Bastar police boss S.R.P. Kalluri reveals to Sonia Sarkar the symptoms of his troubled reputation
The mood changes palpably as the white car enters Jagdalpur Airport. Men in uniform straighten their spines; civilians are on their feet. An eerie silence descends on the helipad.
But the man who alights from the car looks surprisingly innocuous. Is this short and stout man, just about five feet tall, the one who is referred to as the terror of Bastar? I can’t believe it.
Neither can K. Sivarama Prasad Kalluri, the controversial inspector-general of police (IGP), Bastar Range, Chhattisgarh. “The people of Bastar love me,” says the 45-year-old officer in charge of the seven districts of Bastar, a Maoist hotbed.
Perhaps not all of them. Bastar villagers accuse Kalluri of unleashing men on them who torture, rape and terrorise them. They are behind fake encounters and forced surrenders, many villagers allege, Kalluri is fighting Adivasis, not the Maoists.
Not the villagers, Kalluri – a follower of Rajneesh, the late godman of Pune – counters. “It’s only people from Delhi such as Nandini Sundar who come to Bastar and spread negativity about me,” he says.
Kalluri brings in the Delhi University professor often into the conversation. Sundar and three others were booked by the Chhattisgarh police last week for the murder of a tribal, Shamnath Baghel, of Namapara in Soutenar village in Sukma district.
Baghel, a member of a local armed vigilante group called Tangia, had lodged a complaint in May against Sundar, Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Archana Prasad, and political activists Vineet Tiwari and Sanjay Parate. According to Kalluri, Baghel had said that Sundar had threatened him, saying that if he didn’t stop his battle against the Maoists, they would kill him.
“Sundar will be investigated for this. We are going to make an issue out of this. But we are otherwise very busy,” Kalluri says when we meet in Jagdalpur on November 6.
But something doesn’t seem right. When Kalluri speaks about Sundar on Sunday, there has been no mention in the media about the murder charges against them. Yet, when the news breaks, it appears that the charges were filed on November 5, Saturday.
Baghel’s wife Vimala had delivered a baby boy on November 2. Baghel, who lived elsewhere with other Tangia members, visited her that day. He was killed two days later, at midnight, when he was sleeping at home, Kalluri says.
Four days later, Kalluri informs me over the phone that an FIR against Sundar and the others was lodged at the Tongpal police station on November 5, based on Vimala’s complaint. Vimala, however, later told a news channel that she had not named Sundar or the others in her complaint.
Further, it’s a distance of 14 kilometres or so from her house to the police station. Did she walk all the way right after giving birth to a baby, I ask him.
“How does that matter,” he retorts. “You’re insensitive, inhumane and uncivilised. You are not a court of law. Do you think I care for you? You are just a journalist like hundreds of others. You cannot interrogate me. From your question, I can make out that you are going to come up with a negative story. I care a damn for journalists like you, coming from outside and trying to play havoc with Bastar.”
He rants on for five minutes and 30 seconds. “Ask proper questions, be humane. Tribals are getting slaughtered because of remote control [actions] from JNU and DU. I will eliminate Maoism from Bastar, it’s my challenge. If you are sympathetic to the cause of tribals and democracy, I am willing to spend days and hours with you. If you want to write a negative story, don’t waste my time. Are these professors running terror camps in PoK or educating enlightened students? She threatens and the complainant gets killed, is this civilisation?”
He bangs the phone down.
Sundar, whose legal actions led to the ban on the government-led vigilante group, Salwa Judum, in 2011, is the Chhattisgarh police’s favourite bugbear. The 2010 Infosys Prize winner has often highlighted excesses committed by Kalluri’s forces. In May, she had filed a report about staged surrenders and mass arrests of tribals by the police. Her interventions also led the Central Bureau of Investigation to file a chargesheet against special police officers and Salwa Judum members for burning down 160 houses in Tadmetla in Dantewada district in 2011. Kalluri was then the senior superintendent of police (SSP) there.
Kalluri is a lot more effusive before I raise the issue of Vimala and infuriate him. I ask him if the chargesheet has come as a setback for him.
“I am working in full force, so where is the setback,” he asks. “Nandini Sundar and others will not be able to enter Bastar. People will stone them. They are on the run, and they are on the back foot. Strict legal action will be taken against anyone trying to tamper with our internal security. She has been inciting people to violence. They are inciting mutiny, a rebellion. They are all renegades,” he fumes.
The super cop has no time for people who talk about human rights violations. He himself has faced such allegations. In 2007, civil liberties groups in the state took up the case of Leda Bai, a tribal woman in Balrampur, who had accused Kalluri of killing her husband and then raping her inside the Shankargarh police station. Leda later withdrew her complaint before the Bilaspur high court, and the case was dismissed. There have been allegations against him relating to fake encounters and forced surrenders, too.
“So many commissions have been formed in these so-called fake cases (encounters) but, so far, all the allegations have been proved baseless,” he says.
Kalluri doesn’t care too much for “people from Delhi” who come to Chhattisgarh to talk or write about tribal issues. The phrase “you journalists from Delhi” figures often in his conversation. He tells his aides, “These journalists who come from Delhi think that Maoists are Robin Hood.”
The aides, including Jagdalpur superintendent of police, R.N. Dash, mill around him as we chat at the airport in the Bastar district headquarters (from where Kalluri is going to take a chopper). A 1994 batch IPS officer, Kalluri belongs to Andhra Pradesh, is a devotee of Lord Balaji, and sports an ash tilak prominently on his forehead. A constable brings him a glass of water. But Kalluri doesn’t want it. ” Hataao yahan se (remove it),” he shouts.
The civilians waiting for him are members of a civil vigilante group called the Action Group for National Integration (AGNI), created under his guidance. They are lawyers, teachers, doctors, trade unionists and Bharatiya Janata Party members. Some of them were with the disbanded group, Samajik Ekta Manch, which allegedly harassed activists and journalists in Jagdalpur.
“They are all nationalists who want to do something for the nation,” Kalluri stresses. “But there is a policeman in everyone.”
I find that I am not the only one taking down notes; an AGNI member is scribbling everything down furiously, too. He is a journalist, he says.
Kalluri uses the social media extensively to spread his messages. A day after we meet, he sends me on WhatsApp over 35 images, videos and newspaper clippings – some of which show him posing with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Kalluri tells Modi will eradicate Maoists before the next election,” says the headline of one newspaper clipping.
He has the blessings of chief minister, Raman Singh, too. That’s the patent Kalluri style – staying close to power. (He was also known to be close, as Bilaspur SP, to Chhattisgarh’s first chief minister, Ajit Jogi.) These days he is seen as the current CM’s man. In 2009, he became the senior SP in Dantewada; in 2014, he was Bastar IG.
The cop measures his success in numbers. He talks about the appreciative letters he has received from the ministry of home affairs in Delhi. More than 110 Maoists have been killed so far this year – the highest number of casualties in 16 years. He has been encouraging surrendered rebels to join the District Reserve Guard (DRG), which has led to successful anti-Maoist operations.
“They (surrendered Maoists) are always after us, saying, ‘Sir, party nikaliye, operation jana hai (bring out a posse, we want to go on an operation),” Kalluri says.
What about allegations that DRG recruits have been killing innocent villagers in the operations? “The police fire only in self-defence,” he replies.
And then he elaborates, “It may appear that they are villagers but they are basically members of their frontal organisation, the People’s Liberation Army. When the man goes to a bazaar, he is a villager. But when the police run after him, he will pick up his bharmar (firearm) and fight.”
Human rights activists allege that Kalluri is pitting tribals against each other. “They are using villagers and we are equipping villagers to fight their own war,” he says. “We ask villagers, are you on this side or that?”
Kalluri insists that he has a humane face. Recently, he organised the wedding of former Maoists. “Sex is a biological instinct. So we tell them, if you want to join the mainstream, we will also see that you marry someone of your choice; we will pay for it. And we do it in a fabulous way,” he claims. “If someone’s marriage breaks, I am the first person to help them patch up. There is lot of love and hard work in it,” he says.
He is getting ready now to board the helicopter, accompanied by Dash and AGNI members. He is going to Burgum, 72 kilometres from Jagdalpur, to meet villagers. “We want to leave behind a legacy,” he tells me. “In two years, Bastar will become a heaven.”
I can already hear the harps playing.
2000: Kalluri, a 1994 batch IPS officer from Andhra Pradesh, opts for the Chhattisgarh cadre
He is posted as SP in northern Chhattisgarh. Is credited with decimating Maoist legions in Surguja district
Efficiency apart, he also comes to be known as a ruthless figure. In 2007, Leda Bai, a tribal woman in Balrampur, accuses him of killing her husband and then raping her when she tried to get legal help
2011: During his tenure as SSP Dantewada, three villages are burnt down allegedly on his orders. Uproar follows. Judicial enquiry is ordered and Kalluri is transferred
2013: He is conferred the President’s Police Medal for Meritorious Service despite criticism by civil rights activists
2014: The Chhattisgarh government appoints him IG of Bastar Range to battle Maoists. Kalluri’s hot-pursuit targets include social activists, academicians and journalists