The enchanted world of Shining India occasionally sends a scathing message to the heartland – keep your powder kegs in your backyard. We are a democratic people, the darlings of the globalized world and we do not want our images marred by the violence unleashed by the bloodthirsty Maoists.
The heartland inhabited by the poorest people on earth (on the red corridor running over 40% of India’s land area) responds – we provide the bounty (iron ore and bauxite) for your conspicuous consumption. You have cars, houses, iphones, tablets and high living but we cannot even live in our own land and use the trees, rivers, forests for our sustenance. You have rails, roads, flyovers, trains and buses. We do not have a single road. Your children go to schools and are visited by angels of plenty. Our children slog in the fields and are haunted by ghosts of hunger.
Barbs fly, heat rises and the debate goes on. There is no escaping the fact that a large section of India, especially the indigenous people (the Adivasis), have been deprived of the benefits of globalization. The Government claims that they provide large amounts for developmental funds, but the Adivasis say that they do not get to see any of it. After a while the middle and upper classes move on to the next trending headline on Twitter or TV until another Maoist attack jolts them into reality.
The complete absence of the State in tribal villages, creates a vacuum in governance resulting in social injustice, extreme inequality, and crippling poverty. Land acquisition for Special Economic Zones (SEZ’s) and huge mining projects has caused the biggest displacement of people in Indian History. In desperation, farmers commit suicide, the ecosystem takes a hit, ancient cultures are decimated and a virulent war is waged on the poorest of the poor, a war which goes largely unnoticed by Shining India and the world. The yawning abyss of doom is temporarily plugged by Maoists who take up the tribal cause against predatory commercialization of rich resources buried in the dense forests of Chhatisgarh and, Jharkhand.
Yet all is not well. Villagers who do not subscribe to the Maoist philosophy of violent overthrow of the State are cruelly decimated either physically or financially and their voices reduced to a whisper. Slowly the movement spins out of control. The tribes are forced to pander to the foot soldiers of the Maoists who take charge of everything from running village defense committees to attending the meetings of the village elders. The poor Adivasis no longer count.
The Congress Government of that time was hamstrung by many left leaning sympathizers along with their cohorts in the media. Evangelists began converting the Adivasis and providing Christian militia to the Maoists. The multinationals gave protection money. The rebels steal explosive material like RDX from the mines which they manage to sell to the world thus raking in huge profits. Congressmen, politicians, administrators, naxal sympathizers, contractors, and crooked policemen all joined the gravy train to siphon off the money owed to villagers. And thus the Maoists have become the traitors to the cause of the Adivasis. Instead of fighting for their cause they loot, maim and kill. Wily and street savvy, hunting with the hounds and running with the hare, they pretend to fight the mining companies while extorting huge sums for leaving them alone. Neither civilians nor the police officers are spared. Intense and dedicated, they excel in guerilla warfare thus establishing their writ in the dense jungles of Central India. Combined with the money, weapons and a ferocious cadre, they form a parallel state ready to take on the security apparatus of the vacillating political center.
The smug middle and upper classes assume they are safe in their stylish cocoons – but the civil war in the heartland, can one day consume the whole country. Insurgents belonging to the Maoist cadre can bring a halt to India’s booming economy by denying access to vital minerals such as iron ore, coal, bauxite and manganese. Experts estimate a loss approaching 80 billion dollars due to attacks on mining structures, bridges and rail roads. Even schools are not spared.
Meanwhile the heartrending wails from the Adivasis continues unabated as industrialization has forced them to leave their forests and lands and migrate to police camps or cities to live an existence close to the margins of subhuman existence. Also lack of implementation of forestry laws has strengthened the hand of the forestry officials in harassing the forest tribes who choose to remain in their homes. As a result, some of the proud and despairing forest tribes, who have dwelled in the forests since time immemorial have been savagely forced out to live in hunger and bonded drudgery. Not content with taking over the forests, the officials have also lodged criminal complaints against the forest dwellers for collecting resources from the forest. In desperation, some of the Adivasis have formed or joined the tribal militia but that invites harsh reprisals from the Security forces. However, the same forces tread softly and go slow on bringing heat on the Maoists due to political interference of the ideological behemoth – the Communist Party of India (Maoists).
Pampering the leftists has had its consequences. Headlines from leading publications prove the mettle of the Maoists as a cold killing machine – “76 Government troops killed by Marxists” in 2010, “5 policemen killed in Dantewada”, “alleged informer clubbed to death”, “14 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans die in Maoist attack”, “Maoist attack CRPF team in Chhattisgarh, 16 killed” and the list goes on. The escalating violence led to a gruesome incident where a dead CRPF jawan’s stomach was slit open and a 2.5 kg unexploded IED device was installed and stitched back again. The barbarous act shocked even the lackadaisical Congress and the loony Left.
The CRPF however does retaliate but with their hands tied due to lack of strong political will for obvious reasons. And the cycle of violence continues. Caught in the crossfire are the civilians and Adivasis living in the villages paying the wages of escalating violence. The exploding crisis has got the ears of Amnesty International who are batting for the human rights of the Maoist sympathizers. The EU and UN observers are not far behind supporting the likes of controversial Binayak Sen, but have done nothing to say or help the poor Adivasis. With sophisticated communication devices and plenty of foreign money, the Maoists are far ahead in the realm of propaganda.
As in all revolutionary movements there comes a point of inflexion when something drastic shakes up the status quo. That moment came on May 25, 2013 when the rebels targeted the political class and almost wiped out the entire senior leadership of the congress party in Chhattisgarh. A convoy of Congressmen were passing through Bastar’s Darbha valley, about 350 km from the capital Raipur, when the rebels triggered a powerful blast to blow up a targeted vehicle in the convoy which was followed up by relentless firing. When the guns finally stopped after an hour, 27 people were dead and several of them seriously wounded. Former Union minister V.C Shukla was hit at least 3 times with a bullet and finally succumbed to his injuries in a hospital. The victims included Nand Kumar Patel, the state party chief, his son Dinesh, and former legislator Uday Mudliyar. Also killed was the senior Congress leader Mahendra Karma, who founded the controversial Salwa Judum, a civilian vigilante movement against Maoists which went rogue and unleashed terrible violence against the people. The Supreme Court had to step in and declare it as an illegal outfit in July 2011.
Mahendra Kumar was stabbed 78 times and shot 15 times. A female Maoist, Madhavi, a top gun of the rebels is said to have danced around the body of the prostrate Mahendra Kumar. Others trampled his body riddled with bullets and sang and danced after a macabre feast of death. The Salwa Judum leader was the most hated man on that day when death rained on the mighty Congress. The cool Sonia who never batted an eyelid when the CRPF jawans lives were lost in the fire of insurgency, was livid with fury. Maybe that day she empowered her Government to give up on “saffron terror” and go after “Maoist terror.”
Speaking of Salwa Judum (“purification hunt” in the local Gondi dialect), it was created to rein in the trigger happy Maoists. It ended up being even more violent. Driven by the motto of revenge rather than redress, it was spun into the clichéd “Jan Jagaran: People’s awakening.” It was neither for the people nor was it an awakening. Instead it morphed into a rogue outfit answerable to no one except Mahendra Karma who took law into his own lands. Historian Rajachandra Guha writes, “Salwa Judum burnt homes (sometimes entire villages), raped women, and looted granaries of those Adivasis who refused to join them. In response the Naxalites escalated their activities.” As per reports, the “Bastar tiger” as Mahendra Karma came to be known was like a wolf who preyed upon the Adivasis of Chhattisgarh, many of whom were from his own tribe. Their livelihood or even their lives meant little to him. A CBI – FIR report from 1998, provided evidence of criminal conspiracy by Karma and other Government officials in grabbing land from fellow tribals. It speaks a lot about the political winking of such dastardly deeds that occurred in the name of fighting insurrection. Mahendra Karma was the most ill-suited man for the job and his terrorizing tactics forced many Adivasis to the arms of the Maoists.
Salwa Judum is a classic example of a counter revolution that failed miserably. The answer to Maoism is not killing insurgents but killing the ideology. The ideology gets the propaganda, the weapons, the political legitimacy and the money. Killing the ideology would require counterterrorism tools of statecraft that provides quick redress to genuine grievances of the poorest of our land so that the Maoist foot soldiers have no way to rush into spaces evacuated by the Government.
One such tool is to first address India’s mining, environmental and developmental policies so that it becomes ‘tribal friendly” versus “corporate friendly.” In addition to enacting legislation against illegal mining and tackling corruption in the mining sector, mining companies could share 26 to 30 percent of the profits with the people affected by displacement. Strong laws in forestry should be enacted so that the tribal population are not forcibly uprooted and evacuated.
Also security in villages must be ensured by Special Forces and anti-Maoist commandos. Without the strong umbrella of security, contractors are reluctant to come forward to build the required roads, schools or hospitals, thus hampering connectivity to remote areas and dense forests. This security has to be in place until Maoism disappears from the heartland.
The establishment is happy because there is a lull in Maoist attacks. This does not mean that the threat is gone. It could be a tactical retreat to live and fight for another day. Make no mistake it is a war that cannot stop until the ideology is defeated, not its foot soldiers.
There is also another reason why we cannot neglect the poorest of the poor. The same God that resides in all of us resides in them too. And as the saying goes, “God cannot be wished away.”