Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, in an interview with The Hindu published on Thursday, said that the tag of “Urban Naxal” was often used to arrest or implicate anyone.

“The term Urban Naxal has become a jumla, anyone can be arrested or implicated in the name of being an urban Naxal, this has become a fashion,” Baghel said. “The real action against Urban Naxals has been taken by the Chhattisgarh government...those who live in urban areas and supply cash and ammunition to the Naxals.”

Urban Naxals is a term coined to refer to supporters of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) in the cities. However, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government’s critics accuse it of branding any dissident with the label in order to silence them.

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The chief minister also asked why the National Investigation Agency had still not followed court orders to question Gudsa Usendi, a senior Naxal leader who surrendered in 2014. Baghel alleged that the agency was trying to hide something.

“When [the] NIA court ordered the recording of the statement of Gudsa Usendi [top Maoist leader surrendered in January 2014] who is lodged in Andhra Jail, why hasn’t the NIA done so yet,” he asked. “Who are you trying to protect or save? It is 2020 now and the incident pertains to year 2013. There is something that you are hiding.”

The chief minister claimed that the Chhattisgarh Police had recorded the names of top Naxal leaders in the state, but it was deleted by the NIA when the central agency took over the inquiry into the killing of a Bharatiya Janata Party MLA during the 2019 General Assembly elections.

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On the arrest of several activists including Sudha Bharadwaj in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon case, Baghel said that he knew her as a lawyer since she worked in his constituency. He added that he had no information on whether Bharadwaj was working with Naxals. “...if she has been arrested, it is possible that there are some secret inputs against her, we do not have such information,” Baghel said.

‘Half of Chhattisgarh affected by Left-wing extermism’

The chief minister said that half of the state is affected by Left-wing extremism, adding that the policy of a “bullet in response of a bullet” will not solve the problem. Baghel said that several tribals were either arrested or killed due to this policy, adding that they were caught between the Naxals and the security personnel. “Without any reason, the tribals were becoming the victims from both sides...people were angry and this was seen in the last two elections,” he said.

He said that his government changed the approach and returned 40 acres land to 1,700 farmers, gave individual and community land rights over 5,000 hectares of land. The chief minister said that his administration was driven by the fact that action should not be taken with the aim of “adding to statistics”. He further called Left-wing extremism a political, social and an economic matter.

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Baghel said that the Centre had hugely cut funds for the state. “As many as 110 aspirational districts were identified in the country, 10 of them are in Chhattisgarh,” Baghel said, adding nine of these districts were affected due to Left-wing extremism, but no separate fund allocation was done for them.

‘Kapil Sibal should not speak like this’

Speaking about infighting in the Congress, the senior party leader said that his colleague and MP Kapil Sibal should not speak the way he did as members get a chance to put forth their views during the Congress Working Committee meetings. Sibal is among a section of Congress leaders who have criticised the party for poor leadership, and its performance in the Bihar Assembly elections and various bye-polls.

He also claimed the Congress was the only party where its members can express their views. “You don’t have this in other parties,” Baghel said. “How can [you] put [across] your views in parties that don’t even have a party constitution? Everyone has a right to put forward their views but some people want to talk through the media and that’s unfortunate.”

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When asked if Congress leader Rahul Gandhi should return as the party chief or a non-Gandhi leader should be given a chance, the chief minister said that these matters should be spoken about in a party forum. However, Baghel said Rahul Gandhi was the most suitable candidate for the post as he knew the country and its people well.

On the Bihar polls and party’s poor performance, where the Congress could only get 19 seats of the 70 it contested, the chief minister cited Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav’s allegations of election fraud. “There are also allegations against the District Magistrates and the Election Commission about candidates not being given winning certificates,” he said.

He said the Opposition could move the court over the outcome of the Bihar polls, but added that it takes time. The chief minister claimed that “democracy was murdered” and the situation on the ground did not show up in the results.