Winning hearts in Kanker to beat back Maoists

New Delhi/Raipur, May 31 (IANS) Maoists hold sway over parts of eastern and central India, but Kanker – once a stronghold of the rebels in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region – is a success story of how civil administration can be restored and years of neglect done away with.

After living without basic amenities for years, villagers today have access to a dispensary, foodgrain shops, public transport, a river bridge and weekly markets.

Home Secretary G.K. Pillai says the Border Security Force (BSF) has been successful in reclaiming these villages from Maoist dominance and ‘development works are slowly picking up’.

‘This is a small achievement, I know, but the beginning has been great as far as a long-term solution to tackling Maoist insurgency and winning back the confidence of tribal people goes,’ Pillai told IANS.

For the authorities fighting to reclaim large swathes of tribal area from Maoists, these are ‘positive indicators’.

Residents of Kodapakha village earlier had to travel 15 km for subsidised rice and rations because the shop was in Durgukondal tehsil. And the Maoists wouldn’t allow one to be opened in the hamlet. But not any more.

‘The PDS (public distribution system) shop of Kodapakha village which was functioning about 15 km away has now been operating in the village itself since Feb 17,’ says a letter from Raman Srivastava, BSF director general, to Home Secretary Pillai.

Five battalions of the BSF have been deployed in Kanker since November 2009 at 27 locations of the district, which has a population of around 700,000 people.

The BSF has been conducting anti-Maoist operations and has been successful to a large extent in weeding out the rebels and making way for the civil administration, the document says.

Villages like Kodapakha, Antagarh, Kolibeda and Jadekurse where Maoists once used to run a parallel government, like they still do in large parts of Bastar, have completely slipped away from rebel control.

Another PDS shop in a nearby village that was blown up in 2004 by the Maoists has become operational since March this year.

The document says medical care is also within the reach of Kodapakha villagers. Before a dispensary was established there, people in need of medical assistance would have to walk 15 km to Durgukondal. But the dispensary sanctioned years ago has become operational since Feb 14.

Public transport that had been off the roads of Kanker for years is slowly being restored ‘with the presence of the BSF’, the letter claims.

‘Four buses, seven jeeps are plying from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.’ connecting Bhanupartappur, Kolibeda, Antagarh and Udanpur villages, it says. And to ensure security for the passenger, BSF troopers travel with them.

A weekly market at Irikbuta village was suspended in 2004 due to the fear of Maoists. But it has now ‘commenced again on a regular basis since March’, says the letter.

Construction of the Kotan bridge sanctioned in 2003 has been under way since April 6 and is expected to be finished by the end of this year.

A tribal girls hostel in Kanker, which was disallowed by the Maoists, ‘has been completed in all respects after the induction of BSF in the area’, the letter says.

(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at [email protected])