities of the CMAS were mainly limited to Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon blocks of Koraput.
Faction in CMAS:
By 2008, the CMAS acquired substantial presence in both Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon blocks. Kondagiri Paidama, once the leader of the CMAS was sidelined by Arjun Kendruka of Bandhugaon and Nachika Linga of Narayan patna. Incidentally the elevation of Arjun Kendruka and Nachika Linga as top leaders also resulted in formation of two groups within the CMAS. Overtime, serious differences started emerging between these two groups over a number of issues. For instance, while Arjun Kendruka believed in requesting donation of land from the big land owners, Nachika Linga went on to forcibly grab land from the landlords, locally known as the sahukars. Nachika Linga tried to mobilize people in an extremist manner with the slogan Jami Mukti, Mada Mukti and Goti Mukti, which means capturing land from the land lords, freedom from liquor and freedom from bonded labor. Difference of opinion between the two leaders also cropped up over the utilization of the CMAS funds. Major differences in opinion between the two leaders emerged when Arjun Kendruka preferred the parliamentary democracy and expressed his willingness to participate in the Assembly election of Odisha in April 2009. Nachika Linga, however, opposed Kendruka’s decision because of two reasons. One, as many believe, he was influenced by the Maoist ideas against Indian democracy. Two, he was aspiring for a ticket from the CPI-ML to contest from Laxmipur constituency of Koraput. Instead, Arjun Kendruka was given the ticket from the CPI-ML. According to the local sources4 Nachika Linga campaigned against Arjun Kendruka and supported Jhina Hikoka, a candidate contesting from Biju Janata Dal (BJD) ticket. Arjun Kendruka lost to Jhina Hikoka in the election. The post Assembly election witnessed increasing violent activities by the CMAS-N activists against the Sahukars and the non-tribal.
Feud between the two leaders resulted in the split in the CMAS. One faction was led by Arjun Kendruka and the other by Nachika Linga. Incidentally, senior leaders of the Sangh (organisation) also took sides. For example, while Kondagiri Paidama chose to be with Arjun Kendruka, Gananath Patra supported the Nachika Linga faction. These difference of opinions also resulted in hardening of positions which culminated into clashes between the two groups. As both the groups clashed with each other, Gopinath Kardasia from Narayanpatna set up the Nagarik Suraksha Committee, which demanded a ban on the CMAS led by Nachika Linga. However, the committee failed to make an impact as its members also got involved in violent clashes with the CMAS-N. The CMAS-N members went on blocking roads, grabbing lands, felling trees in order to check the movement of the Police, targeting non CMAS-N members.