Odisha: A state going nowhere
As the computer was taking time to open my bank account details, the customer care executive chose to chat up. “So you are from Orissa,” he guessed, and that’s not a difficult guess to make — mine is a surname that’s not common to any other state. “There are lots of Maoists there,” he said, as if there was no other description. Well, there has never been a description that has made me feel good about my state.
Twenty-seven years ago, when I migrated to Delhi, mine was a state whose chief minister would make headlines for his alleged homosexual escapades. Then there were starvation deaths that made news in the late 80s. Spotlight fell on it again when a devastating cyclone struck in 1999, killing tens of thousands. The festering image of a poverty-ridden, backward state still did not leave a native like me as despondent as it does today with the spurt in Maoist violence in what was once seen as a state endowed enough to lead the journey of modern India.
It is, as some would say, a rich state with poor people. From mineral reserves to forests and a long coastline, it has everything that takes to build a prosperous state. Among India’s states, it has one of the most favourable land-man ratio. For decades, it had also been a state free of caste and ethnic conflicts.
Yet, its ruling class squandered away every opportunity that came its way. The result: it has turned into the newest hotbed of Maoist violence. Widespread poverty and economic disparity are pushing more and more tribals — they make up for about a quarter of the state’s population — into the rebels’ fold.
What was once considered a state where one would rarely see radical politics is now heading to the top of the list of India’s worst Maoist-affected states.
The recent abductions of two Italians and a local MLA are a sad depiction of this new reality that my native state — Odisha, and not Orissa anymore — has come to embrace.
It is a state that is going nowhere.