Sunday, June 03, 2012,
Orissa Diary

The persisting realities do trigger a sense of comic cynicism that in the days ahead in a few states, struck by Leftist extremism, the scene can be somewhat very different, may be surprising yet funny. A look ahead at a such a scenario, about three decades from now!

Old fashions of the regime have long been lost on some other people and the new ones seem to have scored!

Things have changed. There are no midnight door knocks in the villages that once used to singe in fear of the renegades from the hills. Though among some there is perceptibly militant unwillingness to accept the new system, but there is no other way than reconciling and the rest hang to an unwilling suspension of disbelief.

A frenzied tussle still hunting the psyches of the common man and of course, of the political class in particular, whipped by the ‘ ruthless ‘ transition. People have failed to ascertain which piece of rule is good and which one is bad, especially for a population which was, of late, a mere cynical yet yielding electorate. But this change has come through the blazing of guns and no one knows how many litres of blood and sweat had flown down the hills. The assumptions about any kind of further preparedness to fight any menace of extremism now appear shelved. Enough is enough! The veterans who had ruled from the jungle can be seen taking their morning walks on the barren expanses of forests or slumped on the cots in the evening.

The mist of extremism has turned thin as an eerie yet disquieting normalcy prevails in the state’s interiors and for the time being, it all seems free from the terrors of kidnaps, landmine blasts and exchange of fires or encounters and so on. Few of the scarry realities that once shook the bottom of peace, politics and progress, have been, as if, cowed. So, people have come to accept the improbable as truth. Many look at the change in askance while some, as if it is still a witch hunt, just rejoice. A peculiar blend of fear sown and peace fragmented.

They are no more in jungles of the state’s interiors. Majority of them are now city and town dwellers, but, some still hold to the forts in the woods, in case of any eventuality!!! The ones in the mainstream are giving shape to a new diaspora here and there, a new thinking and a new culture. Where there is no sign of persecution of tribals by any dubious wars.

The corridors linking the hideouts with either Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh or Jharkhand have seen developmental activities in many ways.

The bumpy stretch from Malkangiri to Sukma has got a superb facelift, flanked by thick foliage dotted with small jerry-built huts to accommodate the Western trekkers (but without cameras) for adventure tourism, thanks to the idea mooted by the then Union RD minister of India in 2012. The stretch also houses centres imparting training to unemployed youths in jungle warfare and for undercover agents for special espionage.

The road running from Malkangiri to Dantewada has been rechristened as Peace Corridor and Chitrakonda water reservoir where many security forces had taken watery graves is now known as Shahid Sarovar. A huge gun carved out of stone stands tall on the precipice overseeing the landscape in the memory of the unknown soldiers.

On the hills, hovering the reservoir, there are few rest houses made of red bricks on the jerry-rigged grounds of a dubious history, flanked by security posts manned by the Border Special Forces – a newly formed trigger happy operation group in the aftermath of the big change, now regarded as the most accomplished force to tackle any reversal in the system.

The bludgeoned cut-off area within Malkangiri has been renamed as Island of Owe where still the same boats, with red flags (warning against over loading!) ferry the villagers, of course, free of cost.

The debris of hundreds of blasted culverts and mobile towers here and there have been earmarked for the archaeological department for conservation; let’s hope for a commemoration of the bravados of the then fighters for ‘freedom’.

Entry of foreign tourists has resumed but, tourists from Italy have stopped visiting the area since March 14, 2012. The Italian government, according to unconfirmed sources, has imposed a blanket ban on its adventure seekers on any kind of tribal tourism in Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

The police station at Kalimela, once the most pulverised bosom of Malkangiri, has been converted into a small museum, crowned with a hoarding reading ‘Red-Hit Heritage’. The small museum displays oil paintings of many heroes of yesteryears.

Blood-stained grass patches and uniforms are now on display and open for auction.

The guns that have fallen silent for years, now rusted & obsolete, make a collage of sort on the walls of the museum occasionally visited by students of history. One of the former ministers of Odisha, now in his 80s, still has not been able to shed his implausible impulses and obsession for converting such places into tourist rendezvous!

Political chemistry has undergone a sea change. The erstwhile jungle heroes have gained the political legitimacy through non-renewable Memorandum of Understandings and a mixed regime rules the state polity, igniting a debate as to what defines a compassionate democracy!

But, when one speaks today, he or she has to speak slow and measured. You cannot indulge in a skulduggery of sort. There is a rumbling chaos everywhere and one can expect little from the rules, so it is better to accept the outcomes! In the present dispensation the concept of civil society remains under strict scrutiny of watch-dog outfits.

Diktats can be read on the walls prohibiting use of unsavoury political polemics so that people in power can overcome the veils of political uncertainty. On rest of the walls all across the city, there are only the tribal motifs with warnings reading ‘stick no pamphlets’ replacing the cultural glimpses of the Aparajita era. The city municipality was given an overhauling. Green jackets have been replaced by crimson red, garbage vans painted in orange and the corporation now reads CSC (City Salvage Corporation).

There are only two parties – the Left & the Right. The Left comprises the erstwhile jungle fighters turned politicians, civil rights activists, sultry Left intellectuals & NGOs, and the Right is comprised of the main political parties and other small local outfits, now sitting in the opposition and known as the moderates. Unity in diversity is what has brought the two together who had parted ways in 2009.

Still rattled by the rigours of the family dynasty, the principal opposition party in the state has however preferred to stay aloof as an isolated entity and still pledging to fight the fundamentals out of the country. It plays a neutral role in the Assembly with members falling down to less than double figures.

Sensing the dangers from the newly emerged ‘oligarchy’, Pappu Hazare frequents Odisha mobilizing mass support for an effective ‘Prajapal Bill’ from the central government, while the Lokpal Bill had long been been relegated to the footnotes of history. Most of the politicians of the state have gone to the labyrinth of politics except a few accomplished survivors. And the bureaucrats, some were forced to take voluntary retirement and the rest are seldom cared by any.

In his late 90s, the erstwhile chief minister of Odisha, who had enjoyed a record 10-inning tenure in power, has now mellowed, is retired, but just not out. He still can be seen in sparkles of his spotless kurta and pyjama, switching over to a pipe, stuck between the lips pouched to hide the toothless gums. Too much of chocolates you know!

But, he has started imparting lessons on how to restrain oligarchy from prevailing and proffering the tenets of political opportunism. Now he is, of course, back to writing, writing a book in Odia you know! ‘Nobody Talks To The Patriach’ is the title and it should be his second literary venture to escape the tyrannies of boredom.

He now really means business and has gleefully accepted to play the role of an ex-officio advisor to the government on the ethics of terminologies to be used in the politics of dissent. Notably, he still commands the respect among the new set of people in power, for his once most debated magnanimity in scoring 30 for 3 about 30 years back!

Septuagenarian ex-jungle veteran Sarbashakti Panda has lost out on his goal and now resigned from the hills to become a decent husband, lolling quietly in the luxuries of inactivity, staying in his modest bamboo hut etched on the slopes of Ghasma mountain range while his wife is in the Rajya Sabha. For his erstwhile companions the word gun is an object of ridicule and he now teaches peace, occasionally being very unsparing in his criticism of the former Andhra-Odisha zonal guys who now hold the reins, through his columns in a periodical run by an ex-mediator of the 2011-12 period.

Some of the political leaders who had a role to play in the yesteryears’ scams like mining, dal or rice and other such matters, are now mired in more disreputable controversies and the cases pending in several ‘praja courts’. The new rulers, however, appear completely disinclined to waste time on the past. They need a wholesome environment in the building of a new political climate under a newly formed anti-corruption wing called PLF (Public Loyalty Front) .

The media, now virtually ruffled by frequent gagging, has little to scare the politicians. However, a few tepid ones juggle their way through to engineer cracks and expose the chinks in the present system. What adds to the problems is that media fails to know what’s going on within the corridors of power.

Press conferences or briefings are now things of past; all official communications are routed through audio tapes and e-mails and the cell that controls this system is known as ISI (Integrated Services On Information) headed by an ex-jungle-queen-in-cap, Karuna.

The capital city Bhubaneswar got a real makeover.

Serpentine spread of about a dozen 16-lane roads in many places cruise through the main parts of the capital city, highlighted by outlandish signages in complete red. A complex transformation in the nomenclature has been forced upon the landscape.

The road leading from the airport to the info city is now known as ‘Adivasi Marg’ and the Master Canteen Square, now harbours a huge bust, made of Kondalite rock, climbing on the old horse, of a slain jungle hero who got martyrdom in 2011 in West Bengal.

The road from there running towards the Assembly is flanked with several kiosks with drinking water outlets for occasional strikers and for the PMG Square, there is a minor change in the abbreviation; the letter ‘M’ has been replaced by ‘W’!

The National Highway No 5 now prides flyovers after every 500 metres and surely appears to be the most constipated road communication regulating a population which has swelled to about 40 lakhs; thanks to the influx of outsiders into the city from the jungles also. Many people call it Flyways. And new slums have emerged under the flyovers, housing chunks of tribals who had suffered the ravages of the so called war.

Saturation of concrete has led to the virtual disappearance of all the trees right from the entrance into the city to its end. Though now it is difficult to fathom where the city begins and where it ends. Pedestrians have forgotten what is shadow and the sparsely planted hedges on the road dividers remain the last vestiges of our capital’s green heritage. Roads everywhere and the ubiquitous concrete jungle have been able to wipe out all sources of respite. But the new set of rulers has decided to compensate the loss of thousands and thousands of trees felled by them 30 years back for road blockades.

The state’s underbelly has, as if, morphed from a self-determined struggle for the poor into what seemed to be a theatre of the absurd born of impetuosity incubated in the jungles.

It is all funny, isn’t it?