The former inspector general of Chattisgarh’s Bastar region, SRP Kalluri, had been told to expect hostility when he addressed a seminar on “nationalistic journalism” at Delhi’s Indian Institution of Mass Communication on Saturday.

On Thursday, about 50 alumni of the government-run institute had written a letter to the school’s director general asking “why such a media-baiter officer, who is also alleged to have hounded many journalists out of his region, should be allowed to speak on the premises of a media institute of international repute”. Some students had also protested the invitation.

Inside the venue on Saturday, Kalluri found a rather welcoming –
though limited – audience. The controversial police officer was greeted with cries of “Bharat Mata ki jai” and “Vande Mataram” by a small crowd of students, journalists and other participants, who tittered dutifully at all his jokes, and held him back after his session for selfies.

Kalluri had been posted in Bastar from 2014 till February, when he was sent on a long leave and then transferred to the state capital of Raipur. During his tenure in Bastar, he was alleged to have been involved in human rights violations of Adivasis and was also accused of harassing activists, lawyers, researchers and journalists.

But, as one guest explained, Kalluri was welcome at the seminar because its theme was “Vartaman Paripreksh me Rashtriya Patrakarita” or nationalistic journalism in today’s context and the police officer had showed Maoists and other anti-nationals their place.

Bastar Solidarity Network members protest against SRP Kalluri at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (Photo: Shreya Roy Chowdhury)

Outside the venue, though, protestors waved signs and shouted slogans. The Bastar Solidarity Network, which included student groups from Jawaharlal Nehru University and other activists, were not allowed inside the campus, nor were about 10 students of the institute. In addition to Kalluri’s presence at the event, they were most outraged about the yajna – ritual worship or offering made before a fire – that kickstarted the proceedings.

Some student protesters were barred from entering despite arriving early. “It is just a nine-month course and the institution should tell us clearly if they will teach us journalism or religion,” said a furious Dipankar Patel.

Participants of the seminar taking pictures of and selfies with Kalluri at Indian Institute of Mass Communication. (Photo: Shreya Roy Chowdhury)

In his presentation on “the question of marginalised communities”, Kalluri declared that he was on a mission to “change perceptions” and “bridge the gaps” between Bastar, Raipur and Delhi. “People talk about me like I have 10 arms or am like Bahubali,” he said, referring to his small frame. “But this is Kalluri – he is nothing.”

If his interest in Maoists has persisted after he had been transferred out of the area affected by the insurgency, it is because he “wanted to contribute to society in some way”. His contribution would be to change perceptions and his presence at the seminar was a step toward that goal, he said.

At the seminar, Kalluri repeated what his critics have noted – that he is under investigation by a number of government agencies. “There are five CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] cases against me and over 24 writ petitions,” he said. “Several agencies are after me. I am under surveillance and my phone conversations are tapped. But I keep at it and I speak for the Adivasis whose happiness has been snatched away by Naxalites.”

He also addressed the allegations that Adivasis had been raped and murdered by members of the security forces on his watch. But in Kalluri’s narrative, these allegations were transformed into pressures with which the security forces are unjustly burdened. He dismissed the concerns of “social activists and human rights brigades” as “dhanda” or business. These activists “are part of an international conspiracy to stop India from becoming an economic super power”, Kalluri claimed.

Placards by protesting IIMC students and Bastar Solidarity Network (Photo: Rohin Kumar/ Facebook)