In winter, Kandhamal becomes the coldest district in Orissa. But this winter, the district is literally on fire. It is on the boil with a communal flare-up showing little signs of cooling down.
The tribal district witnessed the worst-ever violence last week, leaving four persons killed and several others injured in communal clashes and police firing. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik and his director general of police, Gopala Nanda, who air-dashed to the district headquarters to review the developments, were welcomed with fresh riots reported in various parts of the district.
As such, Kandhamal has been seething with communal animosity for quite some time now. With Christian missionaries going in for conversions and the Vishwa Hindu Prisad holding re-conversion camps, tension had been dormant. The erection of a Christmas arch on the eve of Christmas is what is said to have caused an altercation between the two communities. This led to an attack on Swami Lakhananda Saraswati, a local VHP leader. In retaliation, churches were attacked. Within hours, violence engulfed the entire district.
Naveen Patnaik has ordered a judicial probe into the violence and policemen have been deployed in large numbers in the district. Curfew has been clamped in sensitive towns and villages. But all this has failed to deter the trouble-makers, who disrupted traffic and attacked each other with traditional weapons and local-made guns. What made the situation worse was that while all this was happening, the entire government machinery was busy celebrating the 10th anniversary of the ruling Biju Janata Dal.
While the violence may subside in a few days, the animosity is likely to continue. For, the violence is being backed by vested political interests. In the 1990s, too, Kandhamal witnessed communal clashes. Orissa has seen attacks on churches and Christian missionaries, including the killing of Australian missionary, Graham Staines and his two sons. Hence, to bring about long-lasting peace, instead of dismissing these incidents as a law and order problem, the government needs to go beyond and address the genesis of the trouble.