The protests, which suit the Maoists uncomfortable with the presence of security forces near their strongholds, have attracted thousands of tribals
The Silger camp, that came up on May 12, is the latest security installation to come up in what is described as a ‘liberated’ territory spread over 10,000 sq km in South Chhattisgarh. The protest against the camp has witnessed participation from around 30 villages and also from the Sarv Adivasi Samaj (SAS), an umbrella organisation of tribals that came up before the 2018 elections in the state.
The approach to the camp has been blocked with felled trees. The protest venue has moved about 2 km away from the camp site towards Tarrem. A team of BJP leaders who wanted to visit the camp could not go beyond Tarrem and a sub divisional magistrate (SDM), too, who was to probe the firing, was unable to reach Silger.
Silger is barely 5 km from Tarrem camp, from where the April 3 operation to target Maoist Commander Madvi Hidma was launched. In other words, Silger is the extension of the security forces’ control over the area. It is very close to Puvarti, Hidma’s village. Sources in the security establishment have said that the setting up of camp at Tarrem and plans to open the next camp at Silger has been problematic for Maoists and the April 3 attack, in which 23 police personnel were killed, was also part of the plan to oppose the camp.
Slowly but surely, the forces have been moving deeper into Maoist-controlled territory. Silger is one such critical camp for the forces. A camp at Silger would be problematic for Maoists as it would cut off their free run in the region. It would also prove to be a problem for the dreaded Battalion Number 1 of the Maoists to operate in areas south of the Dornapal-Jagargunda axis. The last few months have witnessed the setting up of four new camps around this area, basically at the border of Sukma and Bijapur districts. The forces have entered new territories and with every new camp, the exclusive zone controlled by Maoists has been reducing. Three more camps are to be set up in the area which would link Sukma to Dantewada via Jagargonda. The area around Silger has been cut off by Maoists since roads haven’t been allowed to be built since the mid-2000s.
But why are the locals protesting? Local residents claim that they have no issues with the setting up of schools or hospitals but do not want a police camp in their vicinity. They claim that the land on which the camp has been set up is private and has been cultivated by a local family for years. The SAS conducted an inquiry through its divisional president Prakash Thakur and has submitted the report to the Bastar divisional commissioner who in turn has said that the ownership of the land would be a point of inquiry by the SDM. “The land on which the camp has been set up did not belong to local people. It is government land. The camp would cut off the Maoist control in South Chhattisgarh which is why it is being opposed by them,” says P. Sunder Raj, IG Bastar. “The area in which the protests are being held has 121 Covid positive patients. The protesters should call off the agitation considering the risk of covid.”
Further, the SAS has claimed that a meeting of the gram sabha was not convened to take permission for setting up the camp and demanded that an FIR be registered against police personnel involved in the May 17 firing, the locals arrested after the incident be released and the gram sabha be convened to discuss the camp in presence of the SDM.
The security establishment did try to win over the locals when the camp was set up. There are 28 camps in Bastar region and the police have followed more or less the same protocol while setting them all. Once the camp is set up, the locals are called and given support in the form of medical camps, roads and schools. At Silger, too, this protocol was followed. The residents of Silger are neutral towards the camp, the protest is largely being led by residents of villages even 15-20 km away from Silger.
Meanwhile, Maoists have called a bandh on June 5 to protest the incident. In a release sent out by the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DSZC) of CPI (Maoist), the bandh has been called to demand removal of all camps from Bastar.
The Chhattisgarh government, though, has made it clear that it is not going to back down. Cabinet spokesperson and agriculture minister Ravindra Choubey told the media: “We all know who is fuelling the protests and compelling the locals to participate in the protests from villages that are far away. We are, in fact, going to set up more camps.”
So how is this impasse likely to end? “The rains are, at best, two weeks away. The ferocity of the Bastar rains will wash away all protests,” says a police officer, who wished to not be named.