We have been in the middle of an invisible civil war for many years now. Civil war because it is an armed struggle by a section of the people against the democratic administration of the country, a war that has spiraled so out of control that representatives of law enforcement accept that there are large swathes of country where they cannot enter. Invisible because it rarely captures national attention, confined as it is to largely rural backward areas for which it is pushed to the rear of the news by other things more important to our national life—like IPL, Shoaib-Sania and Kites.
That is unless more than seventy-six CRPF personnel are brutally massacred at which point of time we are forced to deal with the issue. At least for a few news cycles.
For those of us who do care, at least perfunctorily, and who havent drunk the “It’s all India’s fault” cool-aid it is tempting to angrily shout out “Ms Roy, happy now?” , in the context of her frothing diatribe against the Indian government, Hindutva, corporations (basically all of her enemies) and her rapturous glorification of the violence of Maoists in the execrable piece of garbage recently published in Outlook. But analyzing or rebutting a fanatic fundamentalist like Ms. Roy is as futile as deconstructing a Payal Rohatgi movie and once you realize that she is essentially a Rakhi Sawant with a laptop and a Booker, with the only difference that she uses Maoists instead of Mika to get attention, the uselessness of the exercise is even more evident.
What however is worth looking at are her rhetorical tools, principally because they are re-used by many people who share Ms. Roy’s agenda, from your unshaven friend at JNU to the slacker cousin of yours who leaves cigarette ash on your carpet. One of it is in presenting random pictures of Maoist rebels, women or young men, and saying “India’s Biggest Threats” as if the incongruity between their innocent visages and the phrase “India’s Biggest Threat” should show how ridiculous a liar the Indian government is. Of course, Ms. Roy the point is not the bholi soorat that you so lovingly present but that AK47 slung on her shoulder. That is the problem. Villains rarely look like Dr. Dong and do a Shaam-O-Sasha dance and even Osama would look like a poet had not we known his other activities.
The second is in humanizing terrorist organizations by saying “Look at the kind of development work they have done.” Well even the Mujahideen in Kashmir did earthquake relief and it is well known that terrorists do public outreach programs to win hearts and minds. Just like big industrial houses. However people like Ms. Roy will sneer at the altruism of big business and glorify that of terrorists. Not surprising.
The third is of course making wild accusations of government excesses and then obviating the necessity of providing supporting evidence by saying “The corporate press suppressed the news.” This is an old game, a game played by radicals across the political spectrum. Get some wild bit of news, either from “alternative media” or from unimpeachable sources like Maoists with a gun and say “There is no proof for this assertion of mine because there can never be.” This is not to say that government excesses do not take place (italicized for the benefit of those rushing to comment with a “On so-and-so day the government did this and this was reported in Newspaper so-and-so) but much of the accusations are just that. Accusations with nothing to back them up. Accusations so often repeated that they become fact.
And what is worth touching upon is the Big Lie that people like Ms. Roy perpetuate. That somehow we are seeing another Santhal Rebellion with the oppressive British being replaced by the oppressive Indian (Hindu) state. During the British era, Santhals using bows and arrows went up against British guns and cannons. Today’s Maoist “tribals” have AK47s and ultra-modern weaponry and commando-like training, which obviously some agency has supplied to them. In that respect this is not a “spontaneous” rising of the dispossessed but a carefully engineered insurrection with the fighting fuel being supplied by our “good neighbors” and the propaganda lungs (since propaganda is a vital part of Communist struggle) being supplied by “We know who”.
However what is true is that fighting footsoldiers of the Maoist movement are coming from the ranks of tribals and it is important we try to understand, even imperfectly since a full understanding of such a difficult problem requires much study which we are unable to do between two KKR matches, what is going on. What our Maoists in the press would tell us is a very simple story. One one side are the good people—the tribals, monstrously poor, sitting on minerals, being exploited and taken advantage of. On on the other side are the bad people—-big industrial houses, the Indian government, police, army and Hindutva (Yes the last word people like Ms. Roy put in every piece almost as if padding a piece for Google Adwords purpose). And that the tribals, the good guys, are launching a justified armed struggle against the bad guys.
The truth is slightly different. The tribals are not a monlithic entity. A few of them have, over the generations, taken advantage of quotas and the other special privileges provided to them by the Constitution as well as economic liberalization to improve their lot. Some of them have become middlemen, some of them small businessmen like brick kiln owners. A few of them, over generations, have risen in ranks even further becoming powerhouses like a Madhu Koda or Shibu Soren. But there are others who have stayed behind rolling kendu leaves and essentially doing the same things that their ancestors did. Now when big mining companies moved in, it was those “advanced” tribals who saw an opportunity to make more money by becoming land-brokers. Needless to say, they were coming up against their socially immobile brethren who naturally resented the comparative wealth and influence of their fellow-tribals. And then “people” started putting AK47s in the hands of those pissed off telling them “Grab what you dont have. We can make our own laws.”
Soon government-supported, pro-development “tribals” (Salwa Judum—–Mahendra Karma the founder of Salwa Judum is an ethnic Adivasi himself who had made it “big”) and the dispossessed but armed tribals were fighting each other, in an increasing spiral of violence. And despite what the “liberals” would have you believe, these “dispossessed” tribals forming the Maoists are not Robin Hoods. They go about terrorizing villages, collecting extortion and protection money and organizing people’s courts for punishing “informers” i.e. those who were trying to get into the gang of the “advanced” tribals. So yes this isnt a battle between good and evil but a massive gang war being played out in the backwoods with no heroes and no villains. Only victims.
A solution is difficult to find here. And I wont be presumptuous to say I have any idea what should be done. However I feel that part of the solution would be to have tribals brought into the mainstream. For too long I have seen people, usually city folks and academics, glorifying tribal life as the last surviving vestige of a simple, ancient way of living. But a tribal life, of subsisting on hunting and rolling kendu leaves, is a life that is medieval and there is a reason why people in most parts of the country abandoned this lifestyle many centuries ago (After all we all were tribals once). As mentioned before, the tension underlying the Maoist struggle is between those who have forsaken their old life for “capitalist pleasures” which in turn has led to an understanding of how they can leverage their possession of natural reserves for their own benefit, and those who have not.
While glorying Maoists, Ms. Roy says that they have gotten tribals organized and have won victories like getting a better price for kendu leaves. However it should be noted that poor and exploited people in other parts of the country did not need guns and terrorists to get organized. They formed cooperatives like Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd (Amul) and changed their futures peacefully. So community organization, as Ms. Roy hints, does not need Maoists. As a matter of fact, Maoists prevent aid and assistance from reaching those that need it (being a kind of mafia themselves) and the perpetuation of the Maoist movement, as strategized by its handlers who are anything but tribals, depends critically on people being angry at the government. Hence lack of real development, as done by the government, serves them well because then they can show themselves to be an alternative.
In conclusion, I sometimes wonder what would happen to people like Ms. Roy should the Maoists actually succeed in overthrowing the Indian state in a few decades, a publicly stated aim. Well based on the glorious example of Chairman Mao and his attitude towards “intellectuals” during the Cultural Revolution and of his disciple Pol Pot, who made them work in the fields till they died, the fate of champagne liberals like Ms. Roy would not be all that great. But somehow I think she wouldnt stay around in the country to find out.