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News & Views on the Revolutionary Left

Interview with killer Mahendrakarma

No qualms: Karma says the governments should act coherently against Naxals

'If we can wipe out Naxalism from Bastar, the red corridor is finished'
You are an Adivasi MLA from Dantewada. Has Naxalism affected you personally?

I have lost two brothers to it and have escaped attacks several times. Whenever I go to Dantewada, especially on padyatras to spread the message of the Salva Judum, there is the risk. My family and sons still live in my native village. Recently, on March 2, I was going on a motorcycle yatra with 150 others to Jagargunda, a village on the border with Andhra Pradesh. One of the motorcycles ahead of me triggered a pressure bomb. It could have been me.

Aren't you afraid?

This is not the sort of bogus fight that politicians are used to. In this fight, we will have to be prepared for anything. I am not new to this. I have been fighting the Naxals since 1989 when we started a jan jagran abhiyan among villagers and the Naxalites left, but soon they returned. I worked again on it when I was an independent member of the Eleventh Lok Sabha.

So what has this experience of working on the issue of Naxalism taught you?

The single greatest lesson I have learnt is never to compromise with the Naxals.

Does that mean you are against peace talks with them?

The Naxals aren't even offering to talk.

But if they do?

They just can't give up the gun. If they do, then perhaps we can talk.

Shouldn't the government initiate peace talks with them?

These are the people who are against the Constitution and the democratic system as a whole. We, on the other hand, are part of this democratic system and it is our responsibility to save it from the Naxalites. You must understand that they are terrorists.

What do you think of the way Maoists have joined democracy in Nepal?

That's what they will have to ultimately do in India.

But Naxalites say that Indian democracy has been a farce because developmental benefits haven't reached the people.

Okay, so let us throw the ball in their court: what have the Naxals done for the people? Have they empowered common people in any way? Has the standard of living in villages controlled by them improved? Why don't you understand that the Naxals want 'revolution', they want to change the system, and the tribals are the best fodder. But we who are fighting against the Naxals are also tribals. We have the same blood in us.

There are several kinds of terrorism. There is communal terrorism and local terrorism, but Naxalism is political terrorism of an international nature. Whatever be the form of terrorism, it isolates people geographically or communally. What the Naxals want amounts to secessionism. Democracy, on the other hand, is nobody's property, certainly, not mine. I haven't picked it up from Plato.

So what is the status of Naxalism in Chhattisgarh now according to you?

There is a big dent in it after a people's movement against it in the most-affected district of Dantewada. But Dantewada is still the centre of Naxal activity, not just in Chhattisgarh but in the entire country. This is where the root is. This is where I suspect the central leadership of he Communist Party of India (Maoist) resides. If we can wipe out Naxalism from Dantewada, we will have wiped it out from the rest of the country. And there is only one thing that can defeat Naxalism. It is called Salva Judum. For the first time has such a people's movement taking place. The Naxalites earlier called themselves 'People's War Group'. But what they are doing now is war against the people! Their very astitva (being) is being challenged.

Is it true that you are the initiator of Salva Judum?

I only gave it this name after I saw it come up on its own. Seeing a village rebel against Naxalites gave me the inspiration to lead them. They needed a political voice, which is what I gave them. I gave them leadership.

But some say that the Salva Judum was your creation with police help.

That is mere propaganda. After a month-and-a-half of the movement, the state government made the wise decision to support it.Given how alarming the problem of Naxalism is, why should the state not support it?

But if it is really a spontaneous movement against Naxalite oppression, why has it appeared only in Dantewada and not the rest of south Chhattisgarh and indeed the red corridor?

Just because others haven't risen up doesn't mean Dantewada's tribals are fools. It is not Dantewada's fault if others don't have the courage to stand up against Naxalism.

So why don't you take the Salva Judum movement to other areas?

Wherever we go, people stand up and join us. We have made a beginning with Dantewada. Until we don't become a Naxalism-free state, we will not stop. If there are places where there is local leadership willing to stand up against the Naxals, we are ready to support it.

But isn't it unfair for the state to arm tribals and pit them against Naxalites? It is widely alleged that many are forced to join the Salva Judum and relocate to camps.

The people of Dantewada want to fight. Hundreds have died at the hands of the Naxalites, but they still want to fight. They want to kill Naxalites. The state cannot fool lakhs of people. You go to Salva Judum camps and ask them. The people of Dantewada are not like the Kashmiri Pandits who left their homes when forced by the gun. We are fighters.

The Naxalites are known for violence against individuals and institutions that represent the state. Don't you think that the creation of Salva Judum camps has turned thousands of villagers into ready targets for the Naxals?

On the contrary, wherever there are Salva Judum camps, Naxal violence and oppression of villagers has come to an end.

Many allege that the budget for these camps has provided officials an unprecedented opportunity to bungle the funds. There are even allegations against you for corruption.

As you know the Naxals can succeed in killing me any day. Do you think a man who has given his life would care for money? As for officials, we are talking of a machinery where corruption is widespread, so I would not be surprised if there has been corruption. There should indeed be an enquiry.

What do you think have been the three biggest successes of the Salva Judum?

Firstly, the Naxalite network has been undermined. They used to work with tribal villagers, and the same villagers are now on our side. Secondly, 5,000 Naxalites have surrendered and become special police officers (SPO) with the Salva Judum.

Who decides who will be given SPO status and arms?

The government decides the terms, it's not my responsibility. But it is true that many who are associated with our peace movement have been made SPOs. Anyway, you didn't let me tell you the third and the most interesting achievement of Salva Judum, which is that politicians have started speaking against Naxalism. Earlier they were so afraid of Naxals that they didn't want to openly speak out against them. Only when the locals have dared that the political class has risen to the occasion.

In May 2006, you told Tehelka that Salva Judum would be able to finish the Naxals by June 2006. This is March 2007 and we have just witnessed the massacre of 68 Salva Judum and Chhattisgarh police officials in Dantewada.

We give such slogans to inspire our masses. But you will appreciate that the Salva Judum has spread to all of Dantewada by now.

Rights groups and fact-finding committees have found large-scale human rights violations and violence in the name of Salva Judum. You cannot write them off as Naxal sympathisers.

I don't care for so-called intellectuals who can't understand what a jan andolan is.

Has there been a single mistake committed by the Salva Judum? If you were to do it all again, is there anything you would you do it differently?

When such a jan andolan takes place there is always some upvad , some wrongs, but exceptions should not be presented as the rule.

KPS Gill said at the Tehelka summit last year that the Salva Judum was a Gandhian movement…

No doubt about that! It is a public movement for freedom just like the one Gandhi led.

But Gandhi's was a non-violent movement, and Salva Judum is about an eye for an eye…

Do you know how many people Gandhi's non-violence killed?

How many?

Twenty two thousand. They were killed by the British for following Gandhi's path.

The massacre in Ranibodli on March 15, isn't it proof that the Salva Judum campaign failed?

Not at all. This massacre was going to happen. It was decided in the ninth Congress of the CPI (Maoist). That's when I think they also decided to killed Sunil Mahatoji of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. The state and Central governments should take the Naxalite decisions and plans more seriously than they do. The Naxals do what they say.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil said in Parliament the other day that Naxal-related incidents in the country had dipped by 6.5 percent in 2006, but in Chattisgarh they increased by 57 percent. And 676 have died in 22 months and most of these were in Dantewada. You still think Salva Judum has not backfired?

Do the other states have a public movement against Naxalism? Obviously, Naxals are killing more in Dantewada because they are frustrated at tribals being wooed away from them.

So the escalating deaths are merely collateral damage?

Well when there is a problem in front of you will you bravely face it or turn away? If we have to fight Naxalism, we will have to pay a price. Kisi samasya ka samadhan haath par haath dharey rehne se thodi na hota hain. Usko root se nikalna padega, sangharsh karna padega. We Indians typically accept things as destiny, leaving it bhagwan bharosay. That's not how you fight a war. The Naxals want this war to prolong for another 20-25 years and that's why they are killing more people.

Controversial as it is, is Salva Judum the only way of fighting Naxalism?

Well, I had Salva Judum to offer. If any learned person in the country has other solutions to offer, he is most welcome to try them.

Isn't providing more security a simple solution?

Yes, as the Salva Judum spreads, there will be more need for security.

So at the moment the number of security forces is just fine?

It is less than adequate.

Can you please pose below the Gandhi portrait for the photographer?

(Stands up and poses.) You are making me stand in the line of Gandhi. (Chuckles.)

It is you who has Gandhi in his office.

You know there is a saying, maha-purushon ke pad-chinh dikhaeen nahi dete, kyon ki un par aaj tak koi chala hi nahin. (You can't see the footsteps of great men because nobody has walked on them.)


posted by Resistance 3/26/2007 09:53:00 PM,


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