Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Naxalism recruits victims of progress


Crimson Concentrate
Naxalism recruits victims of progress . This is a warning.

Dilip Simeon

by Sudeep Chakravarti
Pages: 320; Rs. 495

Red Sun evokes a sense of distance. Not geographically—the author's travelled widely in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bengal. He has interviewed activists, bureaucrats, policemen, businessmen and intellectuals. He has discussed Maoism with the legendary Kanu Sanyal and K.P.S. Gill, probed links between Nepali and Indian Maoists, met health ministers who want to solve the problem via vasectomies, security experts who want bigger budgets, and students convinced

that India will soon become their version of a People's Republic.

Rather, it's the distance that separates its readers from those he writes about; industrialising India from its victims; the dreams of middle-class youth from those of the impoverished cadres who look forward to an ideologically-driven dictatorship. The author's investigations highlight the apartheid-like tendencies that have resulted in a spiral of violence, and the lackadaisical attitude of the political class to the administrative failures of which Maoism is a glaring symptom.

The writing is unpretentious and readable. Errors have crept in—the Khairlanji atrocities were committed by backward castes, not upper castes. Neither Saroj Datta nor Sushital Ray-Chowdhury 'disappeared'. The first was found dead in the Calcutta Maidan and the second died a natural death. Chakravarti's descriptions are interspersed with reflective comments, but no political theory. That is their strength, for the book raises grievous questions. Why has our political system created masses of desperate people? Millions of Indians have no idea what citizenship means. Development budgets for conflict-affected areas evaporate, with no benefit to the people. The judiciary has allowed lakhs of suits to accumulate—we tend to overlook how much this failure has contributed to the alienation of the poor. When even the middle-class despairs of justice, what might the poor expect? Andhra's police (and not only them), Chakravarti reminds us, are notorious for their extra-judicial functioning. In a word, the activities of state personnel have undermined the Constitution and fostered the Maoist argument that the Indian state is treacherous. Chakravarti could have mentioned the acceptability of lawlessness when it follows a communal script. Major parties have used violence as a political tool. 1984 and 2002 are iconic years in modern India, yet some of our opinion-makers can denounce Naxalite violence in the same breath as they extol Narendra Modi's bloodstained achievements. Chhattisgarh's human rights activist Binayak Sen rots in jail while genocidal maniacs command state institutions. Our establishment couldn't do more to assist Maoist propaganda.

There's no end in sight. Maoists have concentrated on the mineral-rich forests in central and eastern India. These are home to tribal communities, prey to land seizures by corporates and real-estate sharks. Meanwhile, the war economy has spawned millionaires. Informal paramilitaries such as the Ranvir Sena (insufficiently dealt with) and the Salwa Judum (which enjoys semi-legal standing) have sunk roots. They habitually seize or receive resources, reportedly paying salaries and compensations. Scarred people acquire a psychological commitment to conflict—we could name this the 'revenge investment'.

Chakravarti reminds us of the casual Indian yearning for extreme solutions. "Maoists are practising what we preach daily without a second thought." They build upon a philosophical tradition that grants the owners of great ideas the right to take unilateral action. Ideologically conceived revolutions derive their legitimacy not from democratic processes, but from their assumed intellectual superiority. Since there is no criterion by which this may be tested, debates are conducted at knifepoint.That's why differences amongst revolutionaries lead to factionalism. Meanwhile, those who despise democracy demand the 'right' to murder whom they like. Democracy is the last hope of the poor, but both right- and left-wing extremists have undertaken to destroy it. And our establishment gleefully seizes the opportunity to turn authoritarian. Paramilitaries have emerged as capitalism's loyal opposition.

Chakravarti foresees a polity of gated city-states with captive hinterlands; an India consisting of a privileged In-Land and a desolate Out-Land for the victims of development. (The Shiv Sena has long admired the Soviet and Chinese device of internal passports.) This forecast was also made by Aseem Shrivastava, when he argued that SEZs are the germ of corporate city-states, the first stage of an assault on agriculture that may entail the demolition of Indian democracy. With over 500 SEZs on the anvil, some 250 million Indians may be displaced in the coming decades. Naxalism will someday be seen as the stepchild of the Indian Constitution. Red Sun should be read widely, especially by those mesmerised by newfound wealth.

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