I am under orders to proceed on leave for unspecified duration. I am extremely grateful for the support you have extended to me. I am sure you will keep up your good performance. My family joins me in thanking you all.
Good wishes to all of you.
This was the message that Chhattisgarh IGP SR Kalluri sent to a WhatsApp group a little past 2 pm on Thursday, announcing that he has been sidelined. This comes after a long spell of medical leave that he took to attend to heart and kidney ailments and did not even appear before the National Human Rights Commission on 30 November to explain allegations of hostility and abuse of power against civil liberties activists.
For those not familiar with the dynamics of Chhattisgarh's fight against the Maoists, Kalluri is both hero and villain, rolled into one. A local journalist saddened by Kalluri's exit from south Chhattisgarh said to me, "The national media was anti-Kalluri but the regional media saw him as a hero.''
He is a hero for many because his 'Mission 2016' that he announced to end insurgency in the heart of India's 'red corridor' captured the imagination of the locals, caught as they were in the crossfire between the Maoists and the state. At this point in time, the Maoist sarkaar takes over if you move 5 kilometres inside on either side of NH 30, the moment you enter Chhattisgarh from Andhra Pradesh.
Kalluri was lauded because he took on the "outsiders'' who were seen as defaming the state before the rest of India by talking of human rights violations. He wanted to launch a war without witnesses, where journalists, lawyers, civil liberties activists, independent-minded politicians won't find space in Chhattisgarh. Locals saw in Kalluri's war against Maoists as the roadmap to development and peace in their land.
The macho image is what defined this stocky 1994 batch IPS officer.
Reverse the mirror and you will find that all this was also wrong with Kalluri. Originally from Andhra Pradesh, Kalluri was known for his strong-arm tactics. A journalist was put behind bars for allegedly using a slang term for Kalluri on a WhatsApp group. The officer encouraged vigilante groups like Agni, Samajik Ekta Manch to put pressure on anyone seen to be questioning his methods, to force them to exit Chhattisgarh.
In Kalluri's book, anyone who questioned his methods was anti-India.
Look at how he reacted when a lawyer Pyoli Swatija reached out to him for help when a vigilante group was trying to hound a social scientist and human rights activist Bela Bhatia out of her residence near Jagdalpur on 24 January. Kalluri reportedly replied on SMS saying "naxals will be kicked out of bastar''. When asked to stop persecuting journalists, activists, Kalluri according to Swatija, replied with "F U". He also roundly abused others who appealed to him for help.
Mind-games were an important part of Kalluri's armoury and surrenders, the weapon.
Between April 2014 and October 2016, 1898 Maoists surrendered, lured by the offer of cash reward and promise of employment. But critics say the attempt only was to shore up numbers to impress the home ministry, with the cops picking up innocent tribals, getting them to admit that they were outlaws.
Kalluri also boasted of capturing 134 Maoists in 2016. The message that anyone should cross the line at their own peril, was not lost on anyone. Local journalists dared not criticise Kalluri and his methods. News reports were largely rose-tinted, no one asked the police about their methods. In Chhattisgarh, Kalluri was king.
Sexual violence is another serious charge at Kalluri's doorstep. Among many cases, the Chhattisgarh police are also accused of raping 16 tribal women in Bijapur, for which the NHRC issued a notice. Which also perhaps explains Kalluri's abusive language against activists who were instrumental in getting the NHRC to intervene.
Under his watch, the Bastar police did a first by burning effigies of human rights activists. Kalluri had made the battle very personal for the force.
Which is why those who oppose Kalluri's methods are heaving a sigh of relief. But they say only the first step has been taken. Officially, Kalluri is "on leave''. Which means the Raman Singh government is not saying anything about the inquiry into allegations of excesses committed under his watch. Human rights activists say it is hardly a dismissal, leave alone a honest one and that it only provides Kalluri with an honourable exit.
A few months ago, when Narendra Modi had come visiting, the pictures of the prime minister shaking hands with Kalluri went viral. It was interpreted as a pat on the officer's back. But with the NHRC coming down strongly on the Chhattisgarh government, the state seems to have decided Kalluri is like an albatross around its neck.
But has Raman Singh been too clever with this? It seems so because Kalluri's methods were no secret and Raipur knew what was happening in Bastar. He was only the executioner of the state's agenda. By sending him on long leave, the government has side-stepped questions on accountability.
Updated Date: Feb 03, 2017 08:30 AM