Bastar encounters: Is IG Kalluri's war against Maoists or Adivasis?
Until recently, the supporters of Inspector General (Bastar) Shivram Prasad Kalluri have blamed 'anti-national' journalists, lawyers and social activists for vitiating the atmosphere of the region. However, tables seem to be turning for their narrative as Adivasi organisations and political parties are joining hands to raise their voice against atrocities committed by the Bastar police in the name of anti-Naxal operations.
The demand for removal of Kalluri is increasingly gaining ground through mass protests as well as political rallies.
Campaign against Adivasis?
IG Kalluri has unabashedly justified the recent killings of two youths Sonaku and Bijlu near the Gompad village in Bastar. While the police has labelled the deceased as Maoists, their relatives have vehemently denied the charge.
The locals insist both the young boys had gone to the Sanguel village to inform their aunt about the demise of a six-year-old child in their family. Both of them stayed in the village for the night. A police team barged into the house in the wee hours of the morning and picked them up. The youths were then allegedly taken to the jungle and shot.
Dantewada MLA Devti Karma - wife of the Salwa Judum leader Mahendra Karma - is known for supporting the police cause. She, too, has admitted after visiting the site of the encounter that the killings appeared to be fake encounters.
Tribal activist and Aam Aadmi Party leader Soni Sori's campaign against police atrocities has offended the local administration for long. She alleges that the police is wiping out the Adivasi population at the Raman Singh government's behest. The aim, she says, is to turn Chhattisgarh into an "Adivasi-mukt' state so that nobody raises the demand to hand over the command of the state to an Adivasi leader.
Chief Minister Raman Singh, who has been in power since 2003, is a non-Adivasi and the government and bureaucracy is dominated by non-Adivasis.
Is Kalluri soft on Maoists from Andhra?
Representatives from the Congress party visited Sanguel village after the alleged fake encounter. The team led by the state party chief Bhupesh Baghel prepared a report indicting the ongoing anti-Maoist operations under Kalluri.
The team alleges Kalluri is targeting innocent villagers to create a false halo around himself. The Congress legislators point towards the fact that Kalluri hails from Andhra Pradesh. It is well-known that Andhra-based Maoist leaders control the insurgent activities in Bastar.
Many senior Maoist leaders hail from the same Kamma community as Kalluri.
Under Kalluri's leadership, the police hasn't effectively targetted any Maoist leader from Andhra Pradesh, if the fact-finding team is to be believed.
Most of the victims of police action are tribals - mainly school kids, labourers or poor farmers. The Adivasi Yuva Chhatra Sangathan (AYCS) has organised a series of protests in Kanker, Kondagaon and Bhanupratapur burning Kalluri's effigies and demanding strict action against him.
On 3 October, the young tribal activists held protests throughout the state. "Kalluri is being projected as an answer to Naxal terror. In reality, the police is only terrorising hapless villagers," says Yoshin Kuraiti, the AYCS Bastar president.
Leaders of the Communist Party of India (CPI) have recently held a meeting in Durg to discuss the demand for action against Kalluri. According to senior CPI leader CR Bakshi, "Kalluri has become like Hitler. His tyranny has finished democracy in Bastar."
Sarva Adivasi Samaj president Prakash Thakur echoes the same sentiment. "It has become impossible for tribals to live in Bastar. The villagers are picked up by the police and labelled as Maoists without any evidence," he says. Among the youths of Dantewada, Bijapur and Sukma, there is a simmering anger against Kalluri .
Kalluri was known to be close to Congress leader Ajit Jogi when he was the Chief Minister. However, now the latter has distanced himself from the controversial cop.
"Kalluri had worked well against Maoists when he was appointed in Sarguja. But, I have stopped favouring him ever since he has started handing over death sentences to poor Adivasis. I consider him as an officer who does not refrain from killing people for medals. We all want an end to Maoism in Bastar, but not at the cost of innocent lives," Jogi claims.
"Kalluri has turned Bastar into a battlefield from the day he was posted in the region. The Bastar Adivasis want to live in peace as per their traditions," Jogi adds.
Social activist Himanshu Kumar levels some sensational charges against Kalluri. "He has lured most local journalists with the promise of government contracts. It is possible some journalists have taken this bait," he claims.
According to Kumar, Kalluri had offered Rs 30 lakhs to Soni Sori for remaining silent over Adivasi killings and that Sori's refusal was followed by an acid attack on her.
Kalluri was accused of abducting the family of a young girl and falsely framing lawyer Amarnath Pandey during his tenure in Sarguja. In 2011, social activist Swami Agnivesh claimed he was attacked by Kalluri's supporters while visiting the villages of the Tadmetla region that were allegedly burnt by security forces. Even economist Jean Dreze is said to have been attacked by Kalluri in Saguja during the Right to Work campaign.
Journalists Somaru Nag, Prabhat Nag and Santosh Yadav along with social activists Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal have also accused Kalluri of vindictiveness.
Translated by Deepak Sharma. Edited by Aditya Menon.