Salwa Judum in a new guise? AGNI goads Bastar villagers to go after Maoists
Bastar's Jagdalpur played host to a 'Lalkar' rally on Saturday, organised by the Action Group for National Integrity (AGNI), an anti-Maoist group.
Thousands of people turned up for the rally, but AGNI's bid to dare the insurgents through mass mobilisation seems to have backfired.
Cops heavily involved
Several political parties, as well as civil rights organisations, have frowned at the way senior police officers of the region thronged to participate in this political event. Bastar police Inspector General SRP Kalluri, as well as Superintendent of Police RN Das, were seen active during the rally.
Alok Shukla, convener of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, said the rally was a part of the strategy meant to suppress the tribals. "Instead of sending a message against Maoists, the rally was reduced to a show of strength by the local police," Shukla said.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanket Thakur alleged: "The speeches made during the rally gave an impression that the state government had given up on a social and political solution to the Naxal problem. It appeared to have acceded all its authority to the police."
According to Thakur's party colleague and Adivasi activist Soni Sori: "IG Kalluri seems to be preparing the ground for his political debut in the name of the anti-Maoist movement."
There remain questions whether the police officials participating in the rally have not broken the model code of conduct meant for civil servants. Service rules prohibit all government servants from taking part in any political event.
AGNI leader Anand Mohan Mishra stated that over 50,000 people from the seven districts of the Bastar region were present at the rally. While his claims cannot be independently verified, it is true that the rally attracted a large number of men, women and children.
School children were seen carrying placards with slogans demanding that the Naxalites leave Bastar. Several tribals had come to the rally with their traditional musical instruments. Nevertheless, the organisers had arranged for a modern DJ and orchestra to woo the young activists.
Besides, several 'selfie points' were marked at the venue. Many cops were heard telling the rural youth, "Maovadiyon ko gaon se bhagao, muskurate hue photo khinchwao (chase away the Maoists from your village, and smile for a selfie)."
'Go after Maoists'
Most of the speakers at the rally stressed that the people of Bastar wanted peace, but the Maoists were waging an unjustified war against the state. They exhorted the villagers to deny the insurgents food and other logistics.
Some AGNI leaders even advised the audience to beat up any Naxalite entering their villages, and hand over the suspect to the police.
However, not many seemed amused by this idea. TS Singh Deo, the leader of the Opposition in Chhattisgarh, said he considered it a dangerous proposition. He reminded how the administration had provoked civilians for similar action during the Salwa Judum movement.
Later, the Supreme Court had unequivocally stated that the responsibility of dealing with insurgency rested solely with the police and security agencies. It was not only immoral, but illegal to push civilians in the line of the Naxals' fire.
Singh Deo believes the rally was an attempt to push innocent tribals into the midst of this war. "What is the need for such a heavy security deployment in Bastar, if citizens have to fight the Maoists?" he asked.
While there were a large number of officials, businessmen, tribals and housewives in attendance at the rally, most political leaders maintained a distance from the event. Mahesh Gagda and Kedar Kashyap, two of the state ministers from Bastar, chose not to attend the rally.
"Everybody wants Maoism to end in Bastar. However, it cannot be done by coercion. The policemen involved in killing Adivasis by labelling them as Maoists are engaging in an exercise to improve their public image. I decided to stay away from this drama," said Kanker MLA Shankar Dhruva.
BJP MLA from Jagdalpur, Santosh Bafna, praised the government's anti-Naxal efforts, but explained that his other engagements prevented him from participating in the rally.
Kondagaon MLA Mohan Markam said he did not feel as though it was necessary to participate in the rally, as he was aware of the "tactics adopted by the Bastar police in anti-Naxal operations".
No word on Adivasi issues
Speaker after speaker denounced Maoism during the rally. Heaps of praises were showered on the Bastar police. However, nobody raised the issue of the persecution of Adivasis in the name of anti-Naxal operations.
According to social activist Himanshu Kumar: "This rally was meant to answer Soni Sori's recently-concluded Tiranga Yatra. Patriotic songs and slogans were played during the rally to give a message that locals wanted to uproot Naxals from the region. However, nobody bothered to suggest a solution for the elimination of this menace. While they all wanted tough action against Maoists, none of the speakers pointed out that Maoism derives sustenance from a lack of development. Not a single AGNI leader raised the issue of hundreds of Adivasis languishing in prisons on false charges."
The underlying theme of the rally was to intensify the struggle between Adivasis and non-Adivasis.
Lakhan Singh, the state president of the People's Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL), is worried that the crowd that had turned up at the rally could prove dangerous in the near future.
AGNI has announced it will wage a door-to-door campaign, asking villagers to take on the Maoists. Is the Salwa Judum coming back to Chhattisgarh in a new guise?
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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