Government wants to rule Bastar at gunpoint: Mahendra Karma (Interview)

Raipur, Aug 24 (IANS) Mahendra Karma, the opposition Congress heavyweight in Chhattisgarh who was widely said to be behind the controversial Salwa Judum movement against Maoists, says the state government wants to rule the restive Bastar region at gunpoint as it has lost touch with the people.

‘The Maoist movement is spreading in Bastar day by day because the government and leaders have lost touch and contact with the people, forces have been pumped into Bastar but the fact is the government has no administrative access in Bastar except in areas surrounding national and state highways,’ Karma told IANS in an interview.

A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is in power in the state. Around 40,000 troopers, with some 50 percent of them drawn from central forces, are fighting the Maoists in the Bastar region, police sources say.

‘The leaders of the Bastar region are not staying in their native villages and areas due to Maoists’ fear. They are cut off from the local people and that has complicated the problem, giving Maoists a free run in Bastar,’ he said.

‘People want development, but they lack the vision that can be provided by politicians. And if politicians can’t have the guts to stay in their areas then you can imagine the real situation,’ remarked the 60-year-old former Bastar MP nicknamed ‘Bastar Tiger’.

The mineral-rich Bastar region spread over a 40,000 sq km area is made up of five districts – Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Bastar and Kanker. It is considered the nerve centre of Maoists.

Karma, who has survived several Maoist attacks, said the government is pumping in more and more troopers in Bastar to rule the region at gunpoint, but it must remember that without taking people into confidence the forces can never win the war.

‘The future of Bastar is dark; I don’t see any indication of things improving because Maoists are active on two fronts – violence and public contact,’ he said.

‘They propagate violence and rule the region with the barrel of the gun while their public fronts justify their violent acts,’ said Karma, former leader of the opposition in Chhattisgarh.

Karma was a minister in the former Congress government that came to power with the carving out of a new state from Madhya Pradesh in November 2000.

‘Development is totally blocked in Bastar and the condition of thousands of poverty-stricken families is worsening. Nothing is happening on the ground for people; the government’s claim on massive development is a lie,’ he said.

‘Since the government and politicians have no touch with the public in Bastar, Maoists have managed to label their movement as a tribals’ movement,’ he said.

‘The fact is that tribals are peace-loving people and have always had a strong belief in the democratic and constitutional system,’ said Karma, whose political career spans over three decades.

He is said to be behind the armed Salwa Judum movement against the Maoists which came to be seen as a government-backed civil militia and has been severely criticised for alleged rights abuses.

Even as a case involving the Salwa Judum is pending before the Supreme Court, which has asked the Chhattisgarh government to respond to a plea seeking the disbandment of the vigilante group, Karma remains staunchly critical of the rebels.

‘Maoists do not want development and prosperity of tribals. If they wanted development, who stopped them from developing the massive areas of Bastar which they have controlled for about three decades?’ he asked.

(Sujeet Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])