Before the situation in the Naxal-affected areas got out of hand, the Raman Singh government intervened to calm tempers between the police and human rights activists.
R Krishna Das reports.
Last month, Chief Minister Raman Singh was on a visit to Jagdalpur, the divisional headquarters of restive Bastar.
As his cavalcade entered the main road of the city, a poster put up by a vigilante group called the Samajik Ekta Manch (also called Action Group for National Integrity or AGNI) drew his attention: 'Stop supporting the rights activists.'
Singh, a doctor by training, was scheduled to meet noted human rights activist, academic and researcher Bela Bhatia during his visit.
A few days earlier, she had been intimidated and served an ultimatum by a mob, led allegedly by members of AGNI, to vacate her rented house at Parpa, a village on the fringes of Jagdalpur, within 24 hours and leave Bastar for good.
Those who had put up the poster did not want the three-time chief minister to go soft on Bhatia, a PhD from Cambridge, and others who have consistently pointed out atrocities committed by the police in the Naxalite-infested zone.
Singh stayed the course.
S R P Kalluri, the controversial inspector general of police for Bastar, was moved to Raipur where he was attached to the headquarters.
AGNI, along with another vigilante group called the Bastar Vikas Sangharsh Samiti, was proscribed.
Dr Bhatia has moved to Jagdalpur where she has been provided accommodation and security by the Chhattisgarh government.
Dr Bhatia is among several human rights activists in the region who have been hounded by unfriendly mobs in the conflict zone.
Their crime was that they raised their voice against cases of police atrocities against the Adivasis.
Last year, journalist Malini Subramaniam, lawyers Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal, and Aam Aadmi Party leader Soni Sori were not only intimidated and physically attacked but were also driven out of Bastar by vigilante groups.
Academic and activist Nandini Sundar too had to face their wrath.
On November 1, a first information report, or FIR, was lodged in the Peddagalur village of Bijapur district that policemen had raped Adivasi women in large numbers in November 2015 in Bastar, following an enquiry by the Women against Sexual Violence & State Repression.
The National Human Rights Commission last month endorsed that at least 16 women had been sexually assaulted.
Dr Bhatia came in AGNI's crosshairs after she accompanied the National Human Rights Commission team in the region to record the statements of the assault survivors who had filed FIRs against the police personnel.
The Raman Singh government, which will seek re-election next year, was aware that the attack on Dr Bhatia could snowball into a serious affair, and hence it swiftly took action.
The government in the state remains more or less unchallenged.
With a weak Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party government has never come across any serious political crisis in the last 13 years.
With a slew of welfare measures and fiscal prudence aimed at delivering to the poor, Dr Singh's popularity graph has remained intact.
The only blemish is that the relationship between the police and vigilantes on one side and activists on the other has touched a new low in Chhattisgarh.
While activists say the vigilantes, propped up by the police, are silent on the atrocities committed by the State, the vigilantes, in turn, say the activists are sympathetic towards the Left-wing extremists and ignore their misdemeanours.
The situation was not so hostile three years ago.
Soon after Kalluri took over as IGP in Bastar in June 2014, the police-activist confrontation in Bastar reached a new pitch.
The activists have been openly blaming him for backing AGNI.
In its no-holds-barred fight with the extremists, the Chhattisgarh police have tried to take the people along.
In the middle of the last decade, they had mobilised an armed militia, which was called Salwa Judum and comprised the local youth, and deployed in the Naxalite-affected areas.
In 2011, the Supreme Court found it illegal and unConstitutional and accordingly ordered it to be disbanded.
The vigilante groups were not armed, but didn't shy away from intimidating those who did not agree with their narrative of the Naxal-police conflict.
The 'withdrawal' of Kalluri from Bastar is a major development that underlines the Raman Singh government's acknowledgement that all was not well with the way things were being done in Bastar. Or else, it wouldn't have removed him.
That is because the operations against the Naxalite extremists have reached a decisive junction.
Though he was under the scanner of the rights activists, the credit for pushing the Naxalites to the back foot must go to Kalluri.
No major bloodbath by rebels has been reported from Bastar in the past year-and-a-half.
Removing him at this crucial juncture shows that the government wanted to put a lid on the confrontation with activists at all costs.
Kalluri had vowed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make Bastar Naxalite free before the next state polls in November 2018.
He was pulling all the strings to achieve that target. In his view, nothing short of a serious war was going on in Bastar and it had to be won.
But the intolerance of the police against critics has opened a new front in the region. The police claim the activists support the extremists.
Anyone against the police or raising his voice in support of the tribes runs the risk of being dubbed a Naxal sympathiser.
Kalluri has allegedly never taken gently to any interference from 'outsiders' in his efforts to ensure 'law and order' in the region.
In this, he received unwavering support from the vigilantes.
AGNI National Convener Anand Mohan Mishra says activists from 'outside' are complicating the issue.
"The activists talk about police atrocities, but never say a word when Naxalites brutally kill security personnel and poor villagers," he says, adding that there cannot be two standards for human rights violation.
To be fair, the activists have never convincingly countered this allegation, which has widened the rift.
When Dr Bhatia met Chief Minister Singh, she submitted a letter and appealed to him to ensure the 'observation of the rule of law by all State institutions including the police.'
The Opposition parties have come out in support of the activists.
Chhattisgarh's Leader of the Oopposition, T S Singhdeo of the Congress, says the BJP-led governments at the Centre and in the state are subverting democratic institutions and the rule of law.
The chief minister finally realised that the confrontation between activists and the police was not wise.
'Freedom of speech is a fundamental right and its violation is a serious issue,' Dr Singh said in Jagdalpur, giving a clear indication that the security forces were not on the right track.
The removal of Kalluri and the ban on the two vigilante groups followed. Mishra in a statement on February 9, said in the given circumstances, without any specific reason, AGNI has been dissolved with immediate effect.
Had the actions come earlier, Bastar would not have been aflame with police-activist conflict.
IMAGE: Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Dr Raman Singh pays homage at the Amar Jawan Smarak in Jagadalapur. Photograph: Kined courtesy Raman Singh/Twitter