Amid talk about a possible revival of the controversial Salwa Judum movement in Chhattisgarh, Chief Minister Raman Singh has said the issue — of local villagers being brought to the forefront in the fight against Naxals — was a “highly sensitive” one.
If villagers, alongside security forces, were to tackle Naxals head-on in the open, the government would have to ensure their protection, Singh told The Indian Express, reacting to suggestions made by some local leaders about the revival of the anti-Naxal force, albeit under a different avatar.
Days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Naxalism-affected Bastar region on Saturday, Chhavindra Karma, son of late Congress leader and Salwa Judum founder Mahendra Karma, had issued a public statement about launching a people’s awareness campaign or ‘jan jagaran abhiyan’ against Naxals.
Mahendra Karma was killed, along with other Congress leaders and party workers, in a Naxal attack in Bastar in May 2013.
Naxals have threatened violent reprisal to any attempt at reviving the Salwa Judum, an armed force of villagers set up by the state government in 2005 to combat Naxalism. Terming it illegal and unconstitutional, the Supreme Court had in 2011 ordered that it should be disbanded immediately.
But the CM claimed that “Salwa Judum was a people’s movement, a ‘jan andolan’.” “On the issue of garnering consent among people, making them ready and creating a certain atmosphere — there should be awareness among the people. If we stand up against Naxals on the streets and bring the villagers along, I have to ensure they are protected. How far we should bring villagers — to the forefront of our fight against Naxals – is a highly sensitive issue. Creating awareness among people and educating them is a major solution,” said Singh.
He claimed that he had never had a moment of doubt on whether the Naxal problem could be resolved, adding that the state government was working slowly but steadily to counter it. “It took 40,000 jawans as long as 12 years to hunt down (sandalwood smuggler) Veerappan. Here, there are 1,000 Veerappans,” Singh said.
Stating that the Army would never be deployed to tackle the issue, Singh said, “The Constitution does not allow deployment against our own people, and neither does my heart. For the sake of argument, if the Army is deployed, the issue can be solved in four hours. But this should never happen”.
The most pressing demand made by the state to the Centre, said Singh, was for state-of-the-art equipment to detect IEDs, which were responsible for as many as 90 per cent of the casualties. He said he has also urged the Centre to deploy battalions of the Nagaland Armed Police Force, as they were “most familiar’’ with such terrain.
Singh also slammed the earlier UPA government at the Centre for allegedly citing environmental concerns and preservation of tribal culture as excuses to stall development in Naxalism-affected areas. “The UPA government had taken policy decisions that ignored the “ameer dharti ke gareeb log (poor people of a rich land),” he said.
“Abujhmad (in Bastar) was cut off from the rest of the world Not a single survey was conducted here. To keep tribal culture alive, you have to first keep the tribals there alive,” he said.