iconimg Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Abhijit Majumder, Hindustan Times
Bastar, November 10, 2013
The ruddy face of Mahendra Karma, the head of the state-backed armed vigilante group Salwa Judum who was stabbed about 80 times and killed in Darbha Ghat this year, stares at you from large posters.
 
In villages not far from this district Congress office in Dantewada, tribal villagers still meal on fermented rice and pickled red ants.

Karma’s younger son Deepak distractedly checks texts on his iPhone, his brother Chhavindra fields journalists’ questions, while their mother Devti, an emaciated woman of 51, sits quietly in a dark corner.

Devti is the Congress candidate from Dantewada, a constituency her husband represented as Leader of the Opposition in Chhattisgarh.

“Some things may have gone wrong with the Salwa Judum, but our father started and ran it with noble intentions,” says Chhavindra. The brothers take the questions, citing that Devti speaks only the local Halvi and very little Hindi.

On much insistence, Devti speaks up, in much clearer Hindi than one expected: “I am going to represent the people here. I’ll take up issues such as bad roads, and protect ordinary people and Salwa Judum members from Maoists.”

The family accuses the rival Bharatiya Janata Party candidate of having relatives who are Maoist commanders; a claim local journalists say is stretched.
“Chief minister Raman Singh cheated my father. Salwa Judum members who fought against Maoists were not rehabilitated or protected after the group was disbanded in 2011,” said Deepak.

The Salwa Judum faced charges of raising child soldiers and human rights violations. But in the violent politics of the region, many remember it as a spontaneous ground movement against Maoist terror: A reason why the fiery Karma’s quiet widow may get sympathy votes.