Pusao Saran, a marginal farmer in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district, where Salwa Judum founder Mahendra Karma grew up as an anti-Maoist crusader, is a worried man these days. He has to keep both the bands of Maoists camping in nearby jungles and security forces in good humour.
Since the villagers never escaped the aftershock of the bloody fight between security forces and Maoists, tension is quite palpable in villages around Darbha in Bastar where the rebels killed 18 Congressmen – including almost the entire state leadership – on May 25.
There are more CRPF jawans on the roads than villagers. The local bazaar in Kavalnar, next to Karma’s native village Pharaspal, looks deserted. Ganpat Sau, a local trader, says, “Everybody is avoiding being seen in the open ever since the incident occurred.”
The fear of the uncertain is more intense now than ever before as there’s a growing perception that the Maoist guns are now trained on the political class. Even local politicians — friends, protectors and also exploiters — seem to have lost their nerve. Napu Tula, a district-level BJP leader, is thinking of quitting politics. “For me, security comes first.”
And there’s no one to answer Pusao Saran’s question: “We are poor. Who will make us feel secure?” In fact, the security forces don’t represent him. And the people he voted to power are scampering off to safer places. It’s every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.
But why did the Chhattisgarh Maoists take such a violent step against politicians when they had always targeted the security forces? Kumar Sanjay Singh, a Maoist strategy expert, explains: “The morale of the cadre was sinking with more than half the central committee members being either behind bars or eliminated. There was a need to stage a spectacular strike.”
And the poorly guarded Congress convoy – ferrying Karma and state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel — was only too tempting for the Maoists.
What’s more, the movement of the convoy coincided with the rebels’ annual tactical counter-offensive exercise from mid-March to June, when they plan and carry out attacks.
This season suits them. By the time security forces scramble to launch a counter-offensive, it’s time for the monsoon. After the shoot-and-scoot operations, the rebels take shelter deeper in the jungles where the forces cannot enter till the rains are over.
The rains, however, may not bring respite for villagers this time, as the massacre has made the rebels more blood thirsty and the forces may not wait out the monsoon at their barracks.
The fear is so widespread that even the local administration staff, most of whom are tribals and are at peace with the rebels, think even they will not be spared this time for doing government jobs.
A tehsildar in Dantewada told HT that some lower-rung officials had already started avoiding field visits. Only doctors appear to be feeling safe. “We treat whoever comes to us and we don’t bother about their identity,” said Dr Sunil Kumar at Basaguda in Bijapur district.
Amid all this, the wedding season has just begun in Dantewada. But an eerie silence has replaced the cheery drums and flutes. “We are no stranger to violence, but this uncertainty is killing us,” said Phirat, a farmer whose son will get married on May 31.