ON THE EVENING OF MAY 25, the all-consuming TV coverage of the Indian Premier League (IPL) spot-fixing scandal paused briefly to accommodate the news of a Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh. The rebels had waylaid a convoy of cars carrying Congress leaders and party workers near the village of Darbha. Once it was known that among those killed was Mahendra Karma, a former legislator and Maoist opponent who had led Salwa Judum, the controversial anti-rebel civil militia supported by the state, the attack further eclipsed the IPL saga. But it would take the morning light to momentarily blank it out by revealing the blood splattered bodies of Nand Kumar Patel, the politician who headed the Congress in the state, and his young son, Dinesh Patel, lying not far from the bend in the highway where 30 kilos of explosives had burst through the earth. Like Karma, the Patels had survived the explosion but had been singled out by the Maoists, taken away, and shot dead; unlike Karma, they had done little to antagonise them and invite a grisly death. Nor had the 25 others who had fallen to the indiscriminate gunfire of the guerillas.
Over the next few days, condemnations of the Maoist attack would ring loud in every form of media. Louder still were the voices that condemned the government for being soft on Maoist ‘terror’. An army of analysts advocated that the government show some spine by sending more security troops to Chhattisgarh. Writing for the Hindustan Times on May 27, Kamal Davar, a retired lieutenant-general in the Indian army, called it an “opportune time for the Indian Army to take a call on its reluctance to participate in internal security operations,” adding that there was a case to provide “dedicated air support in the form of helicopters, light aircraft and drones.” On May 31, the primetime debate on Times Now asked, ‘Is an all out offensive against the Maoists the only option now?’
But by the first week of June, the detour to the jungles of southern Chhattisgarh ended as abruptly as it began. The outrage on TV returned to the familiar territory of cricket controversies, and the adivasis of the region were the only ones still struggling to interpret the Darbha attack and make sense of how it had altered their lives.