On various platforms, both national and international, our Prime Minister and Home Minister have been telling the world how Naxalism is the biggest internal threat to the Indian nation. Corporate backed mainstream media houses have been penning down stories telling us the trigger happy ways of the Maoists. What is surely left out quite intentionally in these stories is the context, or the socio-economic roots of the movement or even the innumerable atrocities committed by state backed militias in different parts of the country.
Hundreds of villages have been evacuated in Chhattisgarh alone and the mainstream media (barring a few exceptions) never found time to document it. Women of Chhattisgarh are alleging rape by Salwa Judum men, but the courts in India refuse to listen. Police atrocities in Lalgarh reached a limit, and the Central or the State Government never found time to condemn it. And the moment people rose up in rebellion, the Central Government wasted no time in cooperating with the state government in West Bengal to crush the movement. And who was it these forces crushing – its very own citizens, in fact the most impoverished ones, fighting against deprivation, destitution and for a life of dignity. However what we have been told is that this is a fight against terrorism, and surely when it comes to terrorism it is blasphemous in our country to ask for any more details. It doesn’t matter if poverty is equated with terrorism.
WAR AGAINST ‘TERROR’
Within a few days, the Indian government intends to deploy 100,000 troops in parts of central India, including Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand. Forces are being withdrawn from Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast to join battalions of CRPF commandos, the ITBP, the CoBRA and the BSF. There is also talk of bringing in the Rashtriya Rifles – a battalion created specially for counter-insurgency work – and the purchase of bomb trucks, bomb blankets, bomb baskets, and sophisticated new weaponry. The Air Force has already been deployed and a full scale air operation is in the offing.
In short the state has declared a war against its most oppressed population. It is not a mere coincidence that the same region of Central India is highly rich in minerals, which can be sold to the highest bidders once the region is evacuated in the name of fighting the Maoists. Hundred of MoUs have already been signed. All those who stand between the politicians and this rich treasure of minerals are the tribals.
India was the one of the first countries to extend its hand of friendship to Sri Lanka in its recent genocidal war against Tamils. It also supported the rejection of a UN intervention by the Sri Lankan government this war. Home Minister P. Chidambaram (former lawyer for Enron – the corporate involved in the biggest scam in the country and member of the board of directors of Vedanta, the multinational that is devastating the Niyamgari hills in Orissa) told us this was the perfect model to be adopted in India to fight the ‘Red menace’. The reasons now seem pretty clear. The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution grants tribals complete rights over their traditional land and forests and prohibits private companies from mining on their land. Once the area is evacuated, like the Sri Lankan model, which by the way Salwa Judum is already doing in Chhattisgarh, the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution will not apply, and the land can easily be handed over to the multinationals.
THE NEP AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
Under Manmohan Singh as the finance minister in the year 1991, India opened up its markets to corporate globalisation under the guise of making the economy more ‘efficient’. The consequences have been disastrous to say the least. More Indians are below the poverty line than ever before, malnutrition around the country is worse than that at the time of Independence. The Arjun Sengupta report reveals that 77% of the population lives under Rs. 20 a day. The new economic policy has attacked whatever little access the poor had to forests, lands, water resources, etc. Over a lakh farmers have committed suicide in the small district of Vidarbha alone. The state is pulling out of its responsibilities even in sectors like education, health care, etc. The country’s healthcare sector is one of the most privatised ones in the world, even worse than that of the US.
The problem of displacement has intensified to a great level in this era of privatisation and free market. However, at the same time thousands of crore are given as tax exemptions to various corporate houses. This period has also seen the rise of a burgeoning middle class, more indifferent and insensitive than ever and aesthetically, culturally, socially, politically at an all time low. What we are witnessing in our country, to quote Arundhati Roy, is the ‘most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in independent India – the secession of the middle and upper classes from the rest of the country.’
It is not a big surprise that our films, books and news channels also no longer speak about such issues. The priorities seem to have changed. In fact most of these purveyors of public opinion are funded by the same corporates who have brought the country to the brink of a civil war.
The era of opening of India’s market has also coincided with the rise of the popularity of Hindu right. The BJP which was able to secure only three Lok Sabha seats in the 1983 elections became the largest opposition party in 1991 riding on the wave of hate that was spread by the Ram Janmbhoomi movement, pushing the entire country into a bloody nightmare with the only purpose of destroying a medieval mosque to dig up a non-existent temple. The Babri Masjid was razed to the ground on December 6, 1992, only to be followed by a series of riots and finally the serial blasts that shook Bombay (now Mumbai).
All this was happening at a time when the Indian economy was being sold to the foreign corporates. The communal atmosphere of the time saved these ‘tycoons’ from the scrutiny that otherwise could have been quite embarrassing for them. When people could have resisted this corporate onslaught through a united front the Hindutva brigade propped up a fictitious enemy within the masses – the Muslim community, and very intentionally served the status quo letting the big industrialists maintain their hegemony over the society. Unsurprisingly, the very same business tycoons are now projecting Narendra Modi as their desired candidate for the post of Prime Minister. Surely, the connection between fascism and business corporates is not so new and goes back to Mussolini and Hitler. The worst phase of Hindutva might have been over, but the Congress surely wouldn’t mind its re-emergence. It might even ignite the initial spark (remember Rajiv Gandhi and the Babri Masjid). After all it serves its corporate interests quite well.
The party which claims to be secular refused to intervene during anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal and Karnataka, gave a communal colour to the Amarnath land controversy in parts of Jammu, and has time and again refused to order a probe into the Batla House encounter.
Anyhow coming back to the question of Naxalism, P. Chidambaram who has insisted upon only a military solution to the entire problem, recently came up with a wider development plan. According to him, once the entire Maoist presence is ‘wiped/flushed’ out, he will go ahead with his ‘development’ plan which, he says, will bring employment to the area. However the fact of the matter is that the entire fight is against such a development model – one that is exclusive and which displaces more people than it employs. What he is offering is not the solution, but the problem itself.
MODE OF STRUGGLE
A lot of intellectuals, activists opposed to the concept of armed struggle have pointed out that such a strategy has no place in a democracy. However there is an important need to question whether India is a democracy or not, and if it is then how democratic is it? More than 90% of all independent candidates lost the current Lok Sabha elections, only underlining the fact that it is impossible to win an election without party support (which once again is funded by certain corporates). A democracy survives on certain institutions. However in the case of Indian society in this era of free market all these institutions, be it the press, judiciary, administration or even the civil society, have been reduced to commodities to be sold to highest bidders.
The class bias of Indian judiciary has also been quite well documented. The courts remain virtually inaccessible to a vast majority of is citizens. Even when they have been approached, the poor have got an unfavourable response, while powerful corporates getting highly favourable verdicts. In cases regarding urban slum dwellers the courts have gone to the extent of passing judgments which say “rewarding an encroacher on public land with a free alternate site is like giving a reward to a pickpocket.” At the same time a recent Supreme Court judgement, allowing the Vasant Kunj Mall to resume construction though it didn’t have the requisite clearances, said that the questions of corporations indulging in malpractice does not arise!
According to Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan part of the reason for this, “lies in the class structure of the Indian judiciary. The higher judiciary in India comes from the elite section of the society and has become a self appointing and self perpetuating oligarchy.”
The state has also ignored, at times crushed, virtually all non-violent resistance movements in the past be it in Bhopal or the ‘Narmada Bachao’ movement. Various human rights activists who have spoken out against such policies have also been time and again targeted by the state. The case of Binayak Sen, who spent almost 2 years in prison only because the state felt it important to silence him for sometime to go ahead with its genocidal policies, is well known. Irom Sharmila has been on a hunger strike for many years, but still the state refuses to listen.
Extra-judicial killings of political workers in some of these struggles are also a known phenomenon. The West Bengal government only last month arrested political activists who had been vocal in their criticism of the government. At such a moment if people decide to pick up arms just because every other option has ended in despair, it is important on our part to realise the conditions that have led to such a situation. While all of us can have some ideological differences with the movement, but to sit in urban citadels and discredit the entire movement as a ‘terrorist movement’ will not just be wrong but also unethical on our part and will only amount to supporting the status quo.
What we are witnessing is a failure of democracy. A democracy is known by how it treats its most vulnerable sections. If the most vulnerable sections of the country look up to the Maoists and not the Indian state for help, does it not mean that the Maoists are more democratic in their outlook and worldview than the Indian state? It is important to realise that the Naxalite movement has certain socio-economic roots and has highlighted certain genuine people’s issues. It is certainly a political question and not a law and order one. The current counter-insurgency strategy against Maoists will only lead to a lot of collateral damage and thousands of lives will be lost. This war is being fought in our name and against our own people. It is important to resist this and to let the Manmohan-Chidambaram clique know that this war might satisfy the interests of their corporate lobbies, but it is certainly not in the national interest.