Red in the face

By T S Sudhir

One thousand steps back. A retrograde step.  That is how a senior IPS officer who cut his teeth fighting naxals in Telangana and Chhattisgarh the last decade and a half reacted to the decision to concede Maoist demands  in return for the safe return of Malkangiri collector Vineel Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Majhi.

“But it was a Hobson’s choice for the government, wasn’t it? ” I argued.

“This was like a game of poker,” he explained. “Where even if you do not have good cards, you pretend as if you have. It is a game of wits. Trust me, they wouldn’t have had the courage to kill Vineel. Because if they did, civil society would have gone and lynched their supporters who are overground. They should have started the process of negotiations and used that as a charade.”

The IAS lobby that mounted pressure on the government to do all it can to get Vineel out safe is in a state of disquiet. Privately, bureaucrats admit the abduction and the capitulation of the government will only make the Maoists more belligerent.

“They have tasted blood now. You cannot say they will not use the same tactic to free someone even more high-profile the next time. But if they had killed Vineel, the consequences would have been disastrous for the government and administrative machinery that works in remote areas.”

Police officers say even while getting the collector out safe and sound, irreparable damage has been done. “The administrative machinery in the entire Red corridor, whether it is the Andhra-Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh belt on both sides of the Godavari or the Andhra-Orissa Border (AOB) area, is already next to non-existent. Now the grievance redressal system will get worse. The MROs and the RDOs have even more of a reason not to venture out. Because no one would want to be another Vineel Krishna.”

It was the goodwill earned by  Vineel Krishna that brought the tribals out, to openly appeal for his release in an area where it is not easy to publicly admit that they do not endorse the Maoist view. It is quite possible that a not-so-popular  bureaucrat could have triggered a totally different sequence of events.

Another perception that has gained ground is if it was not an IAS officer but a lower level official, the state government would not have agreed to swap. “Kaam karenge to marenge” they say.

The Union Home ministry’s selective leaks that P Chidambaram had advised Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik not to set a precedent by releasing Maoists in exchange hasn’t gone down too well. Did Delhi offer Patnaik an alternate solution, is the question being asked. Was it just a feeble attempt to ensure the Congress can continue to berate BJP over the Kandahar swap and now the Biju Janata Dal, over Malkangiri.

“The capitulation of Delhi and Bhubaneswar has hammered the last nail in the coffin. It is the deathknell for any efforts to develop backward areas,” said an Andhra Pradesh cadre IPS officer. “When you are dealing with the Maoists who do not operate within the law, you have to look beyond the standards of civilised society. A couple of their top men should have been picked up unofficially and that should have used as a bargaining tool with the Maoists during the negotiations.”

Senior officers who have been part of anti-Maoist operations in Andhra Pradesh say it has been advantage Maoists in this episode. “Ganti Prasadam is a key man for them. He is a critical link between top leaders in their central committee. He is not the kind who can be replaced so easily by them and that probably explains why they were keen to have him out of jail.”

A newspaper editorial has this piece of advice to offer to Naveen Patnaik’s police force. “After this experience, Orissa would do well not to adopt the ‘battalion approach’ of deploying a huge number of security force personnel for counter-insurgency operations. Such macho responses are guaranteed to be counter-productive.”

I asked my colleague Alok Pandey who travelled to Malkangiri for this story, if he agreed with this assessment. He told me about Papermetla police station, situated deep inside Malkangiri district. “You reach this police camp, where 35-40 jawans of the India Reserve Battalion are posted, by driving 16 km from Chitrakonda to Gurukrupa river, then taking a boat across the river and then walk 4 km to reach Maliguda, where the camp is located. One of the cops told us sheepishly that their rations are sometimes provided by Maoists or their sympathisers. It seems to be an unwritten code in these parts. Don’t kill us, we won’t kill you. So any talk of a huge counter-insurgency operation is just not there.”

A senior Orissa Police officer, on condition he will not be named, describes the situation as one where the security forces are at the mercy of Maoists and Malaria.

“The camp does not live on bhagwaan ke bharose but Maowadiyon ke bharose. There are hillocks surrounding the camp and if the Maoists so wish, they can just lob grenades and destroy our camp, even in broad daylight. The camp has no power, no safe drinking water and the generator works rarely. Most of the cops suffer from malaria. They are at the mercy of the ferry service controlled by Maoists,  to take them across the river. The weapons are locked inside a room and instructions are that they are to be used only in the event of an organised attack.”

My colleague in Orissa, Sampad Mahapatra who has spent a lifetime tracking issues of development and the Maoist surge in these parts, says there is nothing macho about the life these security personnel lead. The story goes that the cops and Maoists both frequent a tea shop in the area. The men in mufti make it a point to keep it cordial, exchange smiles and have tea together. Perhaps here, a smile a day ensures the policeman lives in peace another day.


Raising a stink over Telangana

By Uma Sudhir

From hi-tech city to stinking city – this is what Hyderabad has become, with municipal workers not clearing garbage, as part of the week long non-cooperation agitation started by pro-Telangana employees on Thursday.

This wedding brought to you by …

By T S Sudhir
I would presume it is purely a coincidence. On the day that Union Food minister K V Thomas has proposed that there should be some way to limit the amount of food served and wasted at Indian weddings, in Hyderabad, a big fat Indian wedding is in progress. Fat not by normal standards but by the standards of the best brands in the business. The celebrations spread not over a day or two but almost an entire week.
A public relations firm has been roped in to ensure the `event’ gets noticed. After all, it is being touted as the biggest wedding, or should I say, weddings, in south India. The two sons of NRI industrialist S Ravindra from Hyderabad, Rohit and Ranjit, are getting married at the GMR arena in the city.
Here are the details provided to me on why this is the mother of all weddings:
* The couples exchange rings to the beats of Sivamani, well-known percussionist
* The main wedding ceremony on February 25 would have an underwater theme
*  Tollywood stars from different generations, top politicians and bureaucrats, industrialists, sportstars and socialites would be present to bless the newly-weds
* Performances by Sivamani, Naresh Iyer, Karthik, Sunita, Vijayalakshmi, Mallikarjun, Gopika

* MC are Uday Bhanu and Shiva Reddy and the Choreographer is Satya

* Mumbai’s most popular celebrity mehendi artist Jamila would be doing the Mehendi for the bride and her guests

* Rohit and Ranjit would be wearing creations by Gucci from the Runway collections and the shoes and ties by Versace, Armani and Hugo Boss

* Brides would be wearing a Manish Malhotra lehenga for the wedding, and Versace gowns for the reception

*  The grooms’ parents, Ravindra has chosen an Armani creation and Anupama will wear a Manish Malhotra creation

* Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri (TBZ) would be the exclusive jewellery brand for the wedding

* Especially for the event, 3 custom-made watches will be worn by grooms Rohit and Ranjit. The grooms’ father Ravindra will wear a watch, designed by Rolex

* Make-up for the Brides and their families will be done by Mickey Contractor

* Wedding card is a combination of a colorful mela fan which is for the pre-wedding party and sangeet, wedding and reception.The concept of the Wedding Invitation was conceived by Anupama Ravindra and executed by EDC (Entertainment Design Co.) from Delhi

* The cooks are from a traditional family with a lineage of over 200 years. The menu is expected to feature Kakori, Shammi, Ghutwa, Boti and Sheek Kababs, apart from Nawabi kormas and Hyderabadi biryani

The pre-wedding festivities have been on since Sunday with mehndi-sangeet and each day, from Monday to Thursday are theme parties in Nizami, Bengali, Rajasthani and Punjabi styles. There is even a post-wedding press conference on March 1 and a `high-profile reception’ in Auckland in New Zealand where the family lives.

Branding it seems has been married into lives ! And Mr Thomas, this wedding sure will give you some food for thought !

Borders drawn

By T S Sudhir
When I noticed jawans of the Border Security Force at the Andhra Pradesh Assembly on Thursday morning, I remember wondering if they are not out of place.
I was wrong. In fact, they couldn’t have been positioned at a better place. What with borders drawn by our honourable legislators. He is Telangana. He is Andhra. She is from Rayalaseema. He is from Andhra settled in Hyderabad but supports Telangana. She lives in Hyderabad but does not support Telangana.
This brusque finger-pointing took an ugly turn. The victim was Dr Jayaprakash Narayan, an IAS officer-turned-politician and MLA and President of the Loksatta Party. His crime was apparently his stand in favour of a unified Andhra Pradesh. The pink panthers of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti saw red and manhandled him.
A lesson had been taught to all those who oppose Telangana. These MLAs had interpreted KCR’s slogan of ek aur dhakka, Telangana pucca rather literally.

The honourable TRS MLAs weren’t sorry for their dishonourable deed. Far from it. The justification was that JP, a `pseudo intellectual’,  had to bear the brunt of the people’s resentment and anger for his stand on Telangana.
JP should have seen it coming. Just half an hour before, IPS officer-turned-Governor ESL Narasimhan was branded anti-Telangana and accused of submitting anti-Telangana reports to the Centre. So TRS MLAs, with support from the Telugu Desam, attempted to tear his copy of the address on the opening day of the budget session. His cop instincts were tested in the face of attempts by TDP MLA Revanth Reddy to knock off the Governor’s chair. The self-proclaimed daddy of good behaviour and decorum, Chandrababu Naidu watched his partymen’s athletic antics in embarrassing silence.
The opposition MLAs claimed the marshals had roughed them up as well when the cameras weren’t rolling. I noticed TRS MLA Harish Rao walk out of the Assembly sans his slippers. He had lost them trying to boot out the Governor. Just five minutes later, he and fellow MLAs were to lose their shirt with JP.
One passionate proponent of Telangana likened the situation a la Egypt. That when people feel oppressed and repressed, a day will come when patience will run out. That is what is happening in Telangana, he reasoned.

Ironically all this happened on a day when the Telangana region, spearheaded by its two and a half lakh government employees, started a non-cooperation movement which meant the babus would go to office but wouldn’t work, would travel in buses but not buy tickets, would consume electricity but won’t pay their bills and so on. On paper, sounded just the ideal way to mount pressure on the government to move ahead on Telangana, a vibrant demonstration of people power through civil disobedience.
But the cloak of Gandhism did not last even a couple of hours and muscle power was in full display.
All this doesn’t augur well for a state already badly divided on regional lines. If street fights are to decide the future of a state, then the people of Andhra Pradesh will most certainly be on the road.