Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo today dubbed anti-Maoist militia Salwa Judum as a "sinful strategy", bringing to the fore apparent differences in Congress over the approach to Maoists who last week wiped out party leadership in Chhattisgarh in a deadly attack.
Deo warned that the nation would witness "worse consequences" if the Naxalite issue is treated as a mere law and order problem, just days after his colleague Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh termed the Maoists as "terrorists" after the May 25 bloodbath.
The people "worst affected" by the Salwa Judum, founded by Mahendra Karma, Congress leader who was killed in the attack, were innocent tribals, who were "sandwiched" between security forces and Maoists and "this shadow is still chasing us", the Minister said.
Talking to PTI, Deo, himself a tribal, cautioned against deploying army to counter the Naxals.
"Air power and military are meant to fight the enemy and not your own citizens.... How do you differentiate a Maoist? ...It will create a civil war like situation," he said insisting that the Naxal issue was basically a socio-economic problem.
Asked whether Salwa Judum was a faulty or a failed strategy, he remarked it was a "sinful" strategy.
When P Chidambaram was Home Minister, senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh had opposed any strategy treating the Naxal problem as a law and order issue. Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice-President Rahul had also talked about focusing on development in the tribal areas.
The Minister said Salwa Judum brought innocent tribals out of their homestead, deprived them of their livelihood resources and kept them in captive camps almost "like refugees and prisoners".
"Security forces even failed to provide them proper security. Ultimately they were gun fodder for extremists and security forces. Apex court had to intervene and stop it saying enough is enough. This shadow is still chasing us," Deo said.
When reminded that Mahendra Karma is hailed as a national hero by some for the Salwa Judum movement against the Maoists, Deo said that he has been opposing the movement for long and former Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh Ajit Jogi was also an opponent so also Charandas Mahant when he was the PCC Chief.
Deo's refrain was that the government should ensure on a "war footing" building of roads, dwellings, drinking water and education facilities along with basic medical care in the tribal areas.
Deo said the May 25 incident showed that the Maoists' intelligence apparatus was "more effective" than that of the state.
"As far as this incident is concerned, it is a total collapse of state's security system and breakdown of the intelligence machinery. Had your intelligence channels been in place and securities agencies alert, this would not have happened," he said.
"Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh has to take moral responsibility. There is no getting away from it. Straightaway the arrow points out to him," he said.
Expressing concern over reports of nexus between corporate mining houses and extremists, he said there was need to investigate the issue to bring to book those funding Maoist activities.
Making a pitch for keeping out private sector from tribal areas, he recalled that as per the 5th Schedule of the Constitution and relevant laws, only companies and societies owned and controlled by the tribals alone could work in Scheduled areas.
Deo, who also is the Panchayati Raj Minister, lamented that in the tribal areas only the District Magistrate, Superintendent of Police and Forest Officer decide which work is to be taken up.
He said that the decision should be taken by getting feedback from the gram sabha "because they know the problem". He said such a procedure ensures that the tribals feel that they are also part of the "development and governance process".
Deo said that the political class as a whole will have to do more introspection in the wake of the May 25 incident to understand why some people have chosen this path. "Once you know that then you can address the problem," the Minister said.