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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 26, June 18, 2011

There should be no Army - Adivasi Clash

Monday 20 June 2011, by Diptendra Raychaudhuri

An Ominous Possibility

About two years ago our Union Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, planned a massive operation against the Maoists. Two years later, it seems the operation has achieved little. The Maoists have increased their manpower and firepower, and have renewed attacks on the armed forces recently. This is certainly an ominous sign for the future. There is not an iota of doubt that a war between the government and the Maoist army will ruin this country.

And now a battalion each of Assam and Bihar regiments have moved into Bastar for training in jungle warfare. The Maoists have started issuing statements, obliquely projecting the promise of a bloody future. It seems they are trying to provoke the government. But, at the same time, it is equally true that the government is taking a circuitous route to reach the point where the Army will start fighting the Maoists.

The war between the government and the Maoists have already turned into a cancer, and in the future the nation will have to pay a heavy price. The problem is: neither side will make sincere attempt of disengagement, for both sides have vested interests. The problem is that both sides have their large support base. The government, be that of the Congress and its allies or the BJP and its allies or a Third Front, has its real support base among the vocal people whom we may call the ‘elite’, and on the question of dealing with the Maoists there is virtually no difference among the ardent supporters of these parties. The Maoists, on the other hand, have their strong support base among the poorest of the population of this country. In those parts of the country where Maoists have never worked, people in general has an adverse view of the Maoists and their cause, thanks to what is being projected by the media controlled by the elite. But the scenario changes radically in areas where the Maoists have or had their sway. In those areas, many of the locals, particularly the poor, endorse strong action against the government forces and the ‘class enemy’.

The moot point is: how have the people of a very large swathe of land dominated or influenced by the Maoists got so alienated? Surely, some-where something has gone severely wrong, unpardonably wrong. And now there is a chance of this escalating into a war between the tribal population of Chhattisgarh and the Army. The Army is having a facility of jungle training in Abhujmad and the area earmarked for this is about 600 square kilometres. This is the core area of Maoist operations, and the police or paramilitary forces have failed to dominate this area. Now, the Army is going to have their training in that area. And the Central Government has given them licence to kill if they come under attack. Naturally so, for what else is the Army expected to do?

Now, what can never be ascertained is who attacked whom first. But a single clash may lead to a full-scale war. Inevitably, the victims will be the tribal population, many of them innocents (unarmed people who from the experience of their lives have turned into supporters of the Maoists).

The Maoist Position

SO, the whole situation is pregnant with the possibility of turning into a killing field. If the clash is between the government Army and the Maoist army and people from either side die, though that will be very unfortunate, still we cannot help; because both sides are armed, and trained to ‘kill or be killed’. But if civilians are killed, that will be too tragic. And there is every possibility of that happening. Because the poorer tribal population living there have great faith in the Maoists. And the Maoists have issued statements that talk of this ominous possibility. This is what they have said in a statement issued on June 3:

“The Central and State governments have been hiding the fact that this was obvious deployment and have been telling the world that they were just coming here for a training as part of their ploy of deceiving the people and pacifying those democratic forces who have been outrageous against Army deployment. The glaring fact is that the Army is now deployed in the ongoing war against the people of our country. After Kashmir and the North-East regions, now the Indian Army is going to wage a brutal war against the most oppressed people of India. Now the apprehensions seem to be realised that the draconian law—AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act)—would also be proclaimed in Bastar.”

Further, they have described this as an onslaught against the Mariya tribe, many of whom are their supporters. This is what they have stated:

“In fact the government gave free-hand to the Army and Air Force to attack the people in the name of `self-defence’, as there are no measures defined for clear-cut demarcation between a Maoist combatant and an ordinary citizen. Since 2005, first in Salwa Judum and now in Operation Green Hunt, the state armed forces set ablaze more than 700 villages; murdered more than 1500 people; raped hundreds of Adivasi women; burnt down the crops; looted the villages; and forced tens of thousands of people to flee from their native places. The recent carnage of Chintalnar was just an example of the ongoing state terror in Dandakaranya. And now, with the Army taking part in this onslaught and with all powers granted to it in the name self-defence, the massacres of Adivasis and brutalities would increase manifold. This would pose a big question mark on the very existence of the Adivasi community. Particularly, the Jal-Jungle-Zameen and the ancient cultural heritage of the Mariya tribes, the indigenous residents of Maad, would vanish.”

Just a few days after issuing this statement, on June 7, Gudsa Usendi [the elusive spokesperson of the CPI (Maoist’s) Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee] issued another statement that broadened the perspective of what is happening in Bastar. The statement was a well-argued one and it talked of a nexus between the Bhilai Steel Plant, private companies and administration for grabbing huge land and minerals (from the statement it seems the loot here will be no less than another 2G scam). The statement also linked the Army with this attempted loot.

These statements cannot be taken lightly. I do not take them at face-value either, for the Maoists are prone to exaggeration. It will not be surprising even if somewhere some Maoist leader intentionally trap the young boys of the Army or provoke them so that they start shooting. Then it may escalate into large-scale violence.

What the Army has Planned

THE Army is finalising two separate training grounds in Chhattisgarh. One training centre is to be built in the north-eastern part of the State, in the district of Raigarh close by the border of Orissa. The other one in the south-western district of Narayanpur (on the Maharashtra border).

According to sources, the Army is in the process of acquiring a large patch of land at Saraipali in Raigarh district where they will set up a military college to train jawans in counter-insurgency manoeuvres. But, as there does not exist enough forest cover in the area, so the exercise will take place in Narayanpur district and a small brigade headquarters will be there in Narayanpur town.

What has already been reported in the media is that the Army has earmarked about 600 square kilometres in Narayanpur district. This area is known as Abujmard. This much area will be about one-sixth of the total land (mostly dense jungle) of Abujmad.

What has also been reported in the media is that the Army will not go for any live fire exercises in Abujmad. It has also been stressed by the Army that they will not cut trees, displace villages, or build any permanent structures. When this is read along with the promise that the Army will not conduct any aggressive exercises using live ammunition, it seems the Maoist propaganda is exaggerated.

But it is surprising that the Army had to decide on this spot for training its jawans. And it is not just a coincidence. The Army is fully aware that there can be clashes between them and the Maoists. That was why in January they sought clarification from the government about the rules of engagement if attacked.

An Appeal to Rahul Gandhi

WHILE standing with the tribesmen of Niyamagiri hills, Rahul Gandhi said that they had a soldier of them in Delhi.

Now, the time has come when Rahul Gandhi must prove that he is also a soldier for the Maria tribesmen. There are reports that the government has started backtracking from compulsory 26 per cent profit-sharing with the tribal population for mining in the jungles. This is only expected from a government that crudely tries to protect the interests of the rich at the cost of the poor. At times lamenting that the tribal population got a raw deal and then acting to serve more raw deals for them is too cheap. However, this is what the other politicians are involved in. By his opposition to the Vedanta project in Niyamagiri, Rahul Gandhi has proved that he is different. So, now it is his turn to come forward to protect the Marias and all other Bastariya tribes. He must ensure that there should be no Army-Adivasi clash. There is still time as the Army is now practising in a jungle 50 kms away from Narayanpur district, and on the periphery of the confront zone.

A large section of the people living in confront zones, no doubt, supports the Maoists. But that is because the state has treated them as ‘third class’ (not second class) citizens who can have no claim to either dignity or minimum decent life. Nothing has changed for them since independence. They are victims of the same colonial mindset and ruling. And some other people thrive there by depriving these simple men and women. One man running 41 PDS shops from one place and diverting a huge portion of the grain to markets (‘Corruption eats into PDS grain in Red corridor’, The Times of India, June 12, 2011) may make crores of ill-gotten money in a year, but he is just a small player. The big players are the big industries whose endless greed is playing havoc with the lives of the tribal population of central India. And we all have learned from Mahatma Gandhi that there is not enough to satisfy the greed of a few.

Will Rahul Gandhi come up as a soldier for these hapless people? Will he ensure that the Army will not further complicate the problem and enhance the alienation of these people?

If he does not, the future of Indian democracy will turn bleaker. The Ramdev-type phenomenon is a sign of discontent and alienation of the people in general. Chidambaram was bang on point in his criticism of Ramdev. But, will he spent some time to think why such anarchic tendencies are raising their heads in various forms? Or will any other Minister do so and take remedial measures? Can we expect anything like this from those who for two years are dilly-dallying on a Bill attempting ensured food for the poor? Probably not.

As all other politicians have failed, people are looking at Rahul Gandhi for a break. And Rahul Gandhi must keep it in mind that the tribal population of central India are no exception.

Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a journalist and author of the novel A Naxal Story. He can be contascted at e-mail: dip10dra@yahoo.co.in

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