Genesis of Kandhamal strife traced to 1981 move of Reservation to Converted Christians

published on December 30, 2007

Genesis of Kandhamal strife traced to 1981 move

Pioneer News Service | Bhubaneswar

The genesis of the communal violence in Kandhamal district, which has cost senior Minister Padmanabha Behera his job, could be attributed to a step taken by the then Congress Chief Minister JB Patnaik in 1981 to enlist the Kui-speaking members of the Pana community, who have converted into Christianity, as tribals so that they would be entitled to reservations.

Though the Panas are known to originally belong to the Scheduled Castes and not Scheduled Tribes, an argument was advanced that the Kui-speaking Panas were by mistake categorised as SC in 1956 when SC and ST lists were first made officially in the country.

On the basis of the State Government’s recommendation in 1981, the President of India had issued and order in 2002 in favour of the Panas being enlisted as tribals after the Government of India went through a lot of time-consuming formalities.

Following the JB Patnaik Government’s recommendation to the Centre in their favour, the Panas of Kandhamal were upbeat, while tribals, particularly the Kui tribal community, were agitated over the move. Skirmishes between the two communities took place from time to time, with the situation taking a serious turn in 1994.

After the Presidential order accepting the former Congress Government’s recommendation came in 2002, the Panas became more militant. But the incumbent BJD-BJP Government refrained from implementing the order taking into account the ground realities concerning the inter-community situation. This irked the Panas, on whose behalf the Supreme Court was moved to direct the State Government to implement the order. The Supreme Court, however, observed that it was up to the State Government to act in this regard.

Present Congress Rajya Sabha member Radha Kanta Nayak, who is a Christian from Kandhamal and known to be pro-Pana and who is under severe criticism by Hindu activists for his alleged role behind the communal strife, is reported to have influenced JB Patnaik to recommend the Centre to enlist Pana converts as tribals. In 1981, Nayak, as an IAS officer, was the Secretary of a State Government department.

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