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Wages of Counter-Insurgency

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY Wages of Counter-Insurgency The killing of 26 tribal persons in a landmine explosion on February 28 near Eklagoda village in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, when they were returning from an anti-Maoist meeting organised by the Salwa Judum was abominable. Why target tribals for attending Salwa Judum meetings, when the Maoists know that most of them have no choice in the matter? Such killings are sure to erode the moral authority of the Maoists among the tribal community, which is their mass base in the district. While we abhor such acts, there is a need to reflect over the root causes of the upsurge in political violence in Dantewada district from June last year. The task is made more difficult, for sources of independent reporting have been sought to be muzzled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Chhattisgarh government. Independent local journalists have been harassed, and now, the Chhattisgarh Public Safety Bill, 2005, which has gone for presidential assent, will, if approved, throttle the freedom of speech and expression in the state. It was the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government that strongly advocated the creation and promotion of

March 18, 2006

WEEKLYECONOMIC AND POLITICAL

Wages of Counter-Insurgency

T
he killing of 26 tribal persons in a landmine Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh. It was around 1980 explosion on February 28 near Eklagoda village that the erstwhile People’s War Group, under the ausin Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, when they pices of the Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Sanghatan (AKMS), were returning from an anti-Maoist meeting organised began organising the poor among the tribals of Dantewada by the Salwa Judum was abominable. Why target tribals against the oppressive forest, revenue and police offifor attending Salwa Judum meetings, when the Maoists cials, and the contractors, traders and moneylenders. The know that most of them have no choice in the matter? AKMS also took up the demand for pattas on forest land Such killings are sure to erode the moral authority of the brought under cultivation and on cultivable land in forest Maoists among the tribal community, which is their mass villages. The AKMS sanghams eventually displaced the base in the district. While we abhor such acts, there is a village ‘mukhia’ and other local leaders, took over the need to reflect over the root causes of the upsurge in decision- making process on local issues and even began political violence in Dantewada district from June last settling disputes. The organisation also took control of year. The task is made more difficult, for sources of the collection and sale of minor forest produce, like the independent reporting have been sought to be muzzled tendu patta, in favour of the poor. All this naturally by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Chhattisgarh generated opposition among the local elite and the government. Independent local journalists have been corrupt local officials. The 1990s itself witnessed harassed, and now, the Chhattisgarh Public Safety Bill, organised retaliation against the Maoists in the form of 2005, which has gone for presidential assent, will, if the Jan Jagran Abhiyans, which, in turn, generated approved, throttle the freedom of speech and expression Maoist counter-attacks. By 2000, CRPF presence bein the state. came a permanent feature, joined later on by an India

It was the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Reserve Battalion from Nagaland. With the anti-Naxalite government that strongly advocated the creation and counter-insurgency operations policy hatched by the promotion of “local resistance groups”, including village BJP-led NDA regime in place, the subsequent coming defence committees, and the recruitment-cum-training to power of a BJP-led government in Chhattisgarh and of special police officers, almost wholly at central govern-with the UPA government at the centre accepting the ment expense, as part of counter-insurgency policy in counter-insurgency policy, the stage was set for the “Naxalite-infested areas”. The idea was to build a network emergence of the Salwa Judum in May-June 2005. of informers and combatants among the civilian popu-Interestingly, in an alliance of sorts between the Congress lation in order to destroy the socio-political network of and the BJP, the leader of the opposition in the state the Maoists from the village level upwards. So, in each assembly, Mahendra Karma, soon emerged as its leader. of the Maoist stronghold districts, the district armed ‘Salwa’ is said to be the Gondi word for holy water police force, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) sprinkled on a patient to cure the disease and, ‘Judum’ and the India Reserve Battalion were to be backed by an means collective hunt. The oppressors and exploiters armed civilian “local resistance group”. The present counter-have gone on a “purification hunt” to rid the tribal insurgency operation in Dantewada district, with the community of the disease of Maoism. But they obvi-Salwa Judum as the “local resistance group”, is perhaps ously need foot soldiers in this undeclared war. The last a test case for eventual implementation in the nine states seven months have witnessed violent attacks, looting, where the Naxalites are perceived to be a problem. intimidation, rape and killing on an unprecedented scale,

Dantewada, which was earlier a part of the Bastar accompanied by the mobilisation of the surrendered and district of Madhya Pradesh, has a border with the the displaced. In this undeclared war, entire villages have

been evacuated and thousands of displaced persons have been hounded into camps, now and then forced to attend Salwa Judum rallies. The Maoists have counter-attacked, but their crimes have been exaggerated out of proportion by the media. The BJP and the Congress have a common “security and development” policy. But the only visible sign of so-called development in Dantewada is the building of roads to secure the movement of the security forces and the Salwa Judum in their joint undeclared war against the Maoists. This is a mineral rich region, with the private sector, including the multinational companies, waiting to secure and exploit lucrative leases of the high quality Bailadilla iron ore deposits and other constituents of nature’s bounty. Given the pattern of development envisaged, the vast majority, the tribal poor, will only emerge as the victims of such a process. EPW

Economic and Political Weekly March 18, 2006

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