Bastar crackdowns warn India what an Emergency could look like in the 21st century

While Delhi occasionally has to grapple with the real excesses of state power, such as when the government orders a news channel to go blank, the police state is alive and thriving in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar. The district, which became infamous two decades ago for the significant presence of Maoists, has also become a symbol of Indian state abuse and has been the site of some of the most brazen attempts by the authorities to hound out all dissent.


On Monday, the Hindustan Times reported that one of its journalists was threatened by SRP Kalluri, Chhattisgarh’s inspector-general of police, a man who has made clear his willingness to act against anyone questioning his department’s actions. Kalluri told the HT journalist, “If you all do like this, we will not let you visit …you went with my reference to Bastar.”

This is not anomalous behaviour from the man who helped use the police-initiated citizens body, the Samajik Ekta Manch, to drive out any journalist living in the district who might question the police’s actions – including’s Malini Subramanian who faced threats of violence and brick-throwing. This week, Inspector-General Kalluri has made it clear that even those who live outside Bastar will have to toe his line if they want to enter the district to report.

This is even more pertinent because the story the HT journalist was working on concerns another effort to keep people out: the murder case against Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar and others. Sundar was accused of being part of a crowd that had gone to the victim’s village and warned him not to oppose the Maoists. However, the wife of the murdered adivasi in whose name the case has been registered against Sundar has said she did not add these names.

This again is being seen as an effort to keep out all those who might be able to reflect a different viewpoint, and counter the state’s narrative. These attempts gain further import because, as Bastar slowly turns into a blackhole from which no dissenting information can emerge, the chance of state abuse – already a recorded feature in the district – becomes even higher.

The Opposition is set to take up the matter in the upcoming Winter Session of the state assembly. Just days ago, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was defending itself against charges of having imposed Emergency following its now-stayed NDTV India ban, insisting that its leaders had to face the brunt of Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian tendencies and would never replicate the same measures.

If the BJP just looked at what’s happening in Bastar though, it would find a district that would fit much more readily into Indira’s Emergency-era India than the progressive nation they claim to dream of.

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