Counter revolt

It is up to the chhattisgarh Government to ensure that the tribals' opposition to the naxalities does not fade away.

K. Srinivas Reddy

IN THE jungles of Chhattisgarh, incidents of tribals revolting against naxalites are increasing, slowly but steadily. The revolt is taking place even in the face of serious reprisals by Maoist cadres, in which more than 30 persons have been killed in the last two months. More importantly, the revolt is taking place in Bastar, the "base area" of the revolutionary movement.

It comes against the backdrop of the left wing extremist movement receiving a fillip after the merger of the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) and the CPI-ML People's War to form the CPI (Maoist). After the unification, the Maoists have established a strong presence in eight of the 16 districts in Chhattisgarh.

In these eight districts — Surguja, Jashpur and Koriya in the north and Rajnandgaon, Durg, Kanker, Bastar, and Dantewada in the South (declared their "base areas") — it is the Maoists who rule. The Government is hardly a presence. In the other districts, barring Raipur, too the Maoists are active.

A "base area," in Maoist terminology, is one where the "people's authority is asserted and the area has a self-sufficient economy in addition to a well-established military structure." In other words, where the naxalites are on the up and the Government on the defensive.

The tribal revolt has put the Bharatiya Janata Party Government led by Raman Singh at an advantage. The Centre is ready to reimburse the security related expenditure, there is an adequate presence of securitymen (seven battalions of paramilitary forces are stationed in Chhattisgarh), and there is unity of thought on the political plane with the major Opposition party, the Congress, openly opposing the naxalites.

In Andhra Pradesh or Bihar, the Opposition parties would rather keep quiet, leaving the task of opposing the Maoists to the ruling party. Not so in Chhattisgarh. The Salva Zudoom (peace movement) launched by Dantewada MLA and Leader of the Opposition Mahendra Karma is spreading in the Bastar forests.

Will all this lead to the revolutionary movement gradually being forced on the defensive? The ground situation does not indicate this possibility. The BJP Government claims to have formulated several policies for development of the naxalite-affected areas and committed sufficient funds. But the reality is that the Maoist cadres are resisting all government attempts to take up development activity. As a result, the administration has virtually withdrawn from the areas it is supposed to administer.

In such a situation, it is left to the police and the paramilitary forces to administer the areas. And this is where successive governments have failed. The law-enforcing agencies are vulnerable to ambush tactics and guerrilla attacks, and control gradually slips back into the hands of the revolutionaries.

The BJP Government did make an effort to control the damage. In January last, "Operation Abuzmaad" was launched. Police and paramilitary teams were sent into the forests in a feeble Government bid to assert control. However, guerrilla attacks by the Maoists claimed the lives of more than two dozen security personnel, many from the CRPF, and the Government had to withdraw the operation.

But before the Maoists could pat themselves, the Salva Zudoom began. The tribals, vexed with the violence, began opposing the naxalites and they found a leader in Mr. Karma, a fellow tribal from an interior village in Dantewada district.

The tribals' peace rallies sometimes turned violent; youngsters wielding bows and arrows, axes and knives vowed to oppose the naxalites. Chief Minister Raman Singh quickly announced that those participating in the Salva Zudoom would be protected. He, however, could not keep the promise. The angered Maoists began attacking the Salva Zudoom activists; 32 people were killed within two months.

However, the tribal youth do not seem to have been deterred by this, a worrisome development for the Maoists. After all, the revolutionary movement is more than two decades old in the region and a generation of people grew with it. Ironically, it is this generation that is now fighting the Maoists.

The movement against the naxalites is gaining momentum and the onus is on Dr. Raman Singh to ensure that it does not lose steam.

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