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In Kandhamal, authorities battle heavy odds

April 10, 2009

Reportage and photographs: Prasanna D Zore and Uttam Ghosh in Phulbani, Kandhamal

The Kandhamal Lok Sabha constituency is in the international limelight and there are reasons for it.

Ever since the murder of 80-year-old Swami Laxmanananda, a high profile Vishwa Hindu Parishad priest, on August 23, 2008, allegedly by 'Christian Maoists' the district has been simmering with communal rage.

According to Ashok Sahu, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from Kandhamal, 41 people -- 26 Christians and 15 Hindus -- died in the violence that followed. It left as many as 25,000 people -- 21,000 Christians and 4,000 Hindus-- homeless in the district, according to District Magistrate Krishan Kumar.

To further compound the problems there are Maoists who have issued threats to many local government officials and candidates against working for the democratic process.

Add to that 7,649 sq km of inhospitable terrain characterised by dense forests and low, scattered hills, 1.1 million voters, manning of polling stations in Maoist-influenced areas (Kotgarh, Daringbadi and Raikia as per Kandhamal Superintendent of Police Praveen Kumar) and you understand the magnitude of difficulties faced by the district administration.

Image: Central Reserve Police Force jawans outside a refugee camp in Kandhamal

Also see: 'No party wants to displease the Hindus | India Votes 2009