Dual Power in a Guerrilla Zone: Two Reigns of Political Violence in Bastar

by Bernard D’Mello and Gautam Navlakha

The ambush on May 25 by Maoist guerrillas in the Darba Ghati valley (in the Sukma area of the Bastar region in southern Chhattisgarh), 345 kms south of the state capital of Raipur, of a convoy of provincial Congress Party leaders has shocked the Indian state apparatus. The Z-plus and other categories of armed security personnel — entitlements of the ‘lords’ of India’s political establishment — were no match for the guerrillas. The main targets of the attack were Mahendra Karma, founder of the state-promoted, financed and armed private vigilante force, Salwa Judum (SJ), and Nand Kumar Patel, the chief of the Congress Party in the province and a former home minister of the state.

A press statement issued by Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) (CPI [Maoist]) on May 26 states that the “goal of this attack was mainly to eliminate Mahendra Karma and some other reactionary Congress top leaders”. It pointedly reminds Chhattisgarh’s state government leaders and state police officials “who are hell-bent on crushing the revolutionary movement of Dandakaranya” that they suffer from a “big illusion that they are unbeatable”. Mahendra Karma too falsely believed “that Z-plus Security and bullet proof vehicles would save him forever”. The statement also clarifies that in Chhattisgarh “there are no differences between [the] ruling BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] and opposition Congress in terms of policies of suppressing the revolutionary movement. Only due to public pressure, as well as to gain electoral benefits, some of the local leaders of the Congress at times came [out] in condemnation of incidents like [the] Sarkeguda and Edsametta massacres”.

The convoy was returning from a “Parivartan Yatra” (“March for Change”) rally in Sukma and the Maoists knew not only that Karma and Patel were in the convoy, but even the route that it was to take. The assassinations were thus meticulously planned and executed, though they took a two-hour long gun battle with the state forces to accomplish, a clash in which many who merely serve or protect (the latter, armed personnel) the oppressors, and do so because they have little choice, were either killed or injured. The Maoist guerrillas reportedly even provided first aid to some of these persons who suffered injuries. Continue reading