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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 26, June 15, 2013

Maoist Attack in Bastar: Our Democracy is a Sham

Saturday 15 June 2013, by Ambrose Pinto


It makes news when Maoists kill members of the political class. The news of the killing of 28 leaders in Chattiagarh’s Jagdalpur district by 300 Maoists spread across the country in no time and the country was electrified. There was shock and disgust at the killings. The Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Nand Kumar Patel, and his son—Dinesh—were dragged to the dense bushes and shot in their head while senior Congress leader V.C. Shukla remained unattended for quite sometimes before he was taken to hospital by some journalists, the papers said.

In all 28 people lost their lives (later the figure rose to 29) in one of the well-planned attacks on the establishment. The Maoists, suspected to be members of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC), after triggering a blast, stopped the convoy and started shouting the names of people on their hit-list. The list included former Home Minister of the State Mahendra Karma, architect of “Salwa Judum”, a movement against Naxalism disbanded two years ago on the orders of the Supreme Court. When Karma presented before the Maoists with a plea to leave others, he was hit hard with the butt of the gun and later shot dead. He was dragged out of his bullet-proof car as the commandos tasked with protecting him fled, says a report. An ethnic adivasi leader from the undivided Bastar region, his brother and 20 other close relatives were gunned down by the Maoists in the past. They were waiting for him and there was rejoicing at his murder as the Maoists danced with joy. Was it a murder of retaliation? From the celebration after the murder by the Naxalites, it appeared so.

Salwa Judum Warfare

There were many lives lost in the Salwa Judum warfare. The state cannot but take part of the blame. The programme was decried by human rights activists ever since its inception, but continued until March 2011, when it was finally struck down by the Supreme Court of India. The movement, conceived in June 2005 by Mahendra Karma, saw the State Government offer military support to the local uprising against Naxals. However, this concept of arming tribals against tribals was fraught with trouble from the very beginning. Human rights groups had begun intensifying demands that it be shut down immediately. The uneasiness was not only limited to rights groups and organisations, but also conveyed in the mainstream media. The prime reason of the movement closing down was the Adivasis becoming pawns of both the parties to the conflict. They were the perpetrators as well as the victims of the undeclared civil war. The movement was far from a peaceful campaign with hundreds of the cadres being given full military training as Special Police Officers. It had created a civil war where one was either with the Maoists or with the Salwa Judum. As the Maoists followed the policy of forcibly recruiting one cadre from each family, in numerous cases members of the same family were pitted against each other.

The Adivasis wanted their condition to improve and an end to their exploitation by the corrupt government officials, police, money-lenders, contractors etc. Instead, they found themselves in the midst of a civil war. The security forces and Salwa Judum activists were responsible for gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws, including torture, killings and rapes especially during joint operations to bring scattered villages under the Salwa Judum. But the police did not register complaints of such atrocities. Those who were victims of violations by the security forces and Salwa Judum activists were therefore not given any compensation even if killed. Only the alleged victims of Maoist violence were given compensation.

In 2011, the Supreme Court struck down the Salwa Judum based on a writ petition. The Bench made it clear that the State of Chhattisgarh should take all appropriate measures to prevent the operation of any group, including but not limited to Salwa Judum and Koya commandos, that in any manner or form seek to take law into private hands, act unconstitutionally or otherwise violate the human rights of any person. The Maoists were waiting for their chance to retaliate against the man who was the cause of several deaths, torture and sufferings in their rank-and-file and they danced and rejoiced when they got him at last.

State Response 

The nation rightly mourned the death of these persons. Whatever may be the conspiracy hatched by the forces of the state, killing and bloodshed can never be justified. A war against any group is a war against everybody and it is society that is affected the most when a group wages war against another. The Maoists’ menace was always high in the agenda of the state. The then Union Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, had proposed to carry out a counter-offensive in the entire Bastar region to finish off the Maoists. This had to be called off because of opposition from his own party leaders as well as some members of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council. Will these 28 killings lead to greater brutality on the part of the state against the Maoists? The language of the leaders of the government points to that direction. President Mukherjee at the news of the killing had said: “I am deeply dismayed and shocked at the wanton violence unleashed by Maoists in Chhattisgarh on a convoy of vehicles carrying leaders of the Congress Party. I condemn this incident in the strongest of terms and would like to reiterate that violence has no place whatsoever in our democratic polity. The nation will neither be overawed nor intimidated by such action. I call upon concerned authorities to do their utmost to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice. The safety and security of our citizens should be ensured at all times.”

How does the state expect to bring the perpetrators to justice? Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi said the Maoist attack on the Congress convoy in Chhattisgarh was an attack on democracy. The Vice-President of the Congress party is perhaps unaware that there is hardly any democracy in the country as far as the poor are concerned. Calling it a “cowardly act” on the part of Maoists, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi said the strike was not an attack on the Congress or its leaders, but an attack on democratic values. Vice-President Hamid Ansari also condemned the Maoist attack on the Congress leaders. In a message, he said, “All forms of extremism and violence have to be fought and eliminated from our midst.” But what happens when the state takes to extremist means? “We have to be more determined in fighting Naxal (Maoist) extremism. These lives should not go in vain,” said Manmohan Singh. “This incident should be treated as an inspiration in our fight against forces of extremism and violence.” L.K. Advani termed the attack “one of the most audacious” and called upon everyone to “come together” to combat the Maoist challenge. CPM leader Brinda Karta said the attack was “barbaric” and a shocking example of politics of violence and terror by the Maoists. Activist Swami Agnivesh said Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh and Governor Shekhar Dutt should be removed for their failure to provide security to people. Raman Singh retorted by saying an elaborate strategy would be put in place to give a fitting response to the Maoist insurgents.

The probe has been handed over to the National Investigation Agency virtually equating the Naxal strike to a terror strike. More than a thousand security personnel have been deployed in the jungles of the Naxal-infested Bastar region for a major offensive against the ultras. This would mean that there is likely to be more violence. State violence in the long run will lead to greater violence pushing the people to extremism. State deployment of forces has always led to the murder of many innocent civilians and the fear is that the present deployment is likely to lead to terror and the killing of innocents. There are bound to be consequences. Instead of addressing the grievances of the people resorting to terror tactics by the state can further lead to alienation of the people.

Questions Raised

In the weeks to come there will be discussions and debates on the carnage. Much of the discussion will centre on the failure of the state machinery. The state had armed the region. There were the $ 4 million-plus Israeli-made Heron long-range surveillance drones flown across the region each day. How did these fail to pick up the gathering of an ambush team reported to run into hundreds? The National Technical Reconnaissance Organisation didn’t interpret the imaging data accurately either.

There is much to be explained by the Chhattisgarh Police. Why did its intelligence network in Sukma miss the gathering of the assault team? What happened to the Intelligence Bureau? There will be questions, too, about why a road being used by several high-profile politicians wasn’t more effectively swept for mines—and why more Central Reserve Police Force units weren’t combing the Darbha plateau, the Maoists’ battlefield of choice, flanked to the north by the dense Kanger forests and to the east by the Balimela jungles. But not many would raise the question on the causes of such violence. There would be proposals to further tighten security for the political class without raising concerns about the security of the poor and tribals. Will all the conversations on security make the people more insecure further pushing them into extremism? The solution lies in providing economic security to the people rather than military security to the ruling class.

Maoist Attacks and Indian Democracy

The ruling class was quick enough to declare that the killings were an attack on democracy. But they have not asked whether there is democracy in the country at all for the poor and if there is democracy what kind of democracy they enjoy. What exactly is the place of the people in that democracy when we say that we have a government of the people, by the people and for the people? Not that anybody justifies violence and killing. But questions need to be raised on what are the factors that foster the sustenance of the Maoist movement.

These Naxalites or Maoists today are spread all over the country. They virtually rule the countryside in more than 10 States, establishing a quasi-government. Why have they got a hold over the people while the trust of the people on the state is on the decline? We may choose to ignore such questions. But the fact of the matter is that the Naxalites and Maoists are expanding their influence while unfortunately the impact of the state on the people is on the decline. The Central Government may have ignored the brewing mutiny brushing it off as insignificant to the overall national growth given their obsession with neo-liberalism. However, the reasons behind the insurgency can no longer be overlooked.

Poor are Excluded

At the root of violence is the total neglect of the poor and pushing them out of all development. The free economy has led to the prosperity of a small section of the middle class to the exclusion of the majority. The educated graduates have remained enticed to the multi-national and transnational companies. The plight of the poor—the Dalits and the tribals, the uneducated and the unorganised—is lost in this rise of urban India. The Maoists and Naxalites in the meanwhile have not just established a foothold in the remote corners of the neglected and poor rural parts of the country among those excluded by the state and pushed to the margins, but have steadily grown in strength and numbers. They have been running a quasi-government of their own in many parts of remote and not-so-remote India.

For a majority of the poor, uneducated and underprivileged villagers, their livelihood for decades was based on working for their village landlords. They worked on the fields and the crops on the land owned by these landlords all year round, and toiled hard for the meagre remuneration they received from them. While these villagers were exploited by these landlords, the government failed them. There was no policy of land reforms. Just wages were not paid. Education did not get the prominence it should have. Caste remained as an institution of subordination for the affluent and wealthy.

The feudal system continues. Those who had small holdings have suffered in recent years with the aggressive land acquisition policy of the state that has pushed them out of their habitations. They did stand up against injustices. The state in nexus with the local land-mafia had refused to dialogue. The poor couldn’t dare to put up a resistance against the system. Once the Naxalites swooped in with the message of liberation and the promise to provide them land of their own, they became their automatic allies. Sustained poverty with no education made it an easy choice for these villagers. They had nothing to lose but their chains.

People are Dissatisfied and Angry

At no point in the history of independent India people have been as dissatisfied with the state as they are now. When the poor are alienated from the state and the governments are working against the interests of the poor and marginalised people, what other options do people have than join the ranks of extremism?

Thirtyseven per cent of the total adult population in the country is malnourished today and still larger numbers are below the poverty line. The reforms, the state says, has pulled more people out of their poverty. No one believes and not even the government. People in rural areas were surviving simply because of common property resources. However, the government is running a programme against these commu-nities by removing them from their lands and handing over these lands to transnational and multinational corporations. This has caused the problem of displacement and livelihood in a big way. Any land acquisition that hands over land to private interests is illegitimate. We could even term this as a terrorist act since the people have no livelihood anymore. Very often land is acquired with the help of the police and armed forces from the poor and handed over to the rich. More and more people feel that with liberalisation of the economy democratic govern-ments are in the pocket of the elite financial interests abroad.

Democracy and Dissent

What has happened to the notion of democracy? In a democracy people have a right to dissent. It’s plain for all to see how dissenters are treated in our democracy. They are brutally put down. Look at the way the protests at the nuclear plants in Kudankulam and other places are treated. Cases are filed on the protestors with manufactured allegations. Police beat up peaceful protests with lathis and do not even hesitate to fire. It looks as if the people do not matter. The land of the poor is simply taken over in spite of all protests. Mines and natural resources are looted and plundered.

In Odisha the State has waged a war on the tribals to hand over forest and tribal land to POSCO against the wishes of the people by falsifying documents. The story is repeated in many Dalit and tribal belts. Why does the state do it? Many people throughout the world are increasingly realising that their sovereign democratic governments are neither sovereign nor democratic and are in the pocket of unaccountable elite financial interests that are in relationship with the local political bosses. The state has developed disgust for the poor while they admire their new linkages with the global financial and industrial corporations.

The economic crisis has clearly exposed exactly whose interests democracy serves. Years of corruption and utter disregard for the welfare of the people have left the representatives with zero credibility. The tribals of Bastar and other areas of the country are yet to experience the fruits of democracy. Democracy has come to mean the rule of the vested interest groups for them. The attack on democracy therefore is not by the people but those who rule and govern the country.

What is a Terror Act?

The incident of killing 28 people representing the state players by the Maoists is called a terror act and tears are shed by the mainstream. But why do we not shed tears in this country when hundreds of farmers commit suicide due to indebtedness? What happens to our tears when people are evicted from their homes in the name of development and placed on the roadside with no compensation and are made refugees in their own land? Where are our tears when people die of malnourishment or hunger? When the wealth of the country is looted and plundered and the poor are driven out of their homes we are not at all pained.

There are various kinds of terrorism. Those who govern us tell us that any attack on their safety and security is terrorism. Killings of those who govern us are termed terrorist acts. While we accept them as terrorist acts, we also think that the state acts as a terrorist organi-sation when they kill people in the name of law and order and when people resist the state’s model of development. There are other kinds of state terrorism. Leaving the poor to die in the government hospitals without proper medical care is also terrorism; leaving hundreds of thousands of people to die from hunger while PDS grains are sold in black market is nothing but terrorism; forcing farmers to commit suicide while the state diverts canal water to industries is a kind of terrorism; taking no action against the corrupt officials who suck the blood of the common people is also terrorism. The Maoists killed 28 persons. But how many people have been killed in the name of development by the state? We need to ask how many Naxalites or Maoists are the by-product of the system.

Questions need to be raised about the unjust economic system created and fostered by those who rule us that has been the root cause of violence in our society. There would have been no way of Maoists becoming a movement if we had operated a democracy of the people, by the people and for the people. Only a just society can be a society that is without violence.

System Needs Accountability and Dialogue

Of all those who govern us, we trust the political class the least today. Not that the ordinary people of the country have any trust in the corporate and business world. But the government officials have been totally insensitive to the needs of the public and have created the present system for their own benefit. The state in nexus with the national and global corporations has destroyed people’s wealth, resources and livelihood. Providing protection to the establishment against the people, the police have been creators of law and order problems rather than protectors of the poor. The state has commercialised everything and the poor are daily terrorised. Doctors have become swindlers. Education has been corpo-ratised. Corruption has made life impossible for the poor. Officials of the state have fattened themselves at the expense of the people. The political establishment has become corrupt.

No national daily is complete without news of scams. Some persons somewhere in authority are exposed for their criminal involvement in economic offence everyday. Criminalisation of politics is so daunting and all-pervasive that ordinary people everywhere suffer from a kind of fear psychosis. When they protest they are crushed by the armed forces. While the masses are in revolt the ruling class looks bankrupt.

Indian democracy is on trial. Democratic institutions built over the years have been crippled. The country is torn by violence, with frequent attacks on genuine dissenters and independent people’s initiatives. From the police force to courts to prisons, the ‘criminal injustice’ system remains a machinery of partisan oppression. This is no democracy but terrorism.

We Need an Alternative

No doubt throughout the country there are determined struggles developing from below. With the country likely to plunge into severe crisis there are likely to be more violent struggles. Angry protests are hitting the streets spontaneously. Unfortunately they do not automatically develop into a social revolution that would liberate the people’s fighting energy in a sustained manner. After every mass upheaval either at the nuclear power plant sites or in areas of forcible land acquisition, people soon get frustrated. There is virtually no conscious effort from any political outfit to articulate mass anger and deprivation. A sense of helplessness has gripped the poor and weaker sections of the society. Their present and their futures are uncertain.

While most political parties do not care, some parties have shown no inclination to go beyond tokenism. And tokenism cannot unfurl a new banner of freedom. The political class has to make the choices. They can opt for greater security for themselves by deployment of armed and military forces to crush the people or sit down with the poor and marginalised who constitute the majority in the country and opt for their mode of development against the neo-liberals.

There can be no development without people’s control over their resources. Development has to be of the people by the people and for the people and not of, by and for the transnational, multinational and national corporations. Will the leaders learn from the violence?

Dr Ambrose Pinto SJ is with St Joseph’s College Institutions, Bengaluru.

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