"Government didn't keep promises": Karnataka's ex-Naxals threaten to return to cause

Just when these ex-Naxalites were returning to the mainstream, the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Ltd (KPTCL) decided to acquire land for the humongous solar park at Pavagada.

Published: 04th October 2021 03:51 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th October 2021 03:51 AM   |  A+A-

Villagers at Vallur in Pavagada taluk of Tumakuru district | ASHISHKRISHNAASHISHKRISHNA H.

Villagers at Vallur in Pavagada taluk of Tumakuru district | ASHISHKRISHNAASHISHKRISHNA H.

Express News Service

PAVAGADA: Pavagada taluk, which once hit the headlines for Naxal activities, has been in the news again over the last five years for housing one of the world’s largest solar park covering an area of 53 sqkm.

But nothing has changed for former Naxalites in the area, who had been promised by politicians, policemen and the government that their living conditions would be improved, employment opportunities would be created, financial help would be extended and all efforts would be made to ensure a ‘good’ life. But just when these ex-Naxalites were returning to the mainstream, the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Ltd (KPTCL) decided to acquire land for the humongous solar park at Pavagada.

“We were promised jobs, including cleaning solar panels, cutting grass and others, during setting up of the park. But nothing came our way. We belong to the Scheduled Caste community, and on top of that, we were labelled Naxalites,” lamented Muthyalappa alias Venkatesh of Vallur village. He was part of the Naxal movement since 1998. He was arrested in 2005 and served six-and-a-half years in different jails in the State.

Nagaraj, alias Manohara — whose brother Peddanna was the first in the family to join the Naxal movement — decided not to part with his father’s two-acre land, while many others dreamed of working at the solar park as employees.

Nagaraj sits at his small shop in the tiny hamlet of Venkatamannahalli, which made headlines in 2005, when six police personnel and a civilian were killed, while five others were injured when around 300 Naxalites, including 50 women, attacked the Karnataka State Reserve Police (KSRP) camp with hand grenades, bombs and AK-47 assault rifles. Nagaraj was the prime accused in the case. “I have been Accused No 1 in the bomb blast case,” says Nagaraj.

Ex-Naxalite Muthyalappa alias Venkatesh with other residents of Vallur
village in Pavagada taluk of Tumakuru district | Ashishkrishna HP

Promised jobs, better life never came, say former Naxals

“I was around 20 when I was arrested, and rewards had been announced in my name. While spending nearly eight years in prison, I finished my second-year graduation in journalism. After I was set free in 2012, I thought I would do some justice to my ideologies that were grilled into me since my teenage years. We were promised a whole lot of things, including a decent life with respect,” says Nagaraj, explaining the situation now at the once Naxal-prone villages, including his.

With the government not keeping up its promises, Nagaraj now says, “If my presence is necessary in the (Naxal) movement, I am ready to go even now.” Several of them who feel betrayed by the government think that they could get back to Naxalism or join the rebel ‘group’ if such a situation arises.

“Though we have suffered for being in the movement, we are not ready to let go of our ideologies. Several of us are trying to fight the system by being in the system. We have become members of panchayats and formed unions. But nothing is going right. Our politicians and the government have not changed. We have been taught to give respect and take respect. But at the same time, we know when to revolt, too, and we are ready to do that if the situation demands. We will teach our children the same,” says Nagaraj.

Some of them are still battling the Naxal label attached to them. For instance, Shriram, who is in his late 40s, often knocks on the doors of landlords requesting them for a job. But many times, he says, he has been shown the door as he continues to be seen as a Naxalite.

He says he even approached the solar panel company to give him a security or cleaning job, but the ‘label’ prevented it, though he has been cleared of all the 13 cases filed against him. “It’s just 4 km from my house to the nearest solar panel place. I am ready to take up work as a security guard or cleaner. But I am still struggling,” Shriram, a resident of BK Halli, says.

He was in his teens when he joined the Naxal movement after his father lost a piece of land to a landlord who had given him a loan. A few more people had suffered a similar fate. “This made me angry and helpless, and I joined the Naxal movement,” he says. He was in the team with Muthyalappa between 1994 and 2004. In between, he was in jail for some time.

When SM Krishna was the chief minister in 2004, many from his fraternity were called and given ration cards. “They declared us ‘ex-Naxalites’ and assured us loans, so that we could make a living away from Naxal activities. But it has been more than 17 years. Many governments have come and gone. But nothing has been done!” he says.

While there are hundreds of landless people in the five villages surrounding the solar park who are waiting for the government to provide them jobs, families of ex-Naxalites too are waiting for not only basic amenities and jobs at the solar park, which they claim is the only way to make a living, but are also seeking help from banks to provide them loans to set up shops, develop their land and do some business.

“Every new minister visits our villages. Our villages have a history, you see. From BJP to Congress to JDS, all party ministers have come here to grab headlines. It has been more than 15 years now since the attack and we have only requests to show the media which don’t even make headlines sometimes. We are eagerly waiting for some good roads to our villages, pucca houses to live in and jobs to work and earn,” says Nagaraj.

A retired senior police officer, who played a major role in the arrest of some of these Naxalites, says exploitative and unfair practices pushed many of these then young men and women towards violence, and extreme despair led them to believe that armed struggle alone can right the wrongs perpetrated against them.

“Feudal systems and caste hierarchies, which play out in Pavagada’s villages, are the reason why so many young people joined the Naxal movement in the 1990s. After the brutal attack in 2005, the government spoke big and promised development, but it hasn’t delivered. The same inequity that made them join the Naxals still persists, and if the government does not want a repeat, it should ensure that the taluk’s residents are provided with all the basic amenities. We need to be aware that many of them still believe in Naxal ideologies and that can turn into a rage,” he warns.

(The series concludes)


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