Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh Bhupesh Baghel raises concerns over reduction in Central funding to combat naxalism and questions the NIA’s tardy progress in probing major encounters.
What is the extent of the spread of Left Wing Extremism(LWE) in Chhattisgarh?
Half of Chhattisgarh is affected by LWE. So far the policy to solve the problem of Naxalism has been a bullet in response to a bullet. Because of this policy, many tribals were arrested or killed, they were sandwiched between Naxals and the security forces. Without any reason, the tribals were becoming the victims from both sides… people were angry and this was seen in the last two elections. We realised that till the time we do not win the trust of people, we cannot win this battle. We returned 40 acres land to 1,700 farmers, gave individual and community land rights over 5,000 hectares of land. We have made it clear that action should not be taken only with the purpose of adding to statistics.
Top Naxal leaders have either been arrested or killed. In the year 2017-18 around 350 Naxals surrendered, this year already 302 Naxals have surrendered. We are trying to give employment to people. I met Home Minister Amit Shah and told him that roads should not only be built for security forces but also for the locals so that they can go to markets, hospitals or school... A solution cannot be reached only at the point of a gun; this is a political, social and an economic issue.
In 2018, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) removed three districts of Chhattisgarh from the list of LWE affected districts? Any other districts being removed soon?
Centre has massively cut the funds that Chhattisgarh earlier used to get, we wrote to the Home Minister regarding this. Earlier we used to get funds in 60:40 (Centre:State) for road construction. As many as 110 aspirational districts were identified in the country, 10 of them are in Chhattisgarh... nine districts in LWE affected areas, but no separate fund was allocated for it, neither in health, education or any other sector. Despite the constraints Bijapur district topped the performance in all aspects.
There still exists a large area which is out of bound for the administration?
The Abujhmaad area falls in Maharashtra as well as Chhattisgarh. Some areas in Bijapur and Narayanpur districts are beyond reach, naturally, conducting operations is not feasible there. We have sought Centre’s permission to build pre-fabricated steel bridges. When such a bridge can be built in Jammu and Kashmir, why not here? Many jawans die while performing security duty during road construction. We do not have any deployment in areas touching the Andhra Pradesh border. Recently we got permission to deploy 5 battalions of central forces in those areas... trying to open a camp so that the distance between camps reduces to 5-10 kilometres from the current 50 kms.
NIA and Maharashtra Police have arrested several activists including Sudha Bharadwaj for the 2018 Bhima Koregaon case. Ms. Bhardwaj has been active in Chhattisgarh for the past several years. What is Chhattisgarh’s police assessment on her role?
The term Urban Naxal has become a jumla, anyone can be arrested or implicated in the name of being an urban Naxal, this has become a fashion. The real action against urban Naxals has been taken by the Chhattisgarh government… those who live in urban areas and supply cash and ammunition to the Naxals. I would like to mention the name of Landmark Engineering Company in Kanker district, they have offices in Bilaspur also. The owner Vishal Jain; Rudransh Construction company in Rajnandgaon….their owners Ajay Jain and staff Komal Verma ...these people were continuously supplying material to the Naxals.
We arrested them, we broke the network. We arrested some people who were supplying ammunition, shoes, olive green uniforms, walkie talkie sets, electric wires... They were arrested in the past six months. People from Delhi came here and became millionaires in five-six years, they got contracts in those areas and supplied money to the Naxals. They are the real urban Naxals… They had an approach till the top.
We know Sudha Bharadwaj, she has worked in my constituency too... I have seen her work as a lawyer, we do not have any information on her links with Naxals, but if she has been arrested, it is possible that there are some secret inputs against her, we do not have such information.
They have not been given bail for over two years?
Ask this question to the Centre. The Jhiram Ghati case (2013) was given to the NIA to investigate, they could not find any evidence, now we want to investigate that case but Centre is denying. We are trying, we went to court also. A BJP MLA was killed in 2019 general elections, we had completed the probe. Then all of a sudden the Centre announced an NIA probe, all the documents were taken away by NIA. We did not give Centre the permission… NIA started interfering that we should get the entire [case] diary to them. Who are they trying to save?
Who, according to you is NIA trying to shield?
We raised this issue during the Chief Ministers’ meet at Vigyan Bhavan (August 2019). [We said] give us the probe when you cannot do anything. What has NIA got till now? They have not agreed that it is a conspiracy. Many leaders like Vidya Charan Shukla, Mahendra Karma were martyred, they were identified and then killed.
Naxals do not ask for names and then kill; they just blow up the entire convoy and flee the scene. [In this case] they waited hours, pumped bullets after asking their names. Was this not a conspiracy? If yes, then why is this not included in your (NIA) investigation?
The FIR filed by the State police names all the big Naxal leaders, but when NIA probed the matter they deleted the names. When Taj Hotel (Mumbai 26/11 terror attack) was attacked, then the leaders sitting in Pakistan were not named? When NIA court ordered the recording of the statement of Gudsa Usendi (top Maoist leader surrendered in January 2014) who is lodged in Andhra Jail, why hasn’t the NIA done so yet. Who are you trying to protect or save? It is 2020 now and the incident pertains to year 2013. There is something that you are hiding.
Who are the big leaders you are referring to?
Ganapathy (top Maoist leader) is there, why his name was removed. He leads the Naxals, why is not NIA questioning Gudsa Usendi?
So where is Ganapathy?
We are after him, we do conduct operations. He has not been caught by any agency or police force yet, there are some areas bordering Maharashtra- Telangana and Odisha, dense forests are there, we have not been able to nab him. But if he is arrested then we will definitely take action.
Isn’t it an intelligence failure that police still does not have a latest photograph of Ganapathi?
I agree with you, we do not have any other photo of him, barring one. This is a challenge for the intelligence and security agencies.
What happened to the Pegasus snooping enquiry?
We probed, and it was not established that any presentation (by Israeli company NSO) was given in front of any officials here. No evidence has been found.
Your government recently passed a law that negates the Centre’s farm laws but Chhattisgarh had not any seen farmers’ protests like in Punjab.
Chhattisgarh is a predominantly an agrarian State and nearly 80% of our population depends on agriculture. So, this law would have affected their lives. Firstly, neither any farmers’ organisation nor any political party had had asked for such a law. This law is not in the interest of the farmers; instead it helps the capitalists. It allows a private individual to bypass the current system of procurement and by agricultural produce. Even their ally [Akali Dal] representative resigned from the cabinet and walked out of the NDA. If I have to describe in one sentence then I will have to say that it may turn out to be like Chit Fund companies duping people across the country. Several of these came to Chhattisgarh and the former Chief Minister’s office even inaugurated a few but most investors are now wringing their empty hands.
Farmers can be duped by private individuals by initially offering them allurements. Then, it allows Contract farming that will reduce the farmer to a worker in his own farm. You can keep running to the courts but you know how the judicial system works. These laws are also anti-consumers and the consumers are going to be badly hit. The central laws also remove the ceiling on holding of stocks in godowns. This means large caplitalists can buy cheap from farmers and go for hoarding upto one lakh tonnes or even 10 lakh tonnes. One has already seen its impact in terms of onion prices that went upto ₹80 a kg. In Tamil Nadu, I am told it was sold at ₹150 a kilo. The government can regulate only in times war, drought or 100 % increase in retail prices. And that too after getting permission from the Centre.
As far as farmers agitations is concerned, Chhattisgarh farmers usually don’t resort to aggressive agitation and they have also faith in the Congress government about protecting their rights. But we have collected 16 lakh signatures from the farmers.
You had campaigned in the Bihar Assembly polls but the party’s performance was rather poor. What do you think went wrong for the Congress?
Obviously something would have gone wrong or else, we would not have faced defeat. Tejashwi ji has alleged irregularities. There are also allegations against the District Magistrates and the Election Commission about candidates not being given winning certificates. There, neither any side lost nor anybody won. One side won 125 seats while the Opposition alliance won 110 seats. If you push a few losing candidates ahead, you can be in the government.
But the EC has denied all allegations and clarified that the video recordings prove that there were no discrepancies.
Has Tejashwi ji accepted such a clarification? Is he satisfied with the EC’s reply. If not, then the allegations remain where they are.
Do you think the Opposition approach the courts then?
One can go to court but that will take time. But what had to happen has happened and democracy was murdered. The mood on the ground didn’t reflect the results.
Your colleague and senior leader Kapil Sibal has recently said there are not many fora in your party where leaders can speak their mind.
During the corona period, there have been so many meetings including that of Congress Working Committee via video conferencing. And we have all got opportunities to put forth our views. I don’t think such a senior leader [Mr. Sibal] should speak like this. There have been meetings almost every month.
So, you don’t agree that Congress lacks a proper forum for leaders to openly articulate their views?
Congress is the only democratic party where workers can put their views. You don’t have this in other parties. How can put your views in parties that don’t even have a party constitution? Everyone has a right to put forward their views but some people want to talk through the media and that’s unfortunate.
Your party doesn’t have a full time president. Do you think Rahul Gandhi should return or should the party try out a non-Gandhi?
I have already said that party issues should be spoken in a party forum. However, I feel Rahul Gandhi is most suitable to become party president as he understands the country, its people as well the needs of our workers. It is my personal view that there is none else better suited for the post.