There are signs of tribal support for the Maoists dwindling in Orissa. Tribal voters recently ignored a Maoist call for boycott of by-elections in the Umarkote constituency in Nowrangpur district and showed up in record numbers, with 75 per cent voters exercising their franchise.
The Maoist call for a bundh to protest the killing of Kishenji too was ignored by the state’s tribal population, which has hitherto been regarded as a reservoir of support for the Maoists. Tribal children went to school braving Maoist threats. The message that tribals have sent out is clear and unambiguous.
They are turning their backs on the politics of the gun that the Maoists espouse and instead putting their hopes in ballot box politics. However, it is too early to interpret the developments as signaling the decline of the Maoists. Whether it results in the defeat of the politics of violence will depend on how the government responds to the opportunity that has opened up.
If the government uses the space to initiate dialogue with the Maoists and to kick-start socio-economic programmes to benefit the tribals, then it could prove to be a game-changer. However, if authorities interpret the tribal despair with the Maoists as a victory for ‘Operation Green Hunt’ and persist with exploitative development it could end up being a lost opportunity.Interesting developments.