It was meant to be major achievement that Chhattisgarh Police hoped would win themselves immense public approval. But a week after 70 “Maoists” handed themselves over to the authorities at a much-publicised function in the restive Sukma district, the force is battling accusations that it had for cheap publicity roped in innocent villagers to surrender before the cameras.
Suspicion of foul play have emerged after police records revealed that only 10 of the 70 men and women who surrendered have criminal cases pending against them. The rest 60 had no criminal record and the opposition Congress said they were ordinary villagers who were possibly induced to come for the “surrender” by a cash incentive of Rs 10,000 given to each Maoist who chooses to turn a new leaf.
“Why are poor tribals being forced to surrender,” state Congress president Bhupesh Bhagel has asked, demanding an explanation. A local tribal leader, Manish Kunjam, said, “Some (those who surrendered) are not even the cadres of CPI (Maoist) and are innocent.”
The police, however, insist the surrenders were genuine. “The remaining 60 are those who either had extended help to the Maoists or supported them in some way or the other,” said Sukma, additional superintendent of police, Santosh Singh.
At least some of those among the group of 60 disputed the police claim. “We don’t know what is Maoist ideology,” said Lakshman (name changed). He had been a labourer lifelong and survived on minor forest produce.
Another person who surrendered said he and many others were encouraged by the lifestyle of the rebels who surrendered, alluding to the cash reward and other government assistance that any Maoist surrender entitled.