Sunday, December 2, 2007

How India’s Poor Fight Left & Right

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Written by Kalam Nishan Singh
Sunday, December 02, 2007

India has some 530 districts, Pakistan has less than half. In more that 200 districts, the writ of the Indian Government is seriously challenged. There are many districts where no public servant wants to be posted as the District Collector. But New Delhi's foreign policy hinges on telling the world all the time that the Pakistanis do not know how to run their country.

In large swathes of India, the self-proclaimed great nuclear power and one of the world's fastest growing economies, New Delhi's helplessness is legendary before the umpteen people's movements inspired by self-aspirational ideas or fights for land, security and self-respect.

In Nandigram, the world saw what the Indian state is capable of doing to its people. The mask came off from the face of even India's so-called progressive forces. The pro-people communist government finally revealed its Dracula teeth and monster claws as the CPI(M) cadres went maiming, looting, threatening, raping, killing the poorest of the poor in Nandigram to help corporates like the Indonesia's Salim group to set up a Chemical Hub in the region. The CPI(M) did something similar earlier in Singur where its cadres beat to pulp the opposition as the government acquired 10,000 acres of land for the Tatas.

But then this is the kind of stuff that India has been doing to its teeming millions for decades now, stealing their land, rivers, forests, security for the upper crust, the only crust to which the India International Center is cued in to.

What has been the response of the Indian government to the many many Nandigrams across India? In vast areas of Bihar, private armies of the thug-politicians and resistance groups are fighting ugly, armed battles everyday. In Chattisgarh, the writ of the government can be enforced in only small swathes. In Jharkhand, the Chief Minister publicly says he is only sure of his orders being followed in Ranchi. As for rest of the state, New Delhi is only a distant power.

The Government of India is merely a rumour in vast areas of the country.

In West Bengal, Chief Minister Budhadeb Bhattarcharya _____ said atrocities of the CPI(M) cadres on the poor was a way of paying them back in their own coin. Here, then, dear Indian Establishment, we bring you the saga of real India paying New Delhi back in its own coin.

In the small town called Sukma along Chhattisgarh's state Highway 43, the only sign of the government of India are the lonely electric poles. Lonely, because there are no cables strung on them. Most roads are bad, not because the state PWD did not use good quality material, but because land mines meant to keep out the Indian state's police and paramilitary forces are made of exceptionally good quality. Every time someone negotiates these paths, hawk eyed locals check you out with a piercing gaze to judge which side are you on.

State of statelessness starts here. Welcome to the territory where India is a distant entity, represented occasionally by a khaki clad gun totter representative of India who is too afraid to tip toe over the land mines. One hour flight distance away from Bombay, this too shows up on the map as India. On Manmohan Singh's mindscape, this is marked out as the single most serious internal security threat to India.

And there are so many shapes and sizes of this threat, so many different intensities, that the simplistic-solution loving India which has always hated complexity and loved a linear reading of any problem has devised an all encompassing tag for it: Naxalism.

Globalization, booming Indian economy, 10 per cent growth rate, 11th Five Year Plan. Men like Manmohan Singh will be lost here. Unfortunately for the designers of the new India, a country exists outside the seminar rooms of the India International Centre also. Too bad, there is something south of South Delhi also. This is called the real India.

It is from this place that the have-nots of an unevenly prospering nation wage a grim war against the government, armed with weapons mostly stolen from "the enemy", India's security forces, and in many areas, with an ideology imported from the China of Mao Tse-Tung, from the 1960s.

There is no CPI(M) apologist here to talk about modern China. Alongside the local sesame, teak and mahua trees, an extreme doctrine has been sending deep roots into the tribal psyche, especially among the warrior tribes of Madias and Kois. The tribals allege that for decades, the government and its business cronies have carried out a multibillion-rupee trade in local tobacco and firewood, without sharing the spoils with them. So, the government has been shunted out. The state is recruiting boys and girls as young as 15 as special police officers. These armed youngsters patrol the roads.

On a recent excursion, Stevan Desai of the Hindustan Times, found how every government-run primary school, post office and hospital here has been taken over by Naxalites — the local engines of Maoist revolutionary thought who take their name from a 1967 peasant uprising in Naxalbari, West Bengal. Chhattisgarh now is the Liberated Zone's bloodiest battleground. Desai is a brave reporter, and a sincere one. Not many of India's pen pushers are now able to take time off to write about anything other than Indian Idol clown of its American counterpart, unless it is for some equally dumb film star.

In Maoist territory, a few rusty hand pumps are the only memories of a fugitive government. The schools, the dams, even the tax system, are run by the Naxalites. Villagers pay with money, or with food, shelter, clothes and medicines. Families who cannot even afford that in this desperately poor area where the monthly per capita income is Rs 200 (40 per cent below the national average) give their men and boys to the revolution as tax.

"The Maoists told my family we have a choice: either the men join the movement or pay up Rs 500. We were given three chances to pay, in food grains, if not cash," says 19-year-old Pancham Dhulia at Kurti, the second of the five relief camps on the 80-km highway from Sukma to Konta where victims of the Maoists or people disgruntled with them live in constant fear of reprisal. "My family could not pay. They handed me over to the movement as tax."

Such recruits ensure that your journey from Jagdalpur, 300-odd km from state capital Raipur, to Pamed, is a 20-hour detour through neighboring Andhra Pradesh.

There is a shorter road through a village called Chintalnar, where security forces have not ventured for months now. This road is heavily littered with Claymore landmines, which first earned their stripes killing thousands in World War II. Relentless sniper fire could make the road even shorter for the casual visitor.

The ambushed police station in Bijapur did not particularly want to be the last representative of the Indian state in this area. All other government institutions have withdrawn. Stevan Desai quoted Rajendar Vij, Inspector-General of Police (Bastar Range) as saying, "We had asked for its closure." There are no telephones here, no cell signal, no electricity.

Policemen say there are several areas deep in Bijapur and Dantewada where they have not ventured for two decades. In Dantewada, the violence has wiped out 644 tribal villages. The Maoists are likely to re-distribute this land. Naxalites, like the police, have Insas rifles, Kalashnikovs, light machine guns, SLRs, and .303s. They also have more numbers.

The other road into the Liberated Zone, Highway 43, is the only bleak artery that the government retains in about 1.3 lakh sq km — that's the size of 300 Mumbais — of Naxalite territory. Along the highway are the five relief camps that stay huddled beside CRPF shelters.

From here, the Indian state issues its nervous and disturbing answer to the siege. It recruits boys and girls as young as 15 as special police officers (SPOs), arming them with World-War-vintage .303 rifles. While the security forces concentrate on their own posts, these youngsters patrol the roads and guard the camps. These counter-insurgents are called Salwa Judum, 'the movement to purify', in the local Chhattisgarhi language.

Here, dear WSN readers, is the real face and strategy of the Indian Government. Get the poor to fight with the poor. Salwa Judam with Naxalites, poor CPI(M) cadre with the Nandigram poor, unemployed Sikhs recruited as SPOs with the Sikh militants.

At Konta town on the Andhra Pradesh border, there are 180 SPOs, many of them young girls. They joined so that they could support their families, left homeless and unemployed by the Maoists, with Rs 2,000-3,000 as monthly government allowance. "If I do not hold the gun, I will be killed, now that we are on the other side," says a 16-year-old SPO, requesting anonymity. "Also, I get to earn to feed my family."

Barely 2 km away in the red beyond, the children of India's own intifada play cops and Maoists, in which little boys acting as comrades vanquish the "corrupt and evil" police forces. "The Maoist strategy of catching them young is eerily similar to that of the Khmer Rogue, the Maoist-inspired revolutionary party responsible for the Cambodian genocide," says an article in the Washington DC-based magazine Global Affairs.

In scores of towns — Pamed, Narainpur and Koligoda — Maoists run the schools, distribute grain and construct dams to irrigate this lush, fertile land. A CRPF Sub-Inspector warned Desai not to cross Sukma, which houses the last petrol station and the last bottles of soft drink. His words should haunt New Delhi for many many years of the battles that are still in the future: "It's a war and, forget winning, we do not know how to fight it."

Listen to it, India. You do not know how to fight this war, because no nation state has ever devised a fool proof way of fighting its own people. You are arraigned against yourself. You are killing your own. You are killing yourself. What does one say to a suicide-minded nation? Go, take a jump!

Kalam Nishan Singh can be reached at

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