The assassination of Mahendra Karma, the founder of the Salwa Judum, is a feather in his cap. Deva, the area commander of Darbha division of the Maoists, is eager to take credit.
Deva said, "We were about 100 of us, all from Darbha division. We got to know two days before, that the Congress is conducting its 'parivartan yatra' and Karma will be crossing the region. We made our plan and attacked them. Karma has been our target for years. We killed him, (former union minister Vidya Charan) Shukla and (Pradesh Congress Committee chief Nand Kumar) Patel. Killing Patel's son was a mistake. But we are glad Karma is dead. He formed Salwa Judum, which tortured villagers and burnt down many villages."
The Salwa Judum was a local militia trained with the help of the state to take on the Maoists. In 2011, the Supreme Court had declared the Salwa Judum unconstitutional and illegal and ordered it be disbanded. Salwa judum was founded by Congress leader Mahendra Karma, but the BJP was equally supportive of the idea. In May last year, the Maoists massacred the Congress leadership, killing Karma and several others.
Karma's killing was the most recent development of this on-going saga. The Maoists now believe they are winning the war.
"Salwa Judum is gone. Earlier no one was listening to the tribals. Now they are fighting for their rights," said Deva.
Rahul Pandita, associate editor with The Hindu and author of 'Hello Bastar', said that far from winning, the Maoists are on the backfoot. Rahul is among the few journalists who have interviewed Maoist supremo Ganapathy, the 64-year-old ageing leader is believed to be hiding in Abujmaad in Chattisgarh.
"In the last few years, the Union Home Ministry has claimed to have regained control of over 10,000 square kilometers from Maoists in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Bihar. In Jharkhand, security forces reclaimed the Saranda forest area in 2011 from the Maoists. It served as the eastern regional bureau headquarters of the CPI (Maoist). In 2012, the CRPF entered Abujhmaad area in Chhattisgarh's Narayanpur district, which is one of their main guerrilla zones. It comes under the Maoist's Dandakaranya Special Zone Committee (DKSZC). The CRPF did not reclaim it but it sent a strong message to the Maoists that none of their bastions was impenetrable. They are facing a severe leadership crunch. The Maoist supreme commander, Ganapathi, has accepted that this is a problem. But he told me in an interview that they were training and developing new revolutionary leadership at all levels to fill up the bases," Mr Pandita said.
Will Dandakaranya become Saranda for the Maoists? National security expert Ajai Sahni said that the area dominance by Indian security forces has weakened the Maoists immensely in the last few years. "More people are coming out to vote because they feel safer. Whether cheap rice by the state or not, people wouldn't risk their lives unless they were sure, the security forces are around to protect them," he said.
But Deva might not be completely wrong. In a separate conversation, senior journalist Sunil Kumar, editor in chief of a prominent Chhattisgarh daily, reflected upon the pro-people measures taken by the state and gave some credit to the armed rebellion of the Maoist.
Deva is confident that communism will prevail in the end and is not worried about internal rifts and an ageing leadership. "Haven't your leaders gotten old? Manmohan Singh, (Pranab) Mukherjee? Age is a state of mind and we have many young leaders too." he said.
So why does a young leader like him not let roads and schools be built? Isn't that why they picked up the gun in the first place? How can the Maoists blame it all on the government when they bomb schools?
Deva: "Because the security forces use them as a bunker. We are not against schools and hospitals."
NDTV: "But if you don't let the government build roads, how would these facilities come here?"
Deva: "We are fine with kachcha mud roads, why do they need to make pakka roads? It is to send the Cobra force."
The COBRA battalion of the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) was first sent out by P Chidambaram, former home minister of India, as part of the anti-Maoist Operation Green Hunt.
Roads are needed for connectivity, but security forces too need infrastructure to push the Maoists out. That is the reason you will find broken, kachcha roads in the areas still under Maoist control.
Fearing extermination, the Maoists do hinder basic development. It's the only way their writ can still prevail in the jungle.
"Even in villages where we have no presence, what has the state done? Have they achieved any miracle? Those people are equally poor," Deva argued.
He makes a good point, but not completely accurate. The PDS is functioning well in ration shops only in villages with pakka roads. Residents of many Naxal-dominated areas have to walk for kilometres to get their share of rice and pulses. Not all has been done, but schools are being built along with health centres.
Deva: "Those schools don't get teachers, you want to see what (Chief Minister) Raman Singh has done. Look at this salt, its adulterated. Half salt, half fertilizer."
NDTV: "But the teachers, the doctors are scared to come here because of you."
Deva: "We are not against them, we don't kill them."
He does not sound convincing. Even though the Maoists are not known for targeting teachers and doctors, they have killed many innocent people in their kangaroo courts under the assumption that they may be police informers.
On April 12 this year, soon after polling in Bastar for the general elections, Maoists killed five civilians as they were returning from election duty.
One of them, Yalam Ramachandram, a teacher, is survived by four daughters of whom the eldest is Vasika. She is in class 8. She neither understands the conflict nor why her father had to die for it.
Vasika prays the violence ends but Deva rubbishes that idea, saying "even when the whole world is under communism, we won't give up the gun".
"We can't give up the gun, it will be with us, till we die, even after the revolution," says the commander.
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