30 April 2008

The Reds Are Coming, No Seriously!


Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country
By Sudeep Chakravarti
Viking/Penguin
Pages 352
Rs 395


Published in the Mar-Apr 2008 number of 'M', a New Delhi-based men's magazine.

India is a fractured country, yet there has emerged one even larger crack that seems to question its basic idea -- a jagged line down its length, cutting the country almost into half. Once a narrow patch of refuge, nation-within-nation, the Red Corridor has now grown to encompass 165 districts (out of the total 602) giving sanctuary to the armies of the dispossessed and the brutalised who are trying to force the state to preside over redistribution of land. Their methodology -- modelled on Naxalbari’s original intent or Mao Tse-Tung’s equally cynical and bloody-minded ideology -- is based on extreme violence.

Just last month, more than 250 naxalites, the violent militia of the Maoist Co-ordination Centre of India (MCCI) attacked their umpteenth police station. Armed with guns, machetes, and bows and arrows, they killed 18 people and looted arms. Those in the know sat up and took notice, one of the aims of these high-risk-high-gain attacks, of the location of the strike. No longer satisfied pillaging police posts in the boondocks, the naxals had dared to take on a state target just a few kilometres from the state capital Bhubneshwar, Orissa.

The naxals, Chakravarti finds out in his fine, brave book, have not just internalised Mao’s words that ‘a revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay,[...] it is necessary to create terror for a while in every rural area or otherwise it would be impossible to suppress the activities of the counter-revolutionaries in the countryside,’ in fact the naxals have been punctual. They are bang on time meeting their sales-figures-type targets as they go about ‘liberating’ zone after zone. Subverting administration after administration to milk it of its benefits, often the gravy trains sustaining the whole entrenched venal complex of babu-neta.

The trouble with naxalism or maoism is that after the early victory over it in Naxalbari, a village in Darjeeling district, in 1967 through brutal state action (read ‘drag them out and shoot them’) against its surprisingly elite Bhadralok leadership and the assumed suppression of the ‘land to the tiller’ cry, the Indian state remained in denial of its existence, even as naxalism’s mutant, local strains have continued to break out ever since. Only since 2004 did Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally admit that naxalism is the greatest threat to Indian security.

In this timely, searching, insightful book Chakravarti succeeds amply to ‘put faces and thought to statistics, obfuscation and denial.’ Travelling distances and metaphorically covering much territory from the making of a revolutionary to whether the naxals will succeed in their stated goal of power through violence. Beginning his travels in the mineral rich Chattisgarh, readers are introduced to an amoral landscape.

Amoral, not because of the absence of moral compass but because of the plethora of such compasses with each agency -- the state, the NGOs, the international development agencies, the state security agencies, the army (the vicious Naga Division) , and the often state-sponsored counterrevolutionary group s, the Salwa Judum (the Greyhounds in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa) -- each with their own moral compass. A jungle of moral subjectivism, a fraught environment, a conflict awaiting a denouement that cannot be changed or averted.

Making gentle forays or passing through, a host of other places dormant, simmering, or explosive with naxal violence, Chakravarti collates an assortment of opinion, conjecture, and obiter dicta on the naxal movement. He visits old time naxals from the Naxalbari the ground zero of the naxal movement, finds relative calm. The atmosphere of Chakravarti’s meetings with other Bengalis, mostly the original naxals and their kith and kin, in the region is marked by bonhomie. Chakrvarti drops his edge too. Interviewing his father-in-law, an laosed Red hothead who spuriously plays up to fresh media attention saying, ‘I would do it all over again.’ ‘Why don’t you?’ the reader wishes Chakravarti had shot back.

Red Sun is not alarmist. Chakravarti remains objective, sometimes hopeful, always realistic without letting too much personal opinion distort the already warped picture of the situation presented to the world through propaganda or the media reports. ‘The other side of the ‘just’ war,’ is clearly delineated. The reign of red terror, the instant justice delivered on rapists, informers, nay sayers, in the form of summary torture and beheadings. Crude methods match the establishment’s sledgehammer approach.

Still, Chakravarti cannot help warning about the coming storm, not a full-scale civil war of the naxals versus the rest of us, but the crisis of miscommunication, the confrontational stance adopted by the state against the naxals. The burgeoning Indian state of yore that wanted to be everything to everyone, make wrist watches, play the banker, provide medical care, build roads, secure the nation against outside attack, and unable to do any of those things well, is now retreated, fragmented into millions of conflicting interests. It has no means, no will to understand its own people. It fecklessly condemns and prepares for the final showdown. The naxal crisis is more a last stand for the Indian state, the most brutal questioning of its legitimacy.

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