With its betrayal in Bastar, Congress abandoned the adivasi cause – the one that gave it power
There are two main ways of interpreting the harshness of the government of Chhattisgarh towards the recent murders of three adivasis in police shootings and protests in Bastar. First, this is what Congress really is: no different from the Bharatiya Janata party when it comes to the issue of adivasi and Naxal. Second, the Chhattisgarh party leadership wants to end the war in Bastar soon, regardless of the damage to the adivasis and their forest.
But notwithstanding these two explanations, let us understand how the position of the Bhupesh Baghel government amounts to the betrayal of its promises to adivasis.
The great betrayal
Just when the hashtag ‘Bastar mein narsanhar band ho(Stop Bastar Massacre) started trending on Twitter after police shot Silger earlier this week, one of Bastar’s Adivasi Congressional politicians had a conversation with a police officer involved in the operation . The adivasis were protesting against a police camp that was established on May 12 in the village of Silger, in the Sukma district, south of Bastar, a few kilometers from the Bijapur border. Don’t be put off by the dead, conveyed the politician to the policeman, continue the offensive against the Naxals.
This gondi politician, a true representative of Bastar’s Adivasi culture, in conversations and interviews with me over the past decade, had consistently argued that “the security forces are bad” and “should be kicked out of Bastar”.
One can still expect the Chief Minister’s office in Raipur or the secretariat to favor only an armed solution to the conflict, as being totally removed from the battlefield, they barely understand the issue and never suffer collateral damage. . But coming from a curled ruler, it amounted to an unprecedented abandonment of the adivasi cause.
Not so long ago, as an opposition party, the Chhattisgarh Congress aggressively murdered the adivasis in bogus meetings. His leaders quickly arrived at the scene and issued statements, but, now in power, he did not even bother to announce a customary investigation into the deaths. When Bastar-based activist Bela Bhatia came under threat during Raman Singh’s reign, the two Rahul gandhi and Bhupesh Baghel had represented it. Now the Congressional government has blocked Bhatia and several other activists, including Jean Dreze, from reaching Silger.
Also read: The latest war cries against the Naxals are absurd. Go visit Bastar, a war is already underway
Congress, like BJP
However, anyone familiar with the history of naxalism knows that, despite occasional disagreements and positions, Congress and the BJP have largely insisted on a military solution.
Congress talks about negotiations with the rebels when they are in opposition, but makes no move to do so after coming to power. It was the Congress Mahendra Karma who started Salwa Judum, fully supported by Raman Singh of BJP. As Union Minister of the Interior, P. Chidamabram chaired several fake encounters of the adivasis and the treacherous murder of the Maoist emissary, Cherukuri Rajkumar, in the midst of negotiations with the rebels. In public perception, the “ Urban Naxal ” is an invention of the BJP, but the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by Congress, in November 2013 affidavit in the Supreme Court, had declared that the urban ideologues “have kept the Maoist movement alive and are in many ways more dangerous than the cadres of the people’s liberation guerrillas”.
Also read: Chhattisgarh Maoists suffer from betrayal, fewer leaders and weapons, and too many roads
The end of the game
The bigger question is: why is Congress, at a time when all guns are on the Union government for its failure to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, risking political capital considerable and becomes unresponsive to adivasis? Here are some clues that I have gathered after speaking with several people in the Chhattisgarh facility over the past few days.
Congress wants to end the war in Bastar or at least seize considerable territory from the Naxals before the term of Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel ends in November 2023. To that end, he is ready to face anything. damage to the lives of the adivasi and their forest. Congress recalls that exactly eight years before, in May 2013, the party had lost its greatest leaders when the Naxals killed State Congress President Nand Kumar Patel, Mahendra Karma and former Union Minister VC Shukla in the largest ever attack on a political party in India. “Humne apne log khoye hain. Humen koi na samjhaye, jivan ki keemat kya hoti hai (We have lost our people. Please don’t tell us the value of lives), ”a senior establishment official told me.
Camp Silger is one of many built along the ambitious 70 km Basaguda-Jagargunda Road, which pierces a massive desert, the strongest area of the Naxals south of Bastar. A thick forest, habitat of many adivasis, is being uprooted for the construction of this road which would be decisive in the battle of the state against the Naxals. I have been traveling in this area for about ten years now. Until recently even cycling was difficult here, but on my last visit in January of this year I was able to drive a four-wheeler.
The stakes are high, maybe no higher than that. Silger has a polling station for the seat of the Konta assembly, represented by Minister of Excise Kawasi Lakhma, the most popular Adivasi leader of Congress in Bastar. Voting booth number one, like Voting booth Silger appears in the Election Commission reports, has not seen a ballot in living memory. There is no political presence or activity as politicians are afraid to visit the area due to the presence of Naxal. If the area is clear, many adivasis will be able to vote for the first time. While this would mean the substantial withdrawal of the Naxals, it is impossible to achieve this vote without losing countless adivasis and their habitat.
Also read: BJP’s warm bond with Chhattisgarh Maoists flourishes despite killing, arrest of leaders
The blood ahead
With the inflexible Congressional government, Silger was converted into a de facto border between the police force and the adivasis, fully barbed, with both sides digging their heels.
As was the model in Dandakaranya, following the suppression of the adivasis by the government, the Naxals intervene as their only savior. Over ten years ago, when the administration ignored the adivasis ‘resentment against the Tatas’ proposed steel project, many young people quickly joined the Maoist ranks. The Tatas eventually had to suspend the project, but these adivasis continue to carry the gun.
The Congressional government may be prepared for the losses, but it will eventually fall on the adivasis. Bastar voted for Congress hoping the party would bring peace with minimal casualties. The party has now lost both its face and the moral authority to speak for the adivasis.
Shortly after becoming the CM in 2018, Baghel had mentionned that “the question of Naxal cannot be approached with the barrel of the weapon”, and added that in order “to reach a concrete solution”, “the most important is first to speak to those affected, in particular to the tribes ”. As his government gives up all pretexts, a betrayed and humiliated Bastar can take a turn that Congress still does not fully anticipate.
The author is a freelance journalist. His recent book, The Death Scenario, which traces the Naxal uprising, received the Atta Galatta award for best non-fiction book of the year 2020. Opinions are personal.
(Edited by Prashant Dixit)
Why the news media is in crisis and how to fix it
India needs even more free, fair, open-ended, questioning journalism in the face of multiple crises.
But the news media are in a crisis of their own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, giving in to crass spectacle in prime time.
ThePrint has the best young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. To support journalism of this quality, smart, thoughtful people like you have to pay the price. Whether you live in India or abroad, you can do it here.
Support our journalism