Sunday, December 04, 2005

Bastar villagers appeal to Naxals for peace

Ajai Shukla

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Sunday, December 4, 2005 (Bastar):

A people's movement in the former Naxal stronghold of Bastar has seen whole villages rising up against Naxals and telling them to rejoin the mainstream.

They call it Salwa Judum which means "peace march".

It began in June this year when Naxals watched silently as police beat up villagers for following Naxal orders.

It was the last straw for a people who had believed Naxal promises of better lives, but instead found themselves under a new tyranny.

Appeal for peace

In the last five months, entire villages have called upon the Naxals to lay down their arms and join the mainstream. And over 2,000 sympathisers have done so.

The Naxal reaction though has been far from peaceful. Reprisals have killed at least three hundred villagers in the districts of Dantewara and Bastar in the last few months.

Fifteen thousand villagers have fled from Naxal-controlled areas to the safety of 17 camps close to major towns.

But the adivasis of Bastar, who twice revolted against British rule, remain defiant. And sensing the mood, both the BJP and the Congress have addressed joint rallies endorsing Salwa Judum.

Factional politics

But this rare moment of political consensus has proved short-lived. Congress factionalism has surfaced again.

In the Congress Bhavan in state capital Raipur, it's a picture of deep infighting.

While the state opposition leader Congressman Mahendra Karma has thrown his weight behind the Salwa Judum movement, Congress heavyweight Ajit Jogi has opposed it, saying many innocent adivasis are getting killed.

"The way it has been done... I have been totally against it. Because, on the day they hold Salwa Judum there is enough security for everybody.

"But once they leave the village, the Naxalites pinpoint the people who take a leading part and they come and kill the people who take a leading part," said Jogi.

Jogi cites an example where in only the Bijapur constituency, in only one block, more than four hundred innocent tribals have been killed.

"Any such campaign which leads to the killing of innocent tribals for no rhyme or reason, for no fault of their own, no one can endorse it. I would be the last person to endorse it and that is why I say it should not be encouraged," added Jogi.

Towards peace

But the Salwa Judum warriors retain solid support from Jogi's rival within the Congress. Leader of the opposition Congressman Mahendra Karma calls Jogi a failure in tackling Naxalism when he was chief minister.

"Those who talk of opposing Salwa Judum had enough opportunity to fight Naxalism in their own way. They failed to do so. The foundations of the Naxal movement stand on arms and force.

"Even if we had not started the Salwa Judum movement, the Naxals would have continued their killings and oppression," said Mahendra Karma, Chhattisgarh Congress chief.

But the infighting has not spread to the frontlines against Naxalism. On the ground, Salwa Judum enjoys bipartisan support.

"On the ground there is no politicisation of Salwa Judum. The movement has had an effect on everybody. Workers from each political party, as long as they live in this area and work in the villages here, they are strongly backing the movement. All of them are working together," said KR Pisda, DC,

And while Naxals reign over tens of thousands of square kilometers in fourteen states, Salwa Judum could see their influence waning in an area they still consider an important bastion.

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