Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Faith, more than any other ingredient, forms the basis of the contractualist-premise between the Ruler and the Ruled, more so in democracies. When more than 70,000 tribals were uprooted, often-forcibly, from homes they have lived on for thousands of years, and packed-off like cattle into sub-human roadside concentration camps, the sole reason given was ‘protection of life’: state-sponsored SJ activists inform villagers that if they don’t abandon their habitats pronto, they will be killed. The illogicality of this argument stands exposed by the fact that tribal-genocide is an outcome of SJ, not its cause. According to the BJP chargesheet indicting my father’s government, 97 persons had been killed by the Maoists during the three of Congress rule (2000-03); in the two and a half years that Dr. Raman Singh has been chief minister, that figure has increased tenfold (2003-06). Be that as it may, implicit in this Faustian bargain, was the state’s admission of its inability to provide security to tribals in their homelands; it sought to remedy this by shifting them into six ‘base-camps’ specifically constructed for this purpose.

As a rule, these ‘base-camps’- such as Errabore- are situated adjacent to a police station (thana) on the national highway. Drawing inspiration from the historical antecedent of displacement of Kashmiri-pandits from the Valley, Mr. Mahendra Karma, the SJ leader, terms this ‘phase’ in SJ as ‘unfortunate but necessary’. Well, could the same ‘derangement of epitaphs’ be applied to the massacre at Errabore?

Facts about what really transpired on the night of July 17, 2006 are sketchy, at best. What is undisputed is this: between about 1:00-3:00 am, 100 armed persons of the CP (Maoist) launched a full-fledged attack on the Errabore base-camp, situated adjacent to the police station on the Sukama (Anjeram)-Konta segment of the national highway. 20 tribals were butchered to death with hard-edged weapons (knifes etc.); 2 were shot dead at point-blank range; 3 were charred to death; over 250 are missing, of which 32 are confirmed to have been abducted; and at least 500 houses were burnt down. [These are official figures of course, and the actual figures are likely to be much higher.] Not one policeman was killed, for the simple reason that not one of them left the safety of the thana. A local agency-chief tells me that had it not been for the timely intervention of the CRPF personnel, who rushed to the spot in a bullet proof vehicle, the entire camp- with its total population of 3500, and over 1000 houses- would have been annihilated. This is the first time that a base-camp has been attacked.

In the aftermath of the Errabore massacre, the state home minister’s response to protesting ‘refugees’- a term used by him to describe displaced tribals during an Assembly debate- is enlightening: confronted with belligerent family-members of those killed, he challenged them ‘to go back’. This statement, made no doubt in frustration, reflects a fundamental change in the government’s thinking: it is an explicit recognition of its failure to guarantee tribal life, even in base-camps. Evidently, the continued existence and proliferation of base-camps has little, or nothing, to do with the protection of tribal-life: SJ’s sine qua non for their being setup in the first place. After Errabore, that justification no longer exists.

Why then isn’t SJ called-off? In a previous article, I had postulated a three-pronged reason for the mushrooming of ‘base-camps’, which I quote below:
• POLITICAL: Come election-time, and there will be no polling stations in evacuated villages. Instead they will be set-up well within the guarded perimeter of these 6-7 concentration camps. And it doesn't take a psephologist to predict the electoral outcome under such 'free, fair and impartial' conditions. Does it? Think about it. Had elections been 'conducted' in Auschwitz, wouldn't the National Socialists (Nazis) have swept the polls? Thankfully, unlike der Fuhrer- who didn't consider his refugees worthy of the vote- this regime views the tribals as- and only as- a votebank. And SJ, as it happens, is the surest way to encash this votebank en block.
• CULTURAL: Concentration of vast tribal populations in the controlled environment of camps provides an easy assembly-line for the Sangh troika and its affiliates to work overtime in order to factory-produce indoctrinated specimens: a people repeatedly told that they are worshipping 'false' gods, eating 'polluted' foods, following 'promiscuous' practices and 'anachronistic' customs; and systematically made to feel ashamed about their (former) 'primitive and barbaric' way of life; thus slowly but surely falling in line with the (pseudo) 'hindutva' pogrom of the RSS. Much more than the geopolitical displacement, it is this sense of 'cultural displacement', which will come from living in camps, that worries me. Henceforth, camp-inmates will be permanently scarred by a false sense of 'inferiority-complex', and adapted to a type of doggish existence where they will be always told what to do and feel and think. Free will has been the greatest casualty.
• ECONOMIC: As with all tribal-targeted government schemes, SJ camps have given birth to their own peculiar industry. Tens of millions of rupees spent daily by the state-exchequer to provide housing, food, health-care and schooling to the over 70,000 tribals is being siphoned off by a clique of middlemen, in cohorts with their bureaucratic and political patrons. Put simply, it is not in their interest to wind-up such an enormously lucrative & profitable business.

At the risk of validating some of the more discredited inferences of Social Darwinism, it appears that institutions, more so bureaucratic-systems, evolve their own peculiar bases for survival, which grow increasingly divorced from the purposes- objectives, goals- for which they had been established in the first place. Evidently, the same now holds true for SJ ‘base-camps’: protection of tribal-life has become secondary to the above-mentioned factors that are now fodder for their monstrous, parasitic existence.

Be that as it may, in the ultimate cost-benefit analysis, the costs of keeping SJ alive far outweigh the so-called benefits (unless of course, tribal-life doesn’t count as cost). Monies and resources allocated for the subsistence of camp-inmates is being systematically siphoned-off (already reports are filtering in about famine-like conditions in Dornapal, the largest of the six concentration camps); instances of gross abuse of power by SPOs (Special Police Officers)- recruited mostly from among surrendering-Maoists and armed with an almost blanket ‘license to kill’- are growing more rampant; censorship, as espoused in paragraph (10) of the ‘Pisda-proposal’ and now enshrined in the draconian Chhattisgarh Public Safety (Special) Act, explicitly prohibits the media from telling the truth, even as certain journalists more critical of government-policy have begun to be personally harassed under its new provisions; total ineffectiveness of the armed-forces, many of who haven’t even joined their posts, and the intelligence-infrastructure, in protecting tribal-life, has become only too evident in Darbaguda, Devarpalli and Errabore; Brigadier Ponwar’s ‘guerillas’ and Naga-battalions continue to be confined to roadside ‘base-camps’, and plans for a coordinated counter-offensive are sketchy, at best; and most disturbingly, the fact that SJ has vertically split a formerly harmonious tribal society, especially between the Gothikoyas seen as pro-Maoists and the Koyas and Dorlas, who constitute a majority of the camp population, resulting in tribe v tribe warfare that might well last across generations.

Not surprisingly, the state Home Minister, DGP, LOP, and the three-member CWC delegation, to mention a few, were gheraoed by angry protestors at almost every district, block, village from Raipur to Errabore- Mandir Hasaod, Kurud, Dhamtari, Charama, Kanker, Keskal, Kondagaon, Jagdalpur, among others- demanding an immediate closure of SJ. Lamentably, the delegation’s progress to Errabore was halted at Jagdalpur because of the state police administration’s expressed inability to guarantee its protection. Editorialists- most powerfully in the form of a Nishant Hota-caricature depicting a human skeleton sitting in a dharna, with the caption “so long as the sun and moon remain, SJ will live” (Navbharat, 18.06.2006)- have unequivocally joined in this statewide denunciation, reflected in the total response to the Congress’ call for a ‘Chhattisgarh bandh’ on 22nd July, five days after Errabore. Yet, for some reason it appears that this almost universal popular demand for putting a stop to SJ isn’t having any impact on the leadership: the DGP, if a widely-circulated SMS is to be believed, nonchalantly proclaims that ‘such incidents are bound to happen’; both the Chief Minister and the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs (MHA) announce unconditional support to Mr. Karma’s movement; and most surprisingly, the PCC President has, in the aftermath of Errabore, arguably SJ’s greatest failure, extended his ‘moral’ support to it, preempting even his national President, who continues to await the report of the 3-member CWC delegation before taking a final view on the matter.

The almost-Utopian fact that the state-sponsored movement is led by the state’s Leader of Opposition (LOP) seems to be indicative of an apparent bipartisanship, but it is a solidarity forged at the very top levels (MHA, state PHQ and CM, and the Congress LOP), with the elected-representatives- of both major parties- having little or no say. In many ways, this vertical unity among the political leadership signifies much more disturbing horizontal splits operative at multiple-levels: between the tribes of Dantewada & the local district-administration; the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) & its leader; BJP MLAs and MPs & the state government; and of course, between the people of the state, including the intelligentsia, & their governments. Post-Errabore, these voices of dissent- of which my father’s is only one- are finally beginning to be heard.

There is of course another more obvious reason why it is becoming increasingly difficult for governments- both the state as well as the Union- to heed to these voices: wouldn’t a closure of camps signify a victory for the extremists, who are presently engaged in an existential fight, and even more shamefully, the defeat of the nation-state itself? The thing about politicians, irrespective of party-affiliations, is that its one thing for them to be wrong and totally another to admit to being in the wrong. It takes a statesman to make that sort of leap: Mahatma Gandhi did it when he called off his movements, not once but twice: the Non-cooperation after Chouri-Chaura, and the Civil Disobedience before accepting Lord Irwin’s invitation to participate in the Second Round Table Conference. Errabore, in my opinion, is SJ’s Chouri-Chaura; now, what is required is the invitation- both to the tribals as well the Maoists- to participate.

My father has suggested that should the current trajectory of failures continue unabated, it might well warrant the imposition of the dreaded Article 356. I have often wondered what is the 'brink-point', to use Malcolm Gladwell’s term, at which the imposition of this anti-federal provision can be justified in the name of national-unity: what measure of anarchy (lawlessness) validates President's Rule? Personally, I believe that what’s happened in Errabore doesn't necessitate dismissal; yet, it would also be wrong not to take the government to task for its shameful breach of faith: what reason other than protection of life was there for the often-forceful eviction of over 70,000 tribals from homes they had lived on for thousands of years? Infact, given the state BJP government's failure to protect tribal-life, the time has come for the Congress, as the principal party in opposition, to distance itself from this lamentable human-tragedy. Frankly, if it doesn't, it would have failed in its moral duty as the state's Opposition.

The other solution- something which the CLP including its leader have demanded- is the CM’s resignation. There are those of course who suggest that Dr. Singh ought not to resign, and yet be held accountable in some way. Are they suggesting we spank him? I beg to differ. Very recently, I had a fairly extensive discussion with members of a non-political tribal organization. There was an overwhelming feeling among them that the principal reason why incidents like Errabore, Darbaguda and Devarpalli are becoming rampant is quite simply because despite 30 of the 51 BJP MLAs being tribals, they don't have much say in either the state government or the party organization. This has been confirmed, off-the-record of course, by some prominent BJP MLAs including one or two ministers. Infact, the Bastar MLAs- those belonging to the BJP- feel that more often than not, they end up playing second fiddle to the Congress LOP-cum-SJ leader. I'm sure that this is not entirely correct. Still, in public life, it is the perception of the thing rather than the thing itself that matters. To illustrate further, the belated response of the CM in personally going to comfort those who have lost their loved ones at Errabore is in sharp contrast to what happened in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai bombings: is this because tribal-life isn't quite as important as Mumbaikar-life? That's one of the inferences being drawn, anyway. It is in this limited context that the demand for this CM’s resignation is justifiable: not so much for what he has done as for what he has not done. Perhaps, the time has really come to let someone who is, or at least appears to be, more sensitive to the sentiments of the tribals- this government’s biggest support-block in the Vidhan Sabha- takeover?

In my opinion, the solution- any solution- has to be three-pronged: one, surgical counter-strikes against Maoists, for which the state-machinery will have to strengthen manifold its intelligence-infrastructure; two, more roads, schools, hospitals, irrigation, industry, electricity, even internet, in tribal areas, for which the 1980 environmental-legislations (Forest Protection & Wildlife Conservation Acts) will have to be replaced pronto with the Tribal Bill, now pending before Parliament; and three, the 'Prachanda-solution', for which it is necessary to bring something- a lot more- to the table in order to get Maoist leaders involved in the political process. Quite simply, there is no other option. But what needs to be done immediately is to stop SJ: enough tribal-blood has been spilt for this madness to continue.

Needless to say, stopping SJ will only be the first step in what I hope will be a long-overdue reconciliation process, aimed at restoring the faith of tribals in the democratic state.

2 comments (टिप्पणी):

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

It is the 'Jalianwala Bagh massacre' of Chhattisgarh.

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