BJP defends riot-tainted candidate*

PHULBANI: Manoj Pradhan is a prime accused in last year’s ethno-communal riots in Kandhamal and is presently behind the bars. But that has not stopped BJP from nominating him to contest from the communally split G Udayagiri Assembly seat.
Over 600 people were arrested in connection with the unprecedented violence that left over 40 dead in Kandhamal following the massacre of Hindu seer Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in August. But police had been described Pradhan as the “prize catch”. The young man, who is in his thirties, was picked up from a lodge in Berhampur on October 15.
“Pradhan, a member of the tribal Kandh community, was so to say the field commander. He allegedly led mobs at different places and engaged in violence,” a police source said.
The BJP, however, does not agree with it. “Pradhan has nothing to do with the riots. The administration has fabricated the charges against him. The whole purpose is to defame BJP,” state party spokesperson Nayan Mohanty told TOI. “Pradhan will surely file his nomination and contest the elections from inside the jail. There is nothing wrong with it because a number of netas have done the same in the past. The polls will prove Pradhans popularity,” he said.
The BJP’s intentions to hardsell its Hindutva agenda during the twin polls is evident at least in Kandhamal. It has not only ticket the Kandhamal Lok Sabh ticket to state Hindu Jagaran Sammukhya president Ashok Sahu, a retired IPS officer who has blamed “Christian militants” for Saraswati’s murder.
Expectedly, this has not gone down well with the over 3000 Christians staying at five relief camps located in Raikia, G Udayagiri and Tikabali blocks. Julian Digal is one such person. It’s been seven months since he escaped death and fled away to a relief camp at Tikabali. In between, the relief camp has been relocated while his wife and two kids have moved out of riot-hit Kandhamal district to resume normal life. But Julian refuses to return home before the approaching elections are over.
“We certainly don’t enjoy camp life, but we cannot go back till the elections are there. Violence is a distinct possibility during the polls and we cannot afford to risk our lives,” explained Julian, whose village Breka was among the worst-hit during last year’s ethno-communal carnage.
“We are scared to return to our villages. Though tensions have come down, still there will be elements who would like to fuel fresh problems against Christians during the polls. Hence, we would consider leaving the relief camp post-elections,” pointed out Dharmendra Pradhan of Katadi village in Gardingia panchayat. Dharmendra, too, is getting bored at the camp. “I am staying with my family. But my brother Bikram has gone to Rourkela for employment opportunities,” he said.
“During the peak violence around 25,000 populated the camps. Most of the people have returned to their villages. Those who are not feeling confident are staying at the camps. They should return after the polls,” a senior officer observed. Evidently, polls have made the already vulnerable victims more vulnerable and the administration is in no hurry to push the riot-affected back to their villages. While there always exists a possibility of the Hindu and Christian groups turning violent again, the entry of Maoists, especially to reignite the ethno-communal discord during the polls, has further queered the pitch. “There could be attempts by certain groups to whip up communal passions during the polls. The Maoists plans to execute targeted killings might also cause violent reprisals from tribals,” a cop said. His apprehensions do not seem unfounded.

*30 Mar 2009, 2329 hrs IST, Sandeep Mishra, TNN


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