Salwa Judum, the anti-Naxal people's resistance movement in Chhattisgarh that came under fire from the Supreme Court on Monday, has fallen on bad days. But the experiment that went horribly wrong had been held out as a shining example of success in countering left-wing extremism by the Central government till about two years ago.
The Supreme Court's adverse remarks on the Chhattisgarh government pushing civilians within firing range of the Naxals come within a week of the government's reforms body rejecting the official line that the movement was just a spontaneous people's movement.
"The situation in the region has not been helped by the raising of local resistance groups called Salwa Judum, started initially in two tribal development blocks of south Bastar and now extended to 11 blocks in Chhattisgarh," the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by M Veerappa Moily said.
"Today, thousands of tribals are being protected in fortified camps, pointing to the disturbed life they are forced to lead. Attacks by the extremists on these camps lead to several deaths," the commission said, referring to the movement that the central government had once advised Naxal-hit states to replicate.
It may have started as a spontaneous movement but it wasn't violent then. It became so once the politicians and the police got involved, said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management.
Chhattisgarh, however, isn't the first state that armed citizens to fight terrorists. Sahni said Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Tripura had armed and used village defence committees effectively as an auxiliary force to free the better-trained state security forces. But this is something that can be done in areas where there is domination by security forces – in secure areas.
In its report to the Prime Minister last month, the Moily commission also noted how the "poor tribals had been caught between the legitimate sovereign power of the state and the illegitimate coercive power of the extremists, who deliver instant justice through peoples' courts and other informal methods.