In this Idea Exchange, Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo says the Naxal problem shouldn’t be seen as a “mere law-and-order problem” and why when he says tribals need roads and electricity, he is not “diluting” the Forest Rights Act. This session was moderated by Senior Editor D K Singh
D K Singh: After the latest attack on Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh, you said Salwa Judum was a “sinful strategy”. Could you elaborate on this?
What was the Salwa Judum? What was happening was that many of these tribal youth were brought by these security forces and kept in groups, almost like in concentration camps. Maybe they were given Rs 1,500 a month and trained in how to use rifles and guns. Ultimately, what happened was that both the Maoists and the security forces used these youngsters to kill each other. What could be more sinful than this? Apart from this, you cut them off from their homes. Which means that you also deprive them of their traditional sources of livelihood. The government couldn’t even provide proper security cover in these concentration camps. Ultimately, the Supreme Court had to intervene to stop this. But the shadow of Salwa Judum has still not left us. Even at that time, I had opposed it, within and outside the party but there were a few people here and there who thought that this was the best thing to do. Salwa Judum has left very bad memories in the mind of the tribals and all these people who live in these areas.
DK Singh: Following this Chhattisgarh incident, there has been some churning in the party on the approach to be taken on Maoists. The latest thought process is that Maoists are terrorists. Do you subscribe to that view?
I don’t think the party made any such statement. Maybe one odd individual said so. This was a terror-like attack, but when you say “terrorists”, are you trying to paint all tribals with the same brush and say all of them are terrorists? Terrorism has a different connotation altogether. You are dealing with people within your own country. You’re dealing with civilians. This (calling them terrorists) may have been a knee-jerk reaction. Seventeen people died…but one has to think beyond that. Also, before this, there was an incident in which 17 tribals were killed, out of which about eight were children. I don’t think within the party there has been any substantial change except for some reactions to this particular issue. So I think that cannot be generalised as a change of thinking within the party.