Prafulla Das

The strong presence of Maoists in many interior districts of Orissa poses a serious challenge for authorities in the run up to the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. The police administration is scrambling to find ways to ensure trouble-free polls.

The authorities are apprehensive as the Maoists have put up posters calling for boycott of the polls in districts such as Malkangiri and Rayagada. Against this backdrop, the Election Commission has already issued orders reducing polling hours by an hour in 19 Assembly segments spread over Nabarangpur, Koraput, Berhampur and Kandhamal Parliamentary constituencies, going to the polls on April 16. The polling here will be held from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. instead of 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Fourteen of the 30 districts in Orissa were affected by Left-wing extremist violence, when the government banned the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and declared seven front organisations unlawful in June 2006. The problem has only grown since, and the number of naxal-hit district has increased to 17.

The State witnessed a series of major attacks by the Maoists since February last year. These include the looting of a large cache of arms in Nayagarh district in February, the attack on a motor launch carrying policemen in Chitrakonda reservoir in Malkangiri district in June, the blasting of an anti-landmine vehicle in Malkangiri in July and killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati in Kandhamal district in August.

More than 1,4000 security personnel are already engaged in anti-Maoist operations. The State government has sought deployment of additional Central forces in the naxalite-infested zones during the polls.