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Orissa's fiery faultlines

Orissa's fiery faultlines

Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: March 17, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/162928/Orissa's-fiery-faultlines.html

It is unclear, at the time of writing, if Orissa Governor Murli Bhandare will concede the Opposition demand for a fresh vote to test the strength of the BJD Government, following allegations that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik 'manipulated' his March 11 victory by a questionable voice vote. Essentially, the vote count is meaningless as the tenure of the present Assembly has ended and the Election Commission has announced an April poll.

What the fresh vote will establish is whether there will be President's rule for the duration of the election campaign. The answer to this question will indicate if there is even a tenuous understanding between the Congress and the BJD regarding post-poll alignments. This possibility is strengthened by Mr Patnaik's steadfast refusal to join the emerging Third Front.

Yet, it is inconceivable that a consummate politician like Mr Patnaik would have repudiated the BJP's 17 per cent vote share for an alliance with Left parties with barely 0.07 per cent vote share. The true story, which may take time to unfold, is likely to include the spreading tentacles of the church and the muscle power of Maoist neo-converts who shot Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four sanyasis on Janmashtami last year. There has been no real progress in the case so far, despite sustained leaks in the Oriya Press about the purported role of a prominent politician linked to World Vision.

It needs be said, however, that the BJP State leadership is extremely inept if it did not anticipate the breakdown of the 11-year-old alliance with the BJD. The party had absolutely no local intelligence regarding Mr Patnaik's dialogue with political rivals, which spanned many months, and is even now clueless whether Kandhamal was the reason for the political divorce, or merely the excuse.

Hence, despite agonising over the Orissa events, we are none the wiser about the real calculations of the ruling BJD. The party has made no statement that the split is due to the Kandhamal flare-up following the assassination of Swami Laxmanananda and his disciples. All reports in the Press emphasise disagreement over the quantum of seats to be shared by the two sides.

This suggests Mr Patnaik may have engaged in a Sharad Pawar-style operation, whereby he is free to rejoin a BJP-led alliance after the election, while campaigning alone in order to maximise his post-poll leverage. Mr Pawar, as is well-known, joined the Congress-led UPA as a regional satrap; currently he is angling to be the prime ministerial candidate of the UPA or a 'Third Front'. Mr Patnaik is the soul of discretion regarding his future plans.

The BJP would do well to ignore the BJD-Naveen Patnaik riddle-enigma for the present, and concentrate wholly upon its core constituency and the latter's core concerns - specifically Hindu anxiety over the increasing muscularity of evangelicals.

There is a need to recognise that Kandhamal happened because the Kandha tribals were becoming increasingly agitated over the manner in which their land and privileges were being whittled away by Christians. So, when Swami Laxmanananda, who was fighting to preserve their rights, religion and culture, was gunned down and his body reputedly mutilated by men who wanted to give a 'message' to the community, their cup of resentment boiled over.

The BJP must recognise that conversions are a form of political conquest, not just the religious and cultural annihilation of a group of citizens. There is an intimate connection between dharma, motherland, and national integrity - the corrosion of which is the purpose of conversion. This is borne out by an analysis of foreign funds received by NGOs from Western Christian countries (formerly colonial, now neo-colonial), mainly the US, the UK, Germany and Spain. Why would these nations disregard the growing needs of the poor in their own societies and pour millions into India, if the latter did not yield a greater neo-colonial reward?

According to data with the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, between 1993-94 and 2006-07, foreign contributions to the tune of a colossal Rs 64,670 crore were received by registered bodies which had filed their annual declarations (imagine what is surely coming the hawala way). The receipts have increased from Rs 1,865 crores in 1993-94 to Rs 12,290 crore in 2006-07, a whopping 650 per cent. Surely this is not aid, it is military assistance! Foreign aid has risen by over 100 per cent since the UPA came to power, and institutions filing annual declarations have declined by 10 to 12 per cent.

Hindu angst in Orissa has a long history. Simmering discontent with missionaries burst into the open in January 1999 when Graham Staines was burnt alive with his two sons in Keonjhar district, a crime for which activist Dara Singh was later convicted.

In any assessment of a crime, establishment of motive is imperative. Graham Staines had no fortune which could be grabbed by his killer(s). From the first day of the investigations, the police identified conversions as the cause of tribal torment in the region, and it was on this basis that the case was prosecuted. The Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice Wadhwa also came to the same conclusion.

It follows that the gruesome murder of Graham Staines had an intimate connection with the manner in which he conducted himself while living - he broke families by targeting vulnerable individuals for conversion, destroyed the social and cultural fabric of the districts he operated in, and fragmented centuries of social harmony. Sadly, in all the years leading up to the murder, and in all the years since, no Government has taken even the most basic measures to safeguard the fundamental rights and liberties of the deeply religious and culturally-rooted tribal communities, and guarantee the religious freedom promised in the Constitution.

This is an indictment of the Indian State, and all political parties across the spectrum. As a first step towards redeeming themselves, political parties should ensure that Scheduled Caste converts do not fraudulently corner the benefits intended for Hindu Scheduled Castes, as caste is an exclusively Hindu institution, which converts are supposed to leave behind them. This applies equally to the concept of tribe (which is nothing but the nascent caste, having the same basis in gotra/clan), and the constitutional lacuna that permits Scheduled Tribe converts to corner tribal benefits must be sealed, so that justice is done in both letter and spirit.

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