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Chhattisgarh Director General of Police Vishwa Ranjan spoke to Sreelatha Menon in New Delhi. He says the Naxals see industry as a source of earning and won't ruin its work.
Development has been denied to Bastar villages. Is there any administration in the interiors?
None. There is no agency in the villages seriously affected by the Naxals. Except, of course, the police.
But how much longer will they have to wait?
We have contained the Naxals in the fringe. But we can't progress beyond as we need higher force levels. There are five districts in Bastar and all of them are intensely or partially affected. For five districts with an area of 45,000 sq km, we have just 13 battalions from the government of India. We need at least 70 battalions.
What clicked in Andhra Pradesh? Will you adopt their formula?
What clicked there was their strategy of Greyhound, their counter-guerrilla group. But now, the Naxals are doing more militarised operations and soon Andhra Pradesh will face the same problems that we are facing. The Naxals are being trained in Chhattisgarh. At any given time, 1,600 to 2,000 people from other states are being trained here. For Andhra Pradesh, it won't be difficult to change its strategy. We have also been imparting an approach that is a mix of Greyhound type anti-guerrilla and the jungle warfare that is taught in Wairangte (the Army's Counter Insurgency Warfare School in Mizoram). We have started this syllabus which is a combination of Greyhound and the courses taught at Wairangte.
What do you propose to do till you get enough forces?
That I won't tell you.
Is that why the government sought the support of the Salwa Judum?
The Salwa Judum is a separate issue. What happened in Bastar is that we have been waging a battle with the Naxals for three years. The Naxals came there due to some issues that were never resolved. The tribals never accepted the Forest Act and so there was always some clash or the other with the forest agency. Then, Project Tiger came and villages got uprooted. The Naxals took this up and got control in Bijapur. But they are too rational and didn't care much for tribal customs and rituals. So the Madia tribals rebelled and the first rebellion was the Jan Jagran Abhiyan in 1991. The government offered no support. It (the rebellion) collapsed. The rebels got killed by the Naxals when they returned to their villages. There was a rebellion again in 2005. The tribals were taking out rallies and also meeting the Naxals. Then they ran for safety to police camps. The Congress leader, Mahendra Karma, a Madia tribal himself, jumped into this as a political opportunity and took the Bijapur-based movement to Dantewada. The government supported the rebellion this time.
The government had been providing protection to the villagers from Naxal attacks. It was too expensive. So it was better to support the Salwa Judum.
And why were the Special Police Officers recruited?
To protect the camps set up for the Salwa Judum. They were trained by us. The Naxals started attacking the Salwa Judum.
Was it a wrong move on the part of the government?
No. In a democracy, it is a legal provision. For the Naxals, it was a problem as they became very vulnerable. In fact, in an interview, Ganapathi Muppalla Lakshman Rao (general secretary and leader of the CPI (Maoist), said Sudhir Mahto (former Jharkhand deputy chief minister) was killed as he was afraid that Mahto would create another Salwa Judum.
So you feel Salwa Judum was an achievement...
Definitely, it is a success. But it is a success on an immediate level and can't be a sustainable strategy. A tribal can't live in shelter camps forever. He likes to be free and go to the markets, do cock fights, drink his toddy�
Is it not true that some Salwa Judum shelter camps are being converted into revenue villages? What would happen to their freedom then?
The tribals won't accept it. They opposed the Bodhghat project only because the sago palm, which gives them their toddy, would be affected. The government had to withdraw the project. Even a bid to cultivate the tropical pine was resisted and had to be dropped.
Now, jatropha is being thrust on them. Are they resisting?
I don't know.
But the camps are still being converted into revenue villages.
It is not possible as many camps are in forest areas.
So, maybe only in revenue areas.
Yes, that is possible.
But you have stopped supporting the Salwa Judum. Operations have been scaled down.
Yes, we have stopped the rallies as we can't protect them. We don't have enough forces to protect the rallies. Do you know there are many unsanctioned Salwa Judum camps? We make camps for police, and Salwa Judum or villagers fleeing from the Naxals come and take over. Then we have to make a new camp for police to cover this camp. So far, eight to nine such camps have come up, apart from the 29 sanctioned ones.
The state support to the Salwa Judum and the displacement is being linked with its need to help companies acquire land for mining projects.
Lohandiguda, which the Tatas want, is not under influence of the Naxals. Essar has already got land to lay its pipeline through Dantewada.
Don't they face threat from the Naxals?
The Naxals won't harm them. In fact, the day the Tatas start talking to the Naxals, they will get land. The Naxals see industry as a source of earning and won't ruin its work. They loot police and army for arms and the government and industry for money.
Why is the state targeting human rights activists like Binayak Sen instead of tackling hardcore Naxalites? His only crime was to speak against the Salwa Judum.
Sen has been arrested under the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act for helping a Maoist Politburo member hide. His name has come in Naxal documents.
So is he a Naxal? Won't the government prefer to let him go rather than face criticism?
Sen provided logistic support to Naxals like Narayan Sanyal. It was not just intellectual support but more. We won't let him go.
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