Dantewada : For Mahendra Karma’s wife, the November 11 election is a battle to redeem the legacy of the ‘Bastar Tiger’ who founded the Salwa Judum and was considered a symbol of tribals’ fightback against Maoists before he was killed along with top Chhattisgarh Congress leaders in May. Dozens of armed guards protect Devati Karma, 51, and her four sons, all of whom have been given Z plus security, as she moves around seeking votes in an electoral battle against heavy odds in Dantewada.
“My husband lived and died for peace in the area. I will live to fulfill his dream,” she says in her public meetings which are full of invocations of her dead husband, who continues to invite extreme reactions from people, especially tribals. The contest will decide if Karma’s legacy will be redeemed following his death in the Naxal heartland or fade away. If Maoists are at their strongest in the Bastar region, they virtually rule in the vast swathes of Dantewada and nearby areas, and Congress believes that they would do their best to ensure that Devati Karma is defeated.
The architect of civilian resistance movement against Naxals, Salwa Judum, which later took shape of an armed vigilante militia, Mahendra Karma’s political fortune fell gradually as Judam gained notoriety for its alleged atrocities against tribals and was later disbanded by the Supreme Court.
After representing the area several times and rising steadily in the party, he was pushed to third position in 2008 polls behind BJP and CPI candidates and began losing clout. His supporters say Maoists had a role in his humiliating defeat.