RAIPUR, Chhattisgarh — In 2016, when Bhupesh Baghel was the Congress state president in Chhattisgarh and SRP Kalluri was the Inspector General of Police incharge of Maoist insurgency-hit Bastar region of the state, Baghel stood up in the state assembly to denounce Kalluri.
“The entire Bastar region is witnessing fake encounters and gang rapes,” Baghel said, referring to the extra-judicial execution of two adivasis, Sonaku Ram and Bijalu Ram Kashyap, by security forces. “And Kalluri says people like Sonaku are hardcore Maoists.”
Three years later, Baghel is Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, and Kalluri — a tainted police officer who many hoped would be sidelined by the new administration — has become a favourite of the new political dispensation.
Since the new Congress government was sworn in on December 17, 2018, Kalluri has been given charge of the Economic Offenses Wing of the Chhattisgarh police, and he now heads a Special Investigation Team set up to look into the much talked about Public Distribution Scheme scam under Raman Singh government. Rumour has it that Baghel has also cleared Kalluri’s promotion to the position of Additional Director General of Police.
Yet his elevation has come as a shock to those who expected that a Congress government would herald an administration with greater respect for the Indian constitution, particularly the bit about fundamental rights and the right to life. Kalluri’s rise is a testament to the truism that political convenience almost always trumps any lofty claims to ideology.
Kalluri threatened to shoot me because I was reporting on police excesses on adivasis. A week after this threat, I was arrested
“Kalluri was close to Ajit Jogi when he was CM. Then he became close to Raman Singh who ruled the state for 15 years and now he has managed to strike a good rapport with chief minister Bhupesh Baghel,” said a senior police officer. “Either he blackmails everyone or surrenders completely to every chief minister but Kalluri surely knows the trick to earn the trust of the chief minister and this trick is inexplicable.”
Over the years, Kalluri has been accused of raping a tribal woman in 2006 and imprisoning her against her will — a case that was memorably raised as recently as a 2016 press conference held by Baghel himself.
Apart from serious allegations of rape, Kalluri has overseen violent counterinsurgency operations that are now being investigated by the National Human Rights Commission, and held innumerable press conferences accusing reputed academics like sociologist Nandini Sundar, celebrated writers like Arundhati Roy, and rights activists like Medha Patkar, of working for the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). He has incarcerated journalists a way to suppress reporting on his police force’s human rights violations in south Chhattisgarh, while adivasi politician Soni Sori has said she was tortured in custody at his behest.
“Kalluri threatened to shoot me because I was reporting on police excesses on adivasis,” Santosh Yadav, a journalist based in Darbha area of Bastar told HuffPost India. “A week after this threat, I was arrested.”
Yadav, 30, was charged under the draconian Chhattisgarh Public Security Act in 2015 and spent 17 months in jail before he was given bail by the Supreme Court in 2017.
″I was tortured in the police custody by the then Bastar SP R N Das who was one of Kalluri’s favorite officers,” Yadav said. “I was continuously told that I would be killed. I remember Baghel had called him a mass murderer of tribals. What has happened now?
“Why is this mass murderer being promoted to a top position in the police department?”
Kamal Shukla, another journalist who faced cases when Kalluri was posted in Bastar, sat on a hunger strike last month in Raipur in protest of Kalluri’s posting at the Economic Offences Wing.
“Thousands of adivasis were implicated in fake cases and hundreds of them were killed and branded as Maoists. Kalluri targeted every journalist, lawyer and human rights activist who was standing in support of Bastar’s tribals,” Shukla said. “Baghel, as an opposition leader, demanded that Kalluri be sacked and sent to jail. After becoming the CM he has given a key posting to Kalluri. The government should make it clear why it is shielding such a brutal officer.”
Kalluri and Baghel’s new-found friendship, serving police officers say, is a consequence of Baghel’s desire to settle scores with another powerful and controversial police officer, Director General of Police Mukesh Gupta who, till he was transferred, headed the Economic Offences Wing.
As head of the wing in 2018, Gupta had opened an investigation into a case of land allotment in which Baghel and his family were accused of irregularities in a land allotment case.
According to an IG level officer, Baghel sought to target Gupta soon after taking over as the CM.
“But many IPS officers refused to investigate complaints against Gupta since he is considered a very powerful officer. An IG level officer went incommunicado when the CM asked him to file an FIR against Gupta in connection with illegal phone tapping,” the officer said. “It was then Kalluri stepped in and promised the CM that he will take action against Gupta and arrest him. This is how he managed to get into the good books of the chief minister and now he is on the verge of becoming one of his favorite officers.”
Kalluri kept his word after being appointed as the head of EOW and SIT, he rushed to file an FIR against Gupta accusing him of illegal phone tapping. The FIR was filed on February 7, and Baghel suspended Gupta soon after.
Fifteen MPs, cutting across party lines, wrote a letter to Baghel earlier this month seeking an inquiry that looks into the actions of SRP Kalluri during his posting as Bastar IG.
Baghel told a delegation of activists led by Son Sori on Wednesday that promotion of Kalluri is a routine procedure but if there are any complaints against him, then proper action would be taken.
Kalluri did not respond to requests for comment, but for now, the Congress is digging in its heels.
“Bhupesh Baghel is being misquoted here. He never said Kalluri should be jailed. He did raise cases of human rights violations and violence against women in Bastar. He was not alone, in fact, Rahul Gandhi raised those issues in New Delhi. And we are still taking the same stand,” said Shailesh Nitin Trivedi, the head of Congress’s communication department in Chhattisgarh and close aide of Baghel.
Trivedi claimed there had been no fresh complaints of atrocities in Bastar. Yet on February 8, the Congress’s representative from Bastar, Kawasi Lakhma wrote to Baghel, demanding compensation for two adivasis killed in an allegedly staged encounter in Bastar on Feb 2, this year.
Trivedi conceded that Kalluri’s record was far from spotless.
“Naturally, Kalluri has been kept away from Bastar,” Trivedi said. “As long as he is an IPS posted in Chhattisgarh, he will have to be given some responsibility. And giving him some kind of responsibility doesn’t mean the allegations against him have been forgotten. Congress government is absolutely clear that no one can be given permission to inflict atrocities on adivasis.”