Police in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar have booked Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar and several others for the alleged murder of a tribal man in Sukma district last week and the police have said that they are getting ready to take “strict action” against the accused.
Armed Naxals had allegedly killed Shamnath Baghel with sharp weapons on Friday night at his residence in Nama village under Kumakoleng gram panchayat in Tongpal area, around 450 kms away from here.
Baghel and some of his associates were spearheading the protest against Naxal activities in their village since April this year, police said.
"An FIR was lodged against DU Professor Nandini Sundar, Archana Prasad (JNU Professor), Vineet Tiwari (from Delhi's Joshi Adhikar Sansthan), Sanjay Parate (Chhattisgarh CPI (Marxist) State Secretary) and others along with Maoists for the murder of Shamnath Baghel based on the complaint of his wife on Saturday," Inspector General of Police (Bastar Range) S R P Kalluri told PTI last night.
Sundar has dismissed the charges against her, saying: “The FIR against us is absurd. We haven’t been there for months.”
"We condemn the killing of Shamnath Baghel," she wrote on Facebook.
While the news of Sundar being booked has come as a shock to many, this is not her first run-in with Kalluri. As it turns out, both have often been at loggerheads because of the latter’s controversial and often ‘high-handed’ approach towards handling anti-Maoist operations. Kalluri, the face of the anti-Maoist operation in the region, have often been accused of human rights violations.
While Kalluri’s supporters in the force and political establishment see him as a man ‘on mission’ to eliminate the armed Maoist insurgency and hail him as a hero, his detractors see him as an authoritarian figure who do not tolerate dissent.
Journalists and civil rights activists have often been jailed under his watch for reporting and protesting what they call forces’ “brutalities”.
Barely two weeks ago, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) held security forces responsible for setting 160 houses on fire in Tadmetla village in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district in March 2011.
Seven special police officers have been chargesheeted in the case so far.
In July 2011, a CBI inquiry was ordered by the court for these incidents on a plea by Nandini Sundar.
Days after CBI held the police responsible for incident, sections of the Bastar police held protest march and burnt the effigies of some activists and political leaders, including that of Sundar.
Sundar, who heads the sociology department at Delhi University, has led the legal fight against Salwa Judum, SPOs and “atrocities” by the forces in Left-Wing Extremism affected regions.
It was on a batch of pleas by Sundar that the Supreme Court declared the Salwa Judum and SPOs illegal in 2011.
On the other hand is Kalluri, who is believed to have achieved major success against Maoists in Bastar. The 1994 batch Indian Police Service officer, originally from Andhra Pradesh, opted for the Chhattisgarh cadre when Madhya Pradesh was bifurcated in 2000.
Kalluri rose to fame as the Superintendent of Police (SP) in northern Chhattisgarh where he is perceived to have weakened the insurgency.
He was then appointed as SSP in Bastar’s Dantewada, where he was accused of human rights violations. During the period, he developed a familiarity with the region and built an independent network of informants which has helped him to counter Maoist movement as the IG of the region.
“The Maoists sent a ‘delegation’ in which Nandini Sundar and all came to Bastar in May. They also used false name. When Nandani Sundar was stopped by the police, she told us the fake name. They roamed freely in the jungle; they stayed in the hotels and rest houses with false names,” Kalluri said.
“We don’t mind anyone supporting some ideology, but they should not incite innocent tribal to rebel against the state,” the IG said. “There is sufficient background, there is prelude, correspondence and evidences.”
Kalluri was posted back as IG of the range in June 2014, a few months after the Assembly elections in the state concluded and a year after the massacre of Congress leaders in a naxal attack.
The attack caused at least 27 deaths, including that of former state minister Mahendra Karma, Chhattisgarh Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel and senior party leader Vidya Charan Shukla.
Since his appointment, Kalluri has been given a free hand by the government. He has the backing of state DGP and also that of influential bureaucrats in the Home Ministry.
Soon after taking charge, he appointed a new team of police officials of his choosing in the region.
According to a report by the Hindustan Times, Kalluri has devised a complex strategy that rests on five pillars – surrender, arrests, encounters, development, and ‘empowering people’.
He has given his SPs a free hand to implement the strategy but he keeps a close watch on the progress, operations and force movements and coordinates between the district teams 24 hours a day.
According to a police official, the IG has told his team, “We cannot kill all Naxalites. And that should not be our aim. Our aim has to be to get them on our side. They will bring local intelligence, and that will increase our ability. Focus on surrenders, surrenders, and surrenders.”
The police also get support from several Right-Wing groups working in the region.
Excessive actions of the police are, however, opposed by social activists and reported by journalists.
Several journalists in the region have been arrested and put in jail, allegedly on flimsy charges.
Sundar was among the voices raising the issue in the mainstream media and at the legal platforms. But now, Kalluri has promised “strongest possible action” those guilty.
Sundar, along with others have been booked under sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder), 147 (rioting), 148 and 149 of IPC at Tongpal Police Station.
"As per the complaint lodged by the victim's wife, her husband had been getting threats from Maoists since he and other villagers had complained against Sundar in May this year. Even armed ultras were referring to that complaint and anti-Maoist demonstrations while attacking Baghel on Friday," the IG said.
The complaint also mentioned that during the attack on him, Maoists kept telling Baghel that he was being punished because he did not listen to Sundar and others, and continued opposing them.
Baghel's wife has sought action against Sundar and others accusing them of murdering her husband, Kalluri said.
Responding to the charges, Sundar today wrote on her Facebook, "This is clearly part of IG Kalluri's attempt to intimidate and harass journalists, lawyers, researchers, political leaders and human rights activists who have exposed the reign of fake encounters, gang rapes etc. that are going on in Bastar. "
In particular, this is a direct fall out of the CBI chargesheet of special police officers turned constables for arson in Tadmetla in 2011, an operation which Mr. Kalluri directed. First our effigies were burnt by the police and now a false FIR is being filed against us," she wrote.