Slain Congress Leader Mahendra Karma’s son Chavindra Karma has formed the Bastar Vikas Sangharsh Samiti, an organisation of ex-Salwa Judum leaders that claims to be ‘peaceful’. He talks to Priyanka Kaushal about its objectives.
Edited Excerpts from an interview
What is your objective behind starting another Salwa Judum movement?
This is not Salwa Judum. That was banned by the Supreme Court. We are the Bastar Vikas Sangharsh Samiti. This new committee consists of all the former Judum leaders but it is an effort of the local people who want development and a democratic government in their area. Former Judum leaders often tell me that they feel a void in Bastar after the death of my father, Mahendra Karma. On the ground, there is no sign of the government. Our committee has already held a meeting to discuss leadership issues. I told them I was ready to support any one who takes charge of the committee. The locals elected former Salwa Judum leaders Chaitram Atami and Sukhdev Tati — both BJP members — along with me. Our next meeting will be held on 25 May, my father’s death anniversary, to plan the future strategy. We will make sure the movement does not harm the people.
Salwa Judum was started in 2005 to allegedly safeguard industries, which is why the BJP supported it. Do you think the situation, under which your father Mahendra Karma started the Judum, has re-emerged, especially after PM Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Bastar and his development plan?
I had registered my protest even before Modiji arrived in Bastar. In our region, there are no roads to connect villages. If Naxalites agree with this, they are welcome to share the stage with me. But we have no regard for those who are against development. Also, we oppose the idea of industrial development that Modi talks about. We do not want development if it turns Adivasis into mere labourers.
There have been several allegations of innocent Adivasis being killed in the name of Salwa Judum. In a press statement, Gudsa Usendi, the spokesperson for the Naxalites, raised questions about this new organisation.
Let someone prove that innocent people were killed in the name of Salwa Judum. What value does an allegation hold? It is only the advocates of the Naxalite movement who claim that innocent blood was shed. At that time, the SPOs had the guns, not Judum activists. They were posted by the state government for the Judum’s protection. Judum workers did not kill any one. It is the Naxalites who made allegations against people for being informants and killed them. No human rights activist raised their voice then. Did Mahendra Karma have a gun to put up a fight against the Naxals? Naxalites set up public courts and spread fear among people. They force villagers to confess at gun point that they are police informers. Gudsa Usendi’s statement clearly shows that any discussion about development drives the Naxalites into panic. It is a sign of victory for us.
Do you expect support from the state government?
I don’t think it is right to seek their support. So many Naxal attacks have taken place in Chhattisgarh — Rani Bodli, Errabor, Tadmetla and Jiram Ghati. I waited for two years after the Jiram Ghati attack for the government to address the issue, but to no avail. Earlier people blamed it on the fact that different parties ruled at the Centre and in the state. But for more than a year now, the BJP is ruling both the Centre and the state.
PM Modi visited Bastar for two hours. If the issue is to be resolved, it is important to understand the dilemma of the people of Bastar. Why are they forced to help the Naxalites? These questions cannot be addressed by a two hour visit. The solution is for dialogue and development to go hand in hand. We only need protection for people who join the movement. But the government must understand this. We will not approach it for help.
How many people have joined you?
All former Judum leaders are with us. We have public support too. The numbers and identities cannot be revealed right now. We want the government as well as the Naxalites to specify what they exactly want. The government is not serious about the Naxal problem. It is only enjoying the big budgets allotted by the Centre towards dealing with the Naxals. On the other hand, Naxals are looting innocent villagers.
Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman