The dialectic of history plays a bewitching game with its subjects. The recent arrest of Bharatiya Janata Party’s Dantewada vice-president Jagat Pujari, for allegedly helping Maoists in Chhattisgarh, has again brought the focus on the cozy alliance between the ultra-Left rebels and the Right-wing politicians in the insurgent zone.
The alliance has seen political deals and material support. It was even rocked by two murders — BJP’s then-Dantewada vice-president Shiv Dayal Singh Tomar in 2013 and BJP’s then-sitting MLA Bhima Mandavi in 2019. And yet, this association has continued to flourish.
Pujari, along with one Ramesh Usendi, has been booked under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act for allegedly supplying material, including a tractor, to the Maoists. The 2005 Act, incidentally, was enacted by the BJP’s Raman Singh government to curb the Maoist activities in the state. Pujari’s arrest turns hollow the BJP’s foul cry about its invented epithet of ‘urban Naxals’. It also exposes the party’s treacherous politics in the Maoist kingdom.
A cozy nexus
While the arrest has created uproar with many slamming the BJP for clandestine deals with the guerrillas, few know that the nexus has a long history. In the 2008 Chhattisgarh assembly election, for instance, the BJP and the guerrillas came together to defeat the Salwa Judum architect and Congress leader Mahendra Karma. The BJP won 11 of the 12 seats in the Bastar zone at a time when the guerrillas were scaling new heights, when they seemed invincible and were capable of attacking the police at will. Karma was trounced in the election in his home seat of Dantewada, standing third behind the BJP’s Bhima Mandavi and the Communist Party of India (CPI). The 2008 election marked the first-ever victory of the BJP in Dantewada.
The alliance grew thick; political dealings were supplemented by material support. As Karma and the Congress became weaker in Bastar, the Maoists gained in strength. An area whose politics was limited to the Congress and the CPI, saw the BJP flourishing. Bastar thus became a rare zone that witnessed the simultaneous surge of the Leftist revolutionaries and the Right-wing. Both the groups needed each other to spread themselves in the forested zone — one wanted to raise a revolutionary army, the other had to establish its base among the Adivasis. They had little qualms in helping each other.
In January 2014, the Chhattisgarh Police arrested a contractor Dharmendra Chopra, who told the officers that he had acted as a middleman between BJP’s politicians, including the party’s then-Kanker MP Sohan Potai, and the Maoists. Chopra later told me that “he had funded their election campaigns”. In fact, Chopra was arrested near the Raipur airport when he was travelling in Potai’s vehicle. Within a decade, this small contractor from Kanker had risen to acquire large property, including a bungalow in Raipur.
Potai told me in his defence: “I know Chopra for several years, but I had no information about his activities. He was in my vehicle that evening but for some other reasons.”
Chopra, who had named a Congress leader as well, also knew several senior Maoists and supplied them equipment such as mobile phones.
Killings of BJP leaders
The underground deal between the Maoists and the BJP was officially confirmed when a guerrilla, Podiyam Linga, was arrested shortly before the 2013 Chhattisgarh assembly election for the murder of BJP’s Shiv Dayal Singh Tomar.
In the presence of Dantewada Police Superintendent Narendra Khare and CRPF officers, Linga told the media that he had helped his uncle, BJP’s Bhima Mandavi, during the 2008 election. Speaking to me later, Mandavi admitted that Linga was a resident of his village Toylanka and was closely associated with Tomar. He had even worked for the BJP in another election. “Tomarji assigned him some work during the Bastar Lok Sabha by-election in 2011. They also had lunch together,” Mandavi said. Incidentally, BJP’s Dinesh Kashyap won the Bastar bypoll then.
Linga regularly met Tomar, an influential contractor, and other BJP men at the Dantewada Circuit House, less than 500 metres from the SP’s office.
Tomar, according to the police, was murdered because he did not pay the Maoists their commission. Linga, Khare said, had asked Tomar for Rs 60,000 in lieu of a construction project that the Maoists had allowed them to complete. But Tomar refused to pay, saying, “Do whatever you want to.”
The BJP’s politics in Dantewada took another turn when Mandavi, a sitting MLA at the time, was killed by the Maoists on 9 April 2019, two days before the polling for the Lok Sabha election in Bastar.
Shri Bhima Mandavi was a dedicated Karyakarta of the BJP. Diligent and courageous, he assiduously served the people of Chhattisgarh. His demise is deeply anguishing. Condolences to his family and supporters. Om Shanti.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 9, 2019
Will BJP ever own its complicity?
Some had thought that the BJP would be sceptical after Mandavi’s killing and begin distancing itself from the guerrillas. However, the police case against Pujari shows that the party wouldn’t mind a few sacrifices as long as it brings political gains.
The bigger issue, then, is this: BJP leaders like Mandavi, Tomar, Kashyap and Pujari are small pawns on the chessboard of Bastar. They couldn’t have played their moves without the connivance of their top bosses in Raipur. It is not certain whether the investigative agencies will ever be able to track these connections. But it does raise a question: Will the BJP ever own the murk it has spread in Bastar? The party that indulges in the empty rhetoric of nationalism has slyly nourished India’s longest insurgency. It could be a different jungle without the tacit and treacherous deals that the BJP has forged with the insurgents.
The author is an independent journalist. His forthcoming book, The Death Script, traces the Naxal insurgency. Views are personal.