Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, who has been battling left-wing extremists in the state for the last 15 years, says he is ready to talk to Maoists — but only if their top leadership comes to the table.
He says the fight against Maoists is the “toughest fight in the world” and asserts that left-wing extremists can still claim dominance in only “15-20 per cent areas” in just two districts — Bijapur and Sukma.
“The battle against Maoists is the toughest fight in the world. This is a fight where our own people (Maoists) roam around wearing lungis and suddenly start firing. What will a jawan do under such circumstances? They (Maoists) keep themselves surrounded by women and children and innocent villagers. We can’t do anything. We can’t kill everybody,” Singh, the longest-serving Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Chief Minister, told IANS in an interview.
He said that the fight on the borders was “easier” as enemies are known, but the battle against Maoists was different.
“On the border we know our posts and can easily identify the enemies. We can use guns, bombs and other heavy arms against them. But here it is a different fight. We know they (Maoists) are there, but we can’t use bombs and other weapons against them as they keep themselves surrounded by villagers,” he said.
Inviting top Maoist leaders for talks, Singh urged them to join the mainstream by involving themselves in development work.
“What is the problem in talks? We are ready, but we can’t talk to district-level Maoists. They are only following the directions of top Maoists. Whenever there are talks, it will be with the top leadership that includes their five-seven Politburo members. If they come forward, we can find some way out,” he said.
“This (Maoists) is not the problem of Chhattisgarh alone. They are spread in six states,” he added.
“Most of these Maoists operate from Andhra Pradesh, while some operate from Odisha, Telangana and Garhchiroli in Maharashtra. Bastar is spread across 40,000 sq km, an area larger than Kerala. They flee to any of these states after committing crimes against humanity,” he said.
The Chief Minister claimed that through development work in Maoist-hit areas, his government has been successful in curbing and countering their influence.
“Now you can freely roam in any area of Dantewada, even on two-wheelers. Change is visible when you travel to these areas. By creating infrastructure — roads and power — I have been able to win the confidence of the people,” he said, referring to a district that was once a hotbed to Maoist activity.
Singh said that power works as a major catalyst for change. “Once a person gets addicted to light (power), he will never like the dark. I am trying to provide power to every household. Once this is done, we will distribute smartphones to each student — at the bachelors and masters level, or those doing MBBS and engineering..
“Today we have reached a stage where there are only some 640,000 homes without power. These houses will be equipped with power by June this year.
“In some parts of Dantewada and Sukma, where we are facing problems in providing power supply, we are distributing solar lanterns. If the Maoists find these lanterns in any house, they break them. Now we are distributing these lanterns to students and they use it for their studies.”
Recalling the challenges faced in the fight against the Maoists, he said that Chhattisgarh was the only state in India where there was a stretch of 150 km of National Highways that had “mitti” (untarred) roads — because the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) that was tasked with constructing the roads back in 2003 had refused to do so because of the Maoist threat.
“Finally, we decided to get this patch of 150 km constructed by local contractors. Now, from Jagdalpur, Dantewada, Sukma to Bijapur — all are well connected by road,” he said.