Playing Chess with Maoists

In 2012, two Italian tourists were abducted and held hostages by Maoists in tribal-dominated Kandhamal-Ganjam border area in Odisha. For one whole month, there were intense negotiations between Maoists and the Government. The hostages were later released after the Government fulfilled Maoists’ demands.

Claudio Colangelo and Paolo Bosusco with the Maoist mastermind Sabyasachi Panda (center).

News channels in India had updates every hour. With every passing day, the news of abducted Italian tourists started gaining national prominence and became a matter of prestige for the Indian Government. The mastermind behind the abduction Sabyasachi Panda came into international news during this period.

Chess connection

In his latest book, senior journalist and author Kishalay Bhattacharjee through his research had an opportunity to tell the stories which unfolded in the jungles of Kandhamal. His new book, ‘An Unfinished Revolution’, examines the 2012 abduction of Italians Paulo Bosusco and Claudio Colangelo in Kandhamal. Here is an excerpt:


In the middle of a jungle in Kandhamal in Odisha, where it is unbelievably hot and humid, two men – an abductor and a captive – are engrossed in a game of chess. The hostage is winning repeatedly and the captor is frustrated with defeat after defeat. The captive’s life hangs on the whims of the captor whose existential crisis now is about losing chess matches to a man he holds prisoner. He feeds the hostage fruits and cashew nuts and bread and butter with mashed potatoes, bartering their lives for his demands. And he hates to lose.

The hostage belongs to a different world, thousands of kilometres away, and the captor is the commander of an armed underground left-wing extremist party that has been fighting the Indian security forces for years. Held at gunpoint with no certainty about his life, the hostage challenges the captor to this series of games and hands out a humiliating defeat.

While they are at play, hundreds of people are searching for them. Television networks are playing up the news every day – of the “abduction drama” and “hostage crisis”. Negotiators are having endless sessions with the government authorities. Security forces are planning their next move. But here, under the scorching sun in a burning forest, where there is danger of an attack every moment, the chess players play on, oblivious to their surroundings.

Excerpted with permission from An Unfinished Revolution: A Hostage Crisis, Adivasi Resistance And The Naxal Movement, Kishalay Bhattacharjee, Pan Macmillan Books.

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