Wednesday, June 21, 2006

NAXALISM: (B) DARBAGUDA: Prison Dairy Entry of 28.02.2006

The killing fields of Darbaguda are about a thousand kilometers away, lying further south of the Bastar hills: another country altogether, but I cannot help feeling as if a part of me was also blown to bits yesterday, along with a hundred or so of my unarmed tribal brethren. [The official figure is understandably a fifth of this number: part of the bureaucratic devaluation of tribal life.] Frankly I have no means of really knowing what happened except the little I read in the lone newspaper I’m allowed : with the recent passage of the Chhattisgarh Public Safety Special Act, even that must necessarily be remarkably sanitized. Babudom speaks almost in one voice but everyone else has been conspicuously silenced.

For whatever it is worth, Papa’s is the lone voice of dissent: from its inception he has opposed Salwa Judum, the state’s ultra-militarized response to People’s War. Not surprisingly, the germinator of this counter-offensive is an ex-Communist: a garden variety Revisionist. And the other is an officer returned belatedly from Bosnia, and the UNPKF’s pyrrhic “victories” at Kosovo. This makes the whole ‘movement’ all the more pathetic : both Mr. Karma and Mr. Rathore, it seems to me, not only believe genuinely in the efficacy of their method but go a lot farther than that : for them, there can be no alternative to it, and anyone who dares to think things differently is condemned summarily as a heretic. What they fail to realize is that Totalitarianism (reflected in ideologies that deny all other possibilities other than their own) is infact the world’s greatest heresy, and cause of so much wasteful & senseless bloodshed. Be that as it may, Mr. Karma has had his way: he’s got the entire state machinery, from the CM downwards, singing to his tune. To me, that is as much proof of Mr. Karma’s Zealotry as it is of this state government’s absolute intellectual bankruptcy: Dr Raman Singh, our CM No. 1, dutifully follows Mr. Karma, the Leader of opposition. It therefore came as a pleasant surprise when the Chief Minister, caught unawares by the terrible news while he was in the Vidhan Sabha, announced that his government would have to‘re-think’. Unfortunately that re-thinking has so far meant more guns, more helicopters, more bombs, more aircrafts, more troops and possibly even bringing in the military. Sadly the mindset in the Union Home Ministry has been only more than happy to oblige, principally because all this serves to increase its own influence: the proverbial Faustian bargain.

One gets the impression that Papa’s criticism hasn’t been taken too seriously. I won’t be in the least bit surprised if decision-makers at Delhi view it as just another instance of his “Cry Wolf” attitude. The fact is that he is unabashedly Churchillian in role as an opposition leader: the Opposition’s duty is quite simply ‘to oppose, to expose and to depose.’ Even before the Government announces its policy, there’s a statement from his very capable Political secretary (also a Churchillian) denouncing it as ‘anti-people’. Without going into the merits of specific instances, I would say that that’s slightly unfair. Alright the BJP, when they were in opposition, had crossed all limits of public decency, hurling the most bizarre abuses- allegations is too mild a term- against not only the CM but also his wife, his son, his dogs and his servants. But that does not justify stooping to their level. Criticism, in order to be sound, constructive & valid, must be based on hard facts: what a policy-decision actually does for its intended beneficiary. For example, in the various paddy purchase scams that have come to light, the vast sums of money paid by the Government to purchase paddy at what can only be euphemistically labeled ‘minimum support price’ (far in excess of market prices) never really reached farmers, siphoned en route by payments made for jute ‘gunny-bags’ that were never manufactured containing ‘paddy’ that was never produced and transported in ‘trucks’ that never reached ‘millers’ who were given cash- receipts for de-husking that non-existent paddy into equally non-existent ‘rice’, which was again transported in those non-existent ‘trucks’ to be stored in- unfortunately- very real but consequently empty Godowns and then quickly redistributed among rural laborers through equally non-existent ‘food-for-work’ relief programs.

Not surprisingly most of these societies, suppliers, transporters and millers happen to be very close to, and in some cases blood relatives of, the powers-that-be. However much one may try, such scams tend to leave a ghastly paper trial and almost certainly a good many cases of gross indigestion & flatulence. Pure, unadulterated stink.

Salwa Judum is an infinitely more sinister ‘scam’: rather than a paper trail, it’s left behind a gruesome blood trail. Human blood. Tribal blood. No ‘inquiry’ can do justice to that. What is needed is a total overhauling- possibly even scraping- of the ‘movement’. From what I hear, the reaction in Raipur- indeed in most of the cities- has been one of ‘pity’, not alarm. The killing fields of Darbaguda are still very distant and those massacred & abducted tribals aren’t exactly flesh and blood. But Violence especially the sort ingrained in ideology- any ideology- isn’t static or isolated: like HIV, it doesn’t remain content with mere habitation; it methodically destroys the immune system and eventually annihilates its host. Civilization, despite its ceaseless and persistent march of several millennia, hasn’t discovered its cure for the sole reason that it doesn’t think like us. Its primary objective is to seek and destroy- even if that means destroying itself in the process. Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ does not account for the evolution of viruses. With due respect to Sorel, Violence for its own sake is pure madness. And ‘Salwa Judum’ has decisively committed the entire state, all of its twenty million inhabitants, and most of its resources to this madness: how else does one explain forcing defenseless, unarmed tribals, through propaganda and often at gunpoint, to engage in fourth-generation guerilla warfare against an invisible foe ? How else does one account for the uprooting of tens of thousands of tribal families from lands they have lived on for tens of thousands of years and herding them into tens of thousands of makeshift road side canvas tents? How else does one justify converting India’s richest forests abounding in its richest mineral deposits into a bloody Bosnian Battlefield?

What’s truly frightening is that all of it has happened so fast, almost in the blink of an eye. Could it be that we have already crossed the ‘brink’: the point of no return. It is accepted wisdom that Left Wing Extremism (LWE) can be bisected: one part considers its causes; the other is a response to its methods (or symptoms). Let us not fool ourselves: no other explanation apart from the state’s abject apathy for the tribes’ welfare can justify the proliferation of ‘dalams’ in tribal homelands. Draconian environmentalism has made them exiles in their own homes and barred them from fruits of developments; evangelism (of the sort practiced both by Christian missionaries and Swayamsevaks) has led to widespread cultural displacement, a total loss of identity by breeding in them a false sense of shame about a proud & ancient heritage [how else does one explain the rapid death of Gotuls?]; political parties have patronized oppressive middlemen- former feudal lords and traders- to secure tribal vote banks; and most tribal-targeted welfare schemes are thwarted by an absentee or apathetic babudom. Not surprisingly, tribals, especially the youth, have become easy receptacles of the anarchist & revolutionary methods, espoused by Naxalites. It is only in respect of their ‘methodology’ that LWE is a ‘law & order’ problem. Remove the cause and the anarchism will automatically disappear. Enact the Tribal Bill pending now before Parliament and remove anachronistic legal and administrative barriers to development (FCA & WPA, 1980); pump funds into roads, hospitals, industry and colleges rather than bombs and bullets; stop imposing Orientalist Value-judgments & cosmetic leadership; and allow instead their own diverge cultures to blossom, their own leaders to speak – and by God we won’t need the military.

The good news, if one can call it that, is this: the Cause that LWE once espoused has itself become suspect. A parallel industry of Pretenders and conmen posing as ideologues and revolutionaries is indulging in rampant extortion and sexual abuse. Tribals are now as disillusioned if not more with this corrupted form of LWE than they are with the ‘welfare state’. In the three years that Papa was chief minister, we had very good reasons to believe that the ‘People’s War’ (then still comprising of two principal competing outfits PWG & MCC and a host of other splinter groups, all of which were more busy fighting each other than waging a united, centrally coordinated, full-fledged war against the state) were well behind their planned schedule, according to which- if intelligence reports are to be believed- the PWG moving northwards from Telengana via Bastar, and the MCC coming through Jharkhand into Ambikapur were to ‘merge’ in the industrial heartland of the state at Korba by 2002. Infact the PWG had been pushed back beyond Konta and into Abujhmar and our forces had regained total control over the Sukama-Konta segment of the National Highway and the adjoining habitations within a radius of seventeen kilometers atleast. The most tangible proof of this came in the form fully functional Panchayat offices I visited unannounced as far off as Muraliglida, where I was offered mangoes the size of watermelons and possibly the sweetest prawns I have ever eaten. I have no shame in admitting that ‘cooption’ rather than ‘competition’ saved those panchayat schools and primary health care center (PHC) buildings not only from being blown to bits but also ensured that persons posted there actually showed up for work. Infact I would go even further to advocate that cooption–involving LWE and LWE-sympathizers in the developmental process- is probably the only way out. I remember three particular instances when development wouldn’t have been possible at all without co-opting the Naxalites.

First: relief works in Dantewada. I had taken an Indian Express journalist friend from Delhi to do a story. This is what he discovered (much to my annoyance): the number of relief works completed by the so-called Naxalite- controlled panchayats in remote areas far exceeded those directly done by the district administration by a ratio of 3:1. Second: tendu-patta collection, which the state government privatized only in Dantewada district since the forest department had shamelessly raised its hands and said ‘No’. Not only did Dantewada top the district-wise table for minor forest produce collection that year but the tribals of Dantewada ended up picking a huge windfall in the form of bonuses over and above their daily wages. Third, and in my opinion, perhaps the most significant: a local MLA informed me that while a sum of Rs. 16 crores had been allotted for construction & repair of roadways, it had been lying unused because of two reasons: one, the Border Road Organization (BRO) wasn’t too keen on taking up new projects since they were already running a couple of years behind schedule on already existing projects and two, much of the areas where these roads were supposed to be built, connecting remote villages to the highway, fell under the category of ‘forest land’ where getting environmental clearance from MoEF was next to impossible. I asked him how he intended to overcome these two hurdles. His answer: cooption. I am happy to say that not one paisa of that road budget lapsed, and three months later I was with the Hon’ble MLA as he inaugurated a 7 kilometer road to loud cheers, including from certain members of the local ‘dalam’.

I am not saying that cooption is a perfect solution. Infact I am quite certain that in atleast one case, some of the monies allocated were sought to be used for arms purchases needed badly at that time to fight Mr. Naidu’s STF in Andhra Pradesh. Actually this is what happened. The poor private contractor had paid the ‘commission’ to one faction and when the other factions come to know of it they quite literally fought each other to the death. In any event not only was the project completed to the exacting standards that revolutionaries so often demand in others but even (the contractor confided to my informant that) the commission paid by him was less than half of what would otherwise have been extracted by our babudom.

I believe there are important lessons to be learnt here. Salwa Judum can’t be only about waging a war against a bunch of armed revolutionaries (most of whom curiously belong to the trader communities: for confirmation one need only look at the caste composition of the interim Politburo of the recently merged People’s War); the full potential of any state-sponsored People’s Movement, call it what you will, can only be realized by waging a full scale war on Poverty, Apathy, Corruption and Oppression that have given rise to those armed revolutionaries in the first place. So long as these remain, the echoes of mines blasting, mothers wailing and guns splattering will forever resonate in our forests and among the tribes, and in the not too distant future, in our own homes.

I am not against forcing anyone but they must be forced to do the right things, to fight the right kind of battles. Use force to get the tribals to go to schools & college and get degrees. Use force to build industries (NAGARNAR steel plant) and rail roads (Dondilohara-Jagdalpur Railway line) and power projects (Bodhghat Hydel Power Project) and mines (Raoghat Iron Mines) and hospitals (Apollo) so that they can put those damned degrees to use. Use force to make them the sole owners of the land on which they live (Tribal Bill). But for heaven’s sake don’t use force to herd them into lorries like cattle to attend staged rallies to listen to meaningless diatribes of a bunch of air-dropped Z-plus politicians urging them to wage a war they have not been equipped to fight against a lethal enemy who might just be a next-door neighbor: you might as well preach ‘euthanasia’ and get it over and done with.


2 comments (टिप्पणी):

amit tiwari said...

well written.
I don't understand this SJ is going to take how many livess of innocent tribals. Has this world gone deaf that it cannont hear the cries of those innocent tribals. Keep writing. Ur words are powerful and so is ur thought.

Amit Aishwarya Jogi said...


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