Friday, 11 December 2009

WHAT ALTERNATIVE TO DO THE WRECTHED OF INDIA HAVE?

The heart of India is under attack

To justify enforcing a corporate land grab, the state needs an enemy – and it has chosen the Maoists

By Arundhati Roy

The low, flat-topped hills of south Orissa have been home
to the Dongria Kondh long before there was a country called
India or a state called Orissa. The hills watched over the
Kondh. The Kondh watched over the hills and worshipped them
as living deities. Now these hills have been sold for the
bauxite they contain. For the Kondh it's as though god had
been sold. They ask how much god would go for if the god
were Ram or Allah or Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the Kondh are supposed to be grateful that their
Niyamgiri hill, home to their Niyam Raja, God of Universal
Law, has been sold to a company with a name like Vedanta
(the branch of Hindu philosophy that teaches the Ultimate
Nature of Knowledge). It's one of the biggest mining
corporations in the world and is owned by Anil Agarwal, the
Indian billionaire who lives in London in a mansion that
once belonged to the Shah of Iran. Vedanta is only one of
the many multinational corporations closing in on Orissa.

If the flat-topped hills are destroyed, the forests that
clothe them will be destroyed, too. So will the rivers and
streams that flow out of them and irrigate the plains
below. So will the Dongria Kondh. So will the hundreds of
thousands of tribal people who live in the forested heart
of India, and whose homeland is similarly under attack.

In our smoky, crowded cities, some people say, "So what?
Someone has to pay the price of progress." Some even say,
"Let's face it, these are people whose time has come. Look
at any developed country – Europe, the US, Australia – they
all have a 'past'." Indeed they do. So why shouldn't "we"?

In keeping with this line of thought, the government has
announced Operation Green Hunt, a war purportedly against
the "Maoist" rebels headquartered in the jungles of central
India. Of course, the Maoists are by no means the only ones
rebelling. There is a whole spectrum of struggles all over
the country that people are engaged in–the landless, the
Dalits, the homeless, workers, peasants, weavers. They're
pitted against a juggernaut of injustices, including
policies that allow a wholesale corporate takeover of
people's land and resources. However, it is the Maoists
that the government has singled out as being the biggest
threat.

Two years ago, when things were nowhere near as bad as they
are now, the prime minister described the Maoists as the
"single largest internal security threat" to the country.
This will probably go down as the most popular and often
repeated thing he ever said. For some reason, the comment
he made on 6 January, 2009, at a meeting of state chief
ministers, when he described the Maoists as having only
"modest capabilities", doesn't seem to have had the same
raw appeal. He revealed his government's real concern on 18
June, 2009, when he told parliament: "If left-wing
extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural
resources of minerals, the climate for investment would
certainly be affected."

Who are the Maoists? They are members of the banned
Communist party of India (Maoist) – CPI (Maoist) – one of
the several descendants of the Communist Party of India
(Marxist-Leninist), which led the 1969 Naxalite uprising
and was subsequently liquidated by the Indian government.
The Maoists believe that the innate, structural inequality
of Indian society can only be redressed by the violent
overthrow of the Indian state. In its earlier avatars as
the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in Jharkhand and Bihar,
and the People's War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh, the
Maoists had tremendous popular support. (When the ban on
them was briefly lifted in 2004, 1.5 million people
attended their rally in Warangal.)

But eventually their intercession in Andhra Pradesh ended
badly. They left a violent legacy that turned some of their
staunchest supporters into harsh critics. After a paroxysm
of killing and counter-killing by the Andhra police as well
as the Maoists, the PWG was decimated. Those who managed to
survive fled Andhra Pradesh into neighbouring Chhattisgarh.
There, deep in the heart of the forest, they joined
colleagues who had already been working there for decades.

Not many "outsiders" have any first-hand experience of the
real nature of the Maoist movement in the forest. A recent
interview with one of its top leaders, Comrade Ganapathy,
in Open magazine, didn't do much to change the minds of
those who view the Maoists as a party with an unforgiving,
totalitarian vision, which countenances no dissent
whatsoever. Comrade Ganapathy said nothing that would
persuade people that, were the Maoists ever to come to
power, they would be equipped to properly address the
almost insane diversity of India's caste-ridden society.
His casual approval of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE) of Sri Lanka was enough to send a shiver down even
the most sympathetic of spines, not just because of the
brutal ways in which the LTTE chose to wage its war, but
also because of the cataclysmic tragedy that has befallen
the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, who it claimed to represent,
and for whom it surely must take some responsibility.

Right now in central India, the Maoists' guerrilla army is
made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people
living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges
on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Saharan
Africa. They are people who, even after 60 years of India's
so-called independence, have not had access to education,
healthcare or legal redress. They are people who have been
mercilessly exploited for decades, consistently cheated by
small businessmen and moneylenders, the women raped as a
matter of right by police and forest department personnel.
Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in
large part to the Maoist cadre who have lived and worked
and fought by their side for decades.

If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so
because a government which has given them nothing but
violence and neglect now wants to snatch away the last
thing they have – their land. Clearly, they do not believe
the government when it says it only wants to "develop"
their region. Clearly, they do not believe that the roads
as wide and flat as aircraft runways that are being built
through their forests in Dantewada by the National Mineral
Development Corporation are being built for them to walk
their children to school on. They believe that if they do
not fight for their land, they will be annihilated. That is
why they have taken up arms.

Even if the ideologues of the Maoist movement are fighting
to eventually overthrow the Indian state, right now even
they know that their ragged, malnutritioned army, the bulk
of whose soldiers have never seen a train or a bus or even
a small town, are fighting only for survival.

In 2008, an expert group appointed by the Planning
Commission submitted a report called "Development
Challenges in Extremist-Affected Areas". It said, "the
Naxalite (Maoist) movement has to be recognised as a
political movement with a strong base among the landless
and poor peasantry and adivasis. Its emergence and growth
need to be contextualised in the social conditions and
experience of people who form a part of it. The huge gap
between state policy and performance is a feature of these
conditions. Though its professed long-term ideology is
capturing state power by force, in its day-to-day
manifestation, it is to be looked upon as basically a fight
for social justice, equality, protection, security and
local development." A very far cry from the "single-largest
internal security threat".

Since the Maoist rebellion is the flavour of the week,
everybody, from the sleekest fat cat to the most cynical
editor of the most sold-out newspaper in this country,
seems to be suddenly ready to concede that it is decades of
accumulated injustice that lies at the root of the problem.
But instead of addressing that problem, which would mean
putting the brakes on this 21st-century gold rush, they are
trying to head the debate off in a completely different
direction, with a noisy outburst of pious outrage about
Maoist "terrorism". But they're only speaking to
themselves.

The people who have taken to arms are not spending all
their time watching (or performing for) TV, or reading the
papers, or conducting SMS polls for the Moral Science
question of the day: Is Violence Good or Bad? SMS your
reply to ... They're out there. They're fighting. They
believe they have the right to defend their homes and their
land. They believe that they deserve justice.

In order to keep its better-off citizens absolutely safe
from these dangerous people, the government has declared
war on them. A war, which it tells us, may take between
three and five years to win. Odd, isn't it, that even after
the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, the government was prepared to
talk with Pakistan? It's prepared to talk to China. But
when it comes to waging war against the poor, it's playing
hard.

It's not enough that special police with totemic names like
Greyhounds, Cobras and Scorpions are scouring the forests
with a licence to kill. It's not enough that the Central
Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force
(BSF) and the notorious Naga Battalion have already wreaked
havoc and committed unconscionable atrocities in remote
forest villages. It's not enough that the government
supports and arms the Salwa Judum, the "people's militia"
that has killed and raped and burned its way through the
forests of Dantewada leaving 300,000 people homeless or on
the run. Now the government is going to deploy the
Indo-Tibetan border police and tens of thousands of
paramilitary troops. It plans to set up a brigade
headquarters in Bilaspur (which will displace nine
villages) and an air base in Rajnandgaon (which will
displace seven). Obviously, these decisions were taken a
while ago. Surveys have been done, sites chosen.
Interesting. War has been in the offing for a while. And
now the helicopters of the Indian air force have been given
the right to fire in "self-defence", the very right that
the government denies its poorest citizens.

Fire at whom? How will the security forces be able to
distinguish a Maoist from an ordinary person who is running
terrified through the jungle? Will adivasis carrying the
bows and arrows they have carried for centuries now count
as Maoists too? Are non-combatant Maoist sympathisers valid
targets? When I was in Dantewada, the superintendent of
police showed me pictures of 19 "Maoists" that "his boys"
had killed. I asked him how I was supposed to tell they
were Maoists. He said, "See Ma'am, they have malaria
medicines, Dettol bottles, all these things from outside."

What kind of war is Operation Green Hunt going to be? Will
we ever know? Not much news comes out of the forests.
Lalgarh in West Bengal has been cordoned off. Those who try
to go in are being beaten and arrested. And called Maoists,
of course. In Dantewada, the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram, a
Gandhian ashram run by Himanshu Kumar, was bulldozed in a
few hours. It was the last neutral outpost before the war
zone begins, a place where journalists, activists,
researchers and fact-finding teams could stay while they
worked in the area.

Meanwhile, the Indian establishment has unleashed its most
potent weapon. Almost overnight, our embedded media has
substituted its steady supply of planted, unsubstantiated,
hysterical stories about "Islamist terrorism" with planted,
unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about "Red terrorism".
In the midst of this racket, at ground zero, the cordon of
silence is being inexorably tightened. The "Sri Lanka
solution" could very well be on the cards. It's not for
nothing that the Indian government blocked a European move
in the UN asking for an international probe into war crimes
committed by the government of Sri Lanka in its recent
offensive against the Tamil Tigers.

The first move in that direction is the concerted campaign
that has been orchestrated to shoehorn the myriad forms of
resistance taking place in this country into a simple
George Bush binary: If you are not with us, you are with
the Maoists. The deliberate exaggeration of the Maoist
"threat" helps the state justify militarisation. (And
surely does no harm to the Maoists. Which political party
would be unhappy to be singled out for such attention?)
While all the oxygen is being used up by this new
doppelganger of the "war on terror", the state will use the
opportunity to mop up the hundreds of other resistance
movements in the sweep of its military operation, calling
them all Maoist sympathisers.

I use the future tense, but this process is well under way.
The West Bengal government tried to do this in Nandigram
and Singur but failed. Right now in Lalgarh, the Pulishi
Santrash Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee or the People's
Committee Against Police Atrocities – which is a people's
movement that is separate from, though sympathetic to, the
Maoists – is routinely referred to as an overground wing of
the CPI (Maoist). Its leader, Chhatradhar Mahato, now
arrested and being held without bail, is always called a
"Maoist leader". We all know the story of Dr Binayak Sen, a
medical doctor and a civil liberties activist, who spent
two years in jail on the absolutely facile charge of being
a courier for the Maoists. While the light shines brightly
on Operation Green Hunt, in other parts of India, away from
the theatre of war, the assault on the rights of the poor,
of workers, of the landless, of those whose lands the
government wishes to acquire for "public purpose", will
pick up pace. Their suffering will deepen and it will be
that much harder for them to get a hearing.

Once the war begins, like all wars, it will develop a
momentum, a logic and an economics of its own. It will
become a way of life, almost impossible to reverse. The
police will be expected to behave like an army, a ruthless
killing machine. The paramilitary will be expected to
become like the police, a corrupt, bloated administrative
force. We've seen it happen in Nagaland, Manipur and
Kashmir. The only difference in the "heartland" will be
that it'll become obvious very quickly to the security
forces that they're only a little less wretched than the
people they're fighting. In time, the divide between the
people and the law enforcers will become porous. Guns and
ammunition will be bought and sold. In fact, it's already
happening. Whether it's the security forces or the Maoists
or noncombatant civilians, the poorest people will die in
this rich people's war. However, if anybody believes that
this war will leave them unaffected, they should think
again. The resources it'll consume will cripple the economy
of this country.

Last week, civil liberties groups from all over the country
organised a series of meetings in Delhi to discuss what
could be done to turn the tide and stop the war. The
absence of Dr Balagopal, one of the best-known civil rights
activists of Andhra Pradesh, who died two weeks ago, closed
around us like a physical pain. He was one of the bravest,
wisest political thinkers of our time and left us just when
we needed him most. Still, I'm sure he would have been
reassured to hear speaker after speaker displaying the
vision, the depth, the experience, the wisdom, the
political acuity and, above all, the real humanity of the
community of activists, academics, lawyers, judges and a
range of other people who make up the civil liberties
community in India. Their presence in the capital signalled
that outside the arclights of our TV studios and beyond the
drumbeat of media hysteria, even among India's middle
classes, a humane heart still beats. Small wonder then that
these are the people who the Union home minister recently
accused of creating an "intellectual climate" that was
conducive to "terrorism". If that charge was meant to
frighten people, it had the opposite effect.

The speakers represented a range of opinion from the
liberal to the radical left. Though none of those who spoke
would describe themselves as Maoist, few were opposed in
principle to the idea that people have a right to defend
themselves against state violence. Many were uncomfortable
about Maoist violence, about the "people's courts" that
delivered summary justice, about the authoritarianism that
was bound to permeate an armed struggle and marginalise
those who did not have arms. But even as they expressed
their discomfort, they knew that people's courts only
existed because India's courts are out of the reach of
ordinary people and that the armed struggle that has broken
out in the heartland is not the first, but the very last
option of a desperate people pushed to the very brink of
existence. The speakers were aware of the dangers of trying
to extract a simple morality out of individual incidents of
heinous violence, in a situation that had already begun to
look very much like war. Everybody had graduated long ago
from equating the structural violence of the state with the
violence of the armed resistance. In fact, retired Justice
PB Sawant went so far as to thank the Maoists for forcing
the establishment of this country to pay attention to the
egregious injustice of the system. Hargopal from Andhra
Pradesh spoke of his experience as a civil rights activist
through the years of the Maoist interlude in his state. He
mentioned in passing the fact that in a few days in Gujarat
in 2002, Hindu mobs led by the Bajrang Dal and the VHP had
killed more people than the Maoists ever had even in their
bloodiest days in Andhra Pradesh.

People who had come from the war zones, from Lalgarh,
Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, described the police
repression, the arrests, the torture, the killing, the
corruption, and the fact that they sometimes seemed to take
orders directly from the officials who worked for the
mining companies. People described the often dubious,
malign role being played by certain NGOs funded by aid
agencies wholly devoted to furthering corporate prospects.
Again and again they spoke of how in Jharkhand and
Chhattisgarh activists as well as ordinary people – anyone
who was seen to be a dissenter – were being branded Maoists
and imprisoned. They said that this, more than anything
else, was pushing people to take up arms and join the
Maoists. They asked how a government that professed its
inability to resettle even a fraction of the 50 million
people who had been displaced by "development" projects was
suddenly able to identify 1,40,000 hectares of prime land
to give to industrialists for more than 300 Special
Economic Zones, India's onshore tax havens for the rich.
They asked what brand of justice the supreme court was
practising when it refused to review the meaning of "public
purpose" in the land acquisition act even when it knew that
the government was forcibly acquiring land in the name of
"public purpose" to give to private corporations. They
asked why when the government says that "the writ of the
state must run", it seems to only mean that police stations
must be put in place. Not schools or clinics or housing, or
clean water, or a fair price for forest produce, or even
being left alone and free from the fear of the police –
anything that would make people's lives a little easier.
They asked why the "writ of the state" could never be taken
to mean justice.

There was a time, perhaps 10 years ago, when in meetings
like these, people were still debating the model of
"development" that was being thrust on them by the New
Economic Policy. Now the rejection of that model is
complete. It is absolute. Everyone from the Gandhians to
the Maoists agree on that. The only question now is, what
is the most effective way to dismantle it?

An old college friend of a friend, a big noise in the
corporate world, had come along for one of the meetings out
of morbid curiosity about a world he knew very little
about. Even though he had disguised himself in a Fabindia
kurta, he couldn't help looking (and smelling) expensive.
At one point, he leaned across to me and said, "Someone
should tell them not to bother. They won't win this one.
They have no idea what they're up against. With the kind of
money that's involved here, these companies can buy
ministers and media barons and policy wonks, they can run
their own NGOs, their own militias, they can buy whole
governments. They'll even buy the Maoists. These good
people here should save their breath and find something
better to do."

When people are being brutalised, what "better" thing is
there for them to do than to fight back? It's not as though
anyone's offering them a choice, unless it's to commit
suicide, like some of the farmers caught in a spiral of
debt have done. (Am I the only one who gets the feeling
that the Indian establishment and its representatives in
the media are far more comfortable with the idea of poor
people killing themselves in despair than with the idea of
them fighting back?)

For several years, people in Chhattisgarh, Orissa,
Jharkhand and West Bengal – some of them Maoists, many not
– have managed to hold off the big corporations. The
question now is, how will Operation Green Hunt change the
nature of their struggle? What exactly are the fighting
people up against?

It's true that, historically, mining companies have often
won their battles against local people. Of all
corporations, leaving aside the ones that make weapons,
they probably have the most merciless past. They are
cynical, battle-hardened campaigners and when people say,
"Jaan denge par jameen nahin denge" (We'll give away our
lives, but never our land), it probably bounces off them
like a light drizzle on a bomb shelter. They've heard it
before, in a thousand different languages, in a hundred
different countries.

Right now in India, many of them are still in the first
class arrivals lounge, ordering cocktails, blinking slowly
like lazy predators, waiting for the Memorandums of
Understanding (MoUs) they have signed – some as far back as
2005 – to materialise into real money. But four years in a
first class lounge is enough to test the patience of even
the truly tolerant: the elaborate, if increasingly empty,
rituals of democratic practice: the (sometimes rigged)
public hearings, the (sometimes fake) environmental impact
assessments, the (often purchased) clearances from various
ministries, the long drawn-out court cases. Even phony
democracy is time-consuming. And time is money.

So what kind of money are we talking about? In their
seminal, soon-to-be-published work, Out of This Earth: East
India Adivasis and the Aluminum Cartel, Samarendra Das and
Felix Padel say that the financial value of the bauxite
deposits of Orissa alone is $2.27 trillion (more than twice
India's GDP). That was at 2004 prices. At today's prices it
would be about $4 trillion.

Of this, officially the government gets a royalty of less
than 7%. Quite often, if the mining company is a known and
recognised one, the chances are that, even though the ore
is still in the mountain, it will have already been traded
on the futures market. So, while for the adivasis the
mountain is still a living deity, the fountainhead of life
and faith, the keystone of the ecological health of the
region, for the corporation, it's just a cheap storage
facility. Goods in storage have to be accessible. From the
corporation's point of view, the bauxite will have to come
out of the mountain. Such are the pressures and the
exigencies of the free market.

That's just the story of the bauxite in Orissa. Expand the
$4 trillion to include the value of the millions of tonnes
of high-quality iron ore in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and
the 28 other precious mineral resources, including uranium,
limestone, dolomite, coal, tin, granite, marble, copper,
diamond, gold, quartzite, corundum, beryl, alexandrite,
silica, fluorite and garnet. Add to that the power plants,
the dams, the highways, the steel and cement factories, the
aluminium smelters, and all the other infrastructure
projects that are part of the hundreds of MoUs (more than
90 in Jharkhand alone) that have been signed. That gives us
a rough outline of the scale of the operation and the
desperation of the stakeholders.

The forest once known as the Dandakaranya, which stretches
from West Bengal through Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh,
parts of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, is home to
millions of India's tribal people. The media has taken to
calling it the Red corridor or the Maoist corridor. It
could just as accurately be called the MoUist corridor. It
doesn't seem to matter at all that the fifth schedule of
the constitution provides protection to adivasi people and
disallows the alienation of their land. It looks as though
the clause is there only to make the constitution look good
– a bit of window-dressing, a slash of make-up. Scores of
corporations, from relatively unknown ones to the biggest
mining companies and steel manufacturers in the world, are
in the fray to appropriate adivasi homelands – the Mittals,
Jindals, Tata, Essar, Posco, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and,
of course, Vedanta.

There's an MoU on every mountain, river and forest glade.
We're talking about social and environmental engineering on
an unimaginable scale. And most of this is secret. It's not
in the public domain. Somehow I don't think that the plans
afoot that would destroy one of the world's most pristine
forests and ecosystems, as well as the people who live in
it, will be discussed at the climate change conference in
Copenhagen. Our 24-hour news channels that are so busy
hunting for macabre stories of Maoist violence – and making
them up when they run out of the real thing – seem to have
no interest at all in this side of the story. I wonder why?

Perhaps it's because the development lobby to which they
are so much in thrall says the mining industry will ratchet
up the rate of GDP growth dramatically and provide
employment to the people it displaces. This does not take
into account the catastrophic costs of environmental
damage. But even on its own narrow terms, it is simply
untrue. Most of the money goes into the bank accounts of
the mining corporations. Less than 10% comes to the public
exchequer. A very tiny percentage of the displaced people
get jobs, and those who do, earn slave-wages to do
humiliating, backbreaking work. By caving in to this
paroxysm of greed, we are bolstering other countries'
economies with our ecology.

When the scale of money involved is what it is, the
stakeholders are not always easy to identify. Between the
CEOs in their private jets and the wretched tribal special
police officers in the "people's" militias – who for a
couple of thousand rupees a month fight their own people,
rape, kill and burn down whole villages in an effort to
clear the ground for mining to begin – there is an entire
universe of primary, secondary and tertiary stakeholders.

These people don't have to declare their interests, but
they're allowed to use their positions and good offices to
further them. How will we ever know which political party,
which ministers, which MPs, which politicians, which
judges, which NGOs, which expert consultants, which police
officers, have a direct or indirect stake in the booty? How
will we know which newspapers reporting the latest Maoist
"atrocity", which TV channels "reporting directly from
ground zero" – or, more accurately, making it a point not
to report from ground zero, or even more accurately, lying
blatantly from ground zero – are stakeholders?

What is the provenance of the billions of dollars (several
times more than India's GDP) secretly stashed away by
Indian citizens in Swiss bank accounts? Where did the $2bn
spent on the last general elections come from? Where do the
hundreds of millions of rupees that politicians and parties
pay the media for the "high-end", "low-end" and "live"
pre-election "coverage packages" that P Sainath recently
wrote about come from? (The next time you see a TV anchor
haranguing a numb studio guest, shouting, "Why don't the
Maoists stand for elections? Why don't they come in to the
mainstream?", do SMS the channel saying, "Because they
can't afford your rates.")

Too many questions about conflicts of interest and cronyism
remain unanswered. What are we to make of the fact that the
Union home minister, P Chidambaram, the chief of Operation
Green Hunt, has, in his career as a corporate lawyer,
represented several mining corporations? What are we to
make of the fact that he was a non-executive director of
Vedanta – a position from which he resigned the day he
became finance minister in 2004? What are we to make of the
fact that, when he became finance minister, one of the
first clearances he gave for FDI was to Twinstar Holdings,
a Mauritius-based company, to buy shares in Sterlite, a
part of the Vedanta group?

What are we to make of the fact that, when activists from
Orissa filed a case against Vedanta in the supreme court,
citing its violations of government guidelines and pointing
out that the Norwegian Pension Fund had withdrawn its
investment from the company alleging gross environmental
damage and human rights violations committed by the
company, Justice Kapadia suggested that Vedanta be
substituted with Sterlite, a sister company of the same
group? He then blithely announced in an open court that he,
too, had shares in Sterlite. He gave forest clearance to
Sterlite to go ahead with the mining, despite the fact that
the supreme court's own expert committee had explicitly
said that permission should be denied and that mining would
ruin the forests, water sources, environment and the lives
and livelihoods of the thousands of tribals living there.
Justice Kapadia gave this clearance without rebutting the
report of the supreme court's own committee.

What are we to make of the fact that the Salwa Judum, the
brutal ground-clearing operation disguised as a
"spontaneous" people's militia in Dantewada, was formally
inaugurated in 2005, just days after the MoU with the Tatas
was signed? And that the Jungle Warfare Training School in
Bastar was set up just around then?

What are we to make of the fact that two weeks ago, on 12
October, the mandatory public hearing for Tata Steel's
steel project in Lohandiguda, Dantewada, was held in a
small hall inside the collectorate, cordoned off with
massive security, with an audience of 50 tribal people
brought in from two Bastar villages in a convoy of
government jeeps? (The public hearing was declared a
success and the district collector congratulated the people
of Bastar for their co-operation.)

What are we to make of the fact that just around the time
the prime minister began to call the Maoists the "single
largest internal security threat" (which was a signal that
the government was getting ready to go after them), the
share prices of many of the mining companies in the region
skyrocketed?

The mining companies desperately need this "war". They will
be the beneficiaries if the impact of the violence drives
out the people who have so far managed to resist the
attempts that have been made to evict them. Whether this
will indeed be the outcome, or whether it'll simply swell
the ranks of the Maoists remains to be seen.

Reversing this argument, Dr Ashok Mitra, former finance
minister of West Bengal, in an article called "The Phantom
Enemy", argues that the "grisly serial murders" that the
Maoists are committing are a classic tactic, learned from
guerrilla warfare textbooks. He suggests that they have
built and trained a guerrilla army that is now ready to
take on the Indian state, and that the Maoist "rampage" is
a deliberate attempt on their part to invite the wrath of a
blundering, angry Indian state which the Maoists hope will
commit acts of cruelty that will enrage the adivasis. That
rage, Dr Mitra says, is what the Maoists hope can be
harvested and transformed into an insurrection.

This, of course, is the charge of "adventurism" that
several currents of the left have always levelled at the
Maoists. It suggests that Maoist ideologues are not above
inviting destruction on the very people they claim to
represent in order to bring about a revolution that will
bring them to power. Ashok Mitra is an old Communist who
had a ringside seat during the Naxalite uprising of the 60s
and 70s in West Bengal. His views cannot be summarily
dismissed. But it's worth keeping in mind that the adivasi
people have a long and courageous history of resistance
that predates the birth of Maoism. To look upon them as
brainless puppets being manipulated by a few middle-class
Maoist ideologues is to do them a disservice.


Presumably Dr Mitra is talking about the situation in
Lalgarh where, up to now, there has been no talk of mineral
wealth. (Lest we forget – the current uprising in Lalgarh
was sparked off over the chief minister's visit to
inaugurate a Jindal Steel factory. And where there's a
steel factory, can the iron ore be very far away?) The
people's anger has to do with their desperate poverty, and
the decades of suffering at the hands of the police and the
Harmads, the armed militia of the Communist Party of India
(Marxist) that has ruled West Bengal for more than 30
years.

Even if, for argument's sake, we don't ask what
tens of thousands of police and paramilitary troops are
doing in Lalgarh, and we accept the theory of Maoist
"adventurism", it would still be only a very small part of
the picture.

The real problem is that the flagship of India's miraculous
"growth" story has run aground. It came at a huge social and
environmental cost. And now, as the rivers dry up and forests
disappear, as the water table recedes and as people realise
what is being done to them, the chickens are coming home
to roost. All over the country, there's unrest, there are protests
by people refusing to give up their land and their access to
resources, refusing to believe false promises any more.

Suddenly, it's beginning to look as though the 10% growth
rate and democracy are mutually incompatible. To get the
bauxite out of the flat-topped hills, to get iron ore
out from under the forest floor, to get 85% of India's
people off their land and into the cities (which is what
Chidambaram says he'd like to see), India has to become a
police state. The government has to militarise. To justify
that militarisation, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are
that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalists what the
Muslims are to Hindu fundamentalists. (Is there a
fraternity of fundamentalists? Is that why the RSS has
expressed open admiration for Chidambaram?)

It would be a grave mistake to imagine that the paramilitary
troops, the Rajnandgaon air base, the Bilaspur brigade
headquarters, the unlawful activities act, the Chhattisgarh
special public security act and Operation Green Hunt are
all being put in place just to flush out a few thousand
Maoists from the forests. In all the talk of Operation
Green Hunt, whether or not Chidambaram goes ahead and
"presses the button", I detect the kernel of a coming state
of emergency. (Here's a maths question: If it takes 600,000
soldiers to hold down the tiny valley of Kashmir, how many
will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of
millions of people?)

Instead of narco-analysing Kobad Ghandy, the recently arrested
Maoist leader, it might be a better idea to talk to him.

In the meanwhile, will someone who's going to the climate
change conference in Copenhagen later this year please ask
the only question worth asking: Can we leave the bauxite
in the mountain?

Maoist guerilla fighter

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