The recent targeting of activists in Chhattisgarh might be news to many but it is a recurring phenomenon in the state. Unable to face questions on its indifference towards tribals, the Establishment has always dubbed activists, who painstakingly highlight the plight of tribals in Bastar, as ‘Maoist-supporters’.
For instance, several years ago, the Raipur-based journalist Prafulla Jha was jailed and termed a ‘hardcore Naxal’ when there was not a shred of evidence available against him.
While the immediate blame rests with the BJP government, the people of Chhattisgarh have their fair share of complicity. The state has been facing the Maoist problem ever since its inception in 2000 yet no genuine civil society movement has emerged there. It’s easier for the police to burn the effigies of ‘outsider’ activists when ‘in-house’ activists or media voices are absent. Quite often, in fact, people welcome the police action against such people. Jha recalled, after spending seven years in jail, that his friends spread across the media fraternity, swiftly deserted him after his arrest.
The Andhra Pradesh experience tells us that a vibrant civil society creates a buffer zone between the insurgents and the Establishment, raising tough questions, forcing both sides to introspect and come to the negotiating table. However in Chhattisgarh, barely any prominent lawyer or writer has emerged to challenge the police narrative.
There are many prominent names in the field of art and music: Raipur-based Sahitya Akademi winner Vinod Kumar Shukla, a major name in modern Hindi literature, is a native of the state. There are others like Teejan Bai but their voices are never heard on the Maoist insurgency. This local silence has obviously enabled the Establishment, allowing it to act against activists despite the CBI’s criticism of the state’s forces in its recent report in the Supreme Court.
Chief Minister Raman Singh celebrated the sixteenth year of the state’s formation this month, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the chief guest. The recent flare up should remind the state and its citizens of the promises they had made to themselves when the separated from Madhya Pradesh. The separation had become imperative because Raipur, having been continuously neglected by Bhopal, wanted to chart its own destiny. The recent incidents in Bastar have raised questions over those promises.