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April 13, 2010

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Meanwhile, Kanu Sanyal, the man behind the term "naxalism," according to this article, hung himself last month: http://frontlineonnet.com/stories/20100423270811400.htm

Raj

Yes, an icon. Apparently, "in recent times, Sanyal was critical of the Maoists and their cult of violence, including the killing of political opponents." While looking for more articles on him, I came across this extensive compilation of all the Maoist-Influenced Revolutionary Organizations in India. Who would have thunk?

I completely agree with Arundhati Roy’s view on the plight of the tribals in our country but unfortunately the Maoists are not as righteous as they are portrayed in the romantic views of the urban intelligentsia. The suicide of Kanu Sanyal – one of the pioneers of the Naxalite movement and a life long rebel, clearly sends out this message of protest against Neo Naxalites. However the Maoists have always had deep Tribal support in the areas in which they operate.

There was an interview with Pushpa Rokare (alias Usundi) the only journalist from the Gond tribe, one of India’s most primitive and backward indigenous peoples in Times of India a few days back.

On being asked ‘Why the Gonds have been associated with extreme left-wing movements ?’ Usundi elaborates on the following :

1. Most tribals are extremely poor without any education. They get to eat just twice a day (maybe rice and imli-jor with water and salt) so they get swayed with Maoist promises.

2. Government had attempted some reforms with the one-house-one-cow scheme. But the cows were sick and old, so very often the hungry Tribals killed and ate them.

3. Then again there are schemes like Rajiv Gandhi Shiksha Mission and other development programs. But understandably the Tribals never get their shares. Everything goes into the pockets of officials and contractors.

4. Usundi is aware of the ‘Right to Education’ and Women’s Reservations Bill but unless they have education and schooling, what good would it do to them ?

5. The Gonds and other tribals view Maoists as people who don’t kill innocent people and who punish guilty government officials. Maoists don’t stage fake encounters, atleast they claim responsibility for the fake encounters they carry out.

The Naxalites in the late sixties under the leadership of Charu Mazumder , Kanu Sanyal were a poorly organized bunch of fighters comprising largely of a ragtag bunch of villagers and tribals led by a handful of idealistic youths, so they were easily and brutally mowed down by the Government in a few skirmishes. But now the scenario has changed largely. Quoting the TOI “ The Naxalite empire today has a yearly turnover in excess of 1500 Crores. Every paisa of it coming from extortion, drugs, looting, ransom and robbery. In states where rebels’ writ runs, each sack of potatoes, every truck consignment, every Govt. salary has a price. In Jharkhand for instance, the going rate is Rs 5 per sack of vegetables and Rs 1 crore per acre of poppy farm. The annual turnover of the Maoists matches or even exceeds that of companies such as Exide, CESC or Hindustan Motors. Most of the Maoist takings – Rs 300 crore to Rs 400 crore comes from mineral rich Jharkhand, the rest about 10% from Orissa and WestBengal. “

Naxalites claim to be strong supporters of the Tribals but other than empowering them with deadly weapons, they do very little in terms of development of the indigenous people. When confronted with the State sponsored armies i.e Cobras, Geryhounds etc they have no qualms in shielding themselves by presenting Tribal women and children upfront, exposing them to the bullets of the armed force, no doubt for the greater cause.

The plight of the Villagers (non tribals) are worse. Caught in the crossfire between the militant Naxalites and the Special Action Forces they are subjected to extremes of torture from both sides. Some of them descendants of the families from the Marichjhnapi incident of 1979 state that the lands granted by the Government are useless because they are barren. Neither can they move around freely looking for jobs because they are routinely harassed by both Maoists and the police forces. Many of these villagers - supporters of the ‘Salwa Judum’ or ‘Peace March’ have had to flee their lands to escape Naxalite brutalities. For the past five years they have taken shelters in the Government camps that are in severe shortage of food, drinking water and medicines.

After the Dantewada Massacre on 6th April 2010 –the Government has resolved to take extreme measures to anhilate the Maoist forces from the face of India. Home minister Chidambaram is pressing for more paramilitary troops – 6000 CRPF personnel- to launch the anti-naxal operations, with the State police forces taking the lead. In several high level meetings the CMs of WB, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh etc have joined hands to crush the Naxalites.
So shall we win this time ? Or could it be that that the Maoists have influenced people who are the most dangerous in the world : people who have nothing left to lose ?

The real battleground for this war is not in the forests of Dantewada but in the political seats of power. The Naxals pose more of a political, economic and social challenge than a military challenge in our country.

I felt that Arundhati Roy's essay was an excellent piece of journalism. Scholarly objectivity and calm analytical prose are not her strengths. For me, the story she was trying to bring to our attention was more important than how she told it. Unfortunately, there is a cottage industry in India dedicated to hating her, so it rapidly becomes painful to wade through all the criticisms of her writing, most of which are superficial.

One other source of good coverage of the Maoist movement in India is Tehelka. An excellent perspective on the latest events is provided by Shoma Chaudhury, the managing editor of Tehelka.

Some thoughts, which may help us in developing more of a perspective:

* The map that Namit pasted from Wikipedia is highly misleading. From my reading, I conclude that the Maoists have something approaching dominance in the densely forested areas of Chattisgarh, where they have set up what is effectively a parallel government. While there have been violent incidents in other states (Andhra Pradesh, Bihar), the Maoists are by no means dominant there.
* I would argue that 'Naxalites' is only a loose term to describe the Maoists. There have been several strands of left-wing rebellion in post-independence India and the movement originating in Naxalbari in 1967 was one of them. The various groups have had their turf wars, though they have been unified recently (apparently they had a 'merger' in 2004) under the label of the Communist Party of India(Maoist). The current movement seems to be dominated by the People's War Group that originated in Andhra Pradesh.
* The current situation in Chattisgarh is closer to a civil war, rather than to a simple 'law and order' problem. Tribal people in the thousands have taken up arms, the movement is well-funded and well-armed (relatively speaking), it is territorially widespread and it has a large number of genuinely, seriously aggrieved people to recruit from.
* It is also unlike the problems the Indian state faced in Punjab in the 1980s and in Kashmir since 1989, where sub-national aspirations clashed with state ideology and its apparatus. There is broad consensus that the tribal people have been driven to this stage by poverty, desperation and exploitation.
* The exploitation of the tribal people is acknowledged even by Chidambaram and Manmohan Singh. Nevertheless, the government has note done anything significant for the tribal people, beyond mouthing platitudes about 'good governance' and 'inclusive development'.
* Even if it is assumed that development would help to wean the tribal people away form the Maoists, it is important to ask what constitutes development. The concept of 'development', so deeply embedded in the urban Indian mind, is completely at odds with what the poor people in several states in India desire. This concept associates development with things like huge dams (Narmada), car manufacturing plants (for the Tata Nano), and open cast mines to extract coal, iron ore, or bauxite. The people whose lands are being appropriated clearly disagree that this is 'development' - which is the root of the conflict.

Wow, put up a dinky post and smart perspectives start pouring in! :) I find much to agree with in the comments above.

Shreyasi, I found Usundi's response and the estimates of Naxalite finances quite interesting. I am somewhat encouraged that the Indian political establishment contains a visible minority of sensible voices on this issue, and not just on the Left. But will they prevail?

vp, thanks for the Shoma Chaudhury article. I think she pretty much nails this very complex issue. It really does come down to this: "We could choose the path of escalated violence that will lead to a bloody civil war in the heart of the country. Or we could step back and choose the long march to social transformations that will leach away the attraction the oppressed have for the Maoists."

(I have corrected the link to Satya Sagar's article, which too makes really good points.)

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