Now into its fifth year, controversial anti-Naxalite campaign Salwa Judum is transforming into a “non-cooperation movement” in the tribal Bastar region of Chhattisgarh with its top activists changing strategy from direct conflict to creating awareness among tribals to isolate the rebels. Senior Congress leader Mahendra Karma, a frontline anti-Naxalite campaign leader who stood with the ruling BJP in its fight against the rebels, speaks to Joseph John about the changing face of Salwa Judum.
Salwa Judum observed its fifth foundation day on June 5. For the past two-and-a-half years, there have been virtually no activities like rallies or public meetings on the ground in Bastar. What is the future of this movement?
After serious thought, we have changed the decision on how to go about our campaign against the Maoists. A new strategy has been worked out during the foundation day meetings where it was decided that anti-Naxal campaign activists would visit the villages and make the people aware that they should not extend any cooperation to the Naxalites. We don’t want any direct fight or conflict. We want to create such awareness so that the villagers themselves will request the Maoists with folded hands: “Let us be, leave us to our conditions”. This non-cooperation campaign is in its preliminary stage and is confined to few villages. It will be gradually extend to other Naxalite affected villages.
What prompted Salwa Judum to change its strategy?
The objective of Salwa Judum is to isolate the Maoists and continues to remain the same. Only the strategy and action plan to achieve this goal has changed. Whether it is in Bastar or in West Bengal’s Lalgarh, Maoists thrive on support from the local people — who provide them food and shelter and also attend their meetings — either due to fear or other reasons. Naxalites cannot take a single step forward without local support. This campaign for non-cooperation is to strike at the root of the problem and finally isolate the rebels.
What went wrong with the previous form of Salwa Judum —which started in June 2005 as a spontaneous movement against Maoists and later became controversial?
As such, there is nothing wrong with Salwa Judum. We, being from Bastar, are well aware about the Naxal network, their over ground wings functioning in the guise of NGOs and other so-called pro-people and human rights outfits — who enjoy considerable influence in the media. While they unleashed a systematic campaign to defame Salwa Judum and made it controversial, both the state Government and the anti-Naxalite campaign activists could not match their propaganda skills. I have no qualms in admitting that the propaganda by the Maoists and their supporters was a complete success. Yet, Salwa Judum has been successful in challenging the authority of the Maoists and to a great extent uprooting their support base. The rebels retaliated with violence and killings, putting the civil administration under tremendous pressure. It was what the rebels wanted and they succeeded in creating an atmosphere of fear.
You mean to say that it’s the end of the road for the original form of Salwa Judum?
I don’t think so. It’s passing though a phase of stagnation as this peoples’ movement did not get the proper backing from the Government in terms of development initiatives in Bastar. Any such campaign has to be promptly backed with development which has to be periodically reviewed so as to win the confidence of the masses. Besides, Salwa Judum did not get unanimous support of all political parties.
Being a top anti-Naxalite campaign activist, do you think that a peoples’ movement — like the Salwa Judum — was essential to counter rebels in all Naxal affected states?
As I said, whether it is in Bastar, Lalgarh, or any other region, Maoists always try to keep the local people with them, projecting themselves as their well-wishers. Every state has to ensure active involvement of the people — both in the campaign against Maoists as well as in development of the area — to bring about a change in the attitude of the people of the problem areas. Once the rebels lose their core support base, it is the end of the game for them.
State Govt records show good response to National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in Bastar. Did NREGS make any difference in problem areas of Bastar?
Being the implementing agency for centrally sponsored schemes, it is not a difficult task for the state Government to claim credit for good work under schemes like NREGS. Many such schemes are being implemented in non-Naxal affected villages. As NREGS has proved its potential in generating jobs, an effort is required to take such schemes to villagers where they are actually required. The state Government has to take development to the Naxal affected areas.
Indian Express / 25 June 2009