Associate Editor, Print Research
Kandhamaal riots: Compulsions of Coalition Government
Posted on: 10:45 AM IST Sep 02, 2008 IST
The dull news hub, Odisha, has suddenly become a prime time grosser for the national news channels. The epicentre is Kandhamaal, a small district in the tribal belt of Odisha. This backward district of the country has drawn attention at national and international levels within less than ten months for the second time. The reason is the killing of VHP leader Swami Laxmananda and the resultant anti-Christian riots. The soft hand dealing of the state government of these serious communal clashes shows how poor people can be pawned to get political equations right.
As the situation is returning to normalcy the weeklong arson and violence by VHP against the tribal Christians points out the compulsions of a handicap government headed by Biju Janata Dal with support from the Bharatiya Janata Party. In the 147 member house BJP with 32 members is the junior partner to BJD, which has 61 members. The killing of Swamiji and the aftermath riots by VHP has brought out the helplessness of Mr clean Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Though the state government was in full authority and position to prevent the killing of innocent tribals in Kandhamaal, the helplessness of a coalition government paved the way for the first of its kind of violence in the history of Odisha.
In a poll bound scenario BJD can't afford to take strong steps against the rioting VHP, Bajarang Dal and BJP workers. With growing factionalism and expulsion of some old horses from the party, BJD definitely needs the support of BJP to keep the traditional rival Congress at bay. On the other hand NDA headed by BJP has been left with only three strong coalition partners like SAD in Punjab, JDU in Bihar and BJD in Odisha. In a 2009 general election bound scenario BJP can never afford to upset a leader like Naveen Patnaik. So though BJP was angry with the failure of state to nab the killers of Swamiji, it could not take any strong measure against the government rather choosing the soft target of tribal Christians. The Revenue Minister of the state is from BJP and it is evident that the local administration in no way capable of taking any strong action against the rioters from Sangh Parivar.
Since last few months the Naveen Patnaik government is in the line of fire in view of the deteriorating law and order situation in the state. The Naxal attack on police training college in Nayagarh, killing of Grey-hound Jawans in Balimela reservoir, explosion of anti landmine vehicle of SOG in Malkangiri, Biranchi Das murder at the heart of the capital are few to mention in the series of growing governance problem in the state. The Kandhamaal incident is yet another blot. But not so apparent silence of the Congress party is something to be observed tactfully. The Congress is sure of not garnering much political mileage from the riots against the tribal Christians.
The only 2.4 per cent Christians mostly concentrated along the tribal belt of the state hardly make a decisive electorate. Had it been an assault against the politically strong minority Muslims in the coastal districts of Cuttack, Bhadrak or Kendrapara definitely the Congress would have blown it out of proportion.
At the ground zero in Phulbani, the district headquarter of Kandhamaal, the socio economic discriminations between the two tribal caste groups of Panas and Kandhas play the spoil sport. While the Panas have gone much higher in the social lader in terms of education, healthcare and job opportunities by embracing Christianity, the traditional Hindu Kandhas are still struggling to manage basic needs in the poverty ridden district. This in turn precipitates the anguish and frustration of the Hindus against the Christianity and pits both the communities aggressively against each other in local areas. But in a backward region it is evident for the tribals to embrace Christianity to get rid of starvation and poverty. While VHP has failed in improving the living conditions of the tribals, this mindless violence against the Christians, as a part of anti conversion drive, clearly points out the one point agenda of the Sangh Parivaar.
Swami Laxmananand's killing is definitely a shame for Odisha. The following riots by VHP and Bajarang Dal is obvious. The willingly soft approach of the State Government is well established. But for future generation Kandhamaal will be yet another addition to the chronology of the vendetta of Sangh Parivaar. Perhaps this not so known tribal district would again draw the attention of media tomorrow when the black spots of a coalition politics would be recalled in the political history of Odisha.