Tag Archive for 'Maoists'

Everywhere, a Maoist plot

Chhattisgarh government is unable to accept the right to protest and unwilling to hear the people’s voice. Nandini Sunder in The Indian Express:

By going to town as the Chhattisgarh police and media have recently done on my alleged Maoist links, the real questions have been sidelined. As citizens of this country, do we have the right to protest democratically and constitutionally, and as journalists, researchers or human rights activists, are we free to pursue our vocation?

The police arrested one Badri Gawde on January 23, and paraded him before the media four days later, after his family had filed a missing report. Puffy faced, and barely able to keep his eyes open, Gawde “revealed” to the media that I was working on behalf of the Maoists to oppose the mines and railway line that are to come up in the Raoghat area of the state. The activities that my doppelgänger is up to, such as leading the Raoghat Rail Sangharsh Samiti in faraway Chhattisgarh, even as my mundane self takes classes in Delhi, amazes me. If only I had that much energy and time.

Like many young men in conflict areas, Gawde is a man of many parts. Stylishly dressed, and with political ambition, Gawde is active both with the Congress and in local Gond community politics, which involved supporting Vikram Usendi, the Gond BJP candidate in the assembly elections against the Halba Congress candidate. But being political in these parts also means, perforce, keeping up with the Maoists. In November 2013, soon after the assembly elections, I visited Bastar as part of my research on counterinsurgency and democracy. With me was a friend with ancestral roots in Narayanpur-Antagarh. Badri mentioned that he was going to meet a Maoist leader, and asked if we would like to come. Since this was a rare opportunity for us, we went along. More:

On the media’s need for whipping boys

Nandini Sundar on her blog:

I am sick to death of TV panel discussions which ask whether human rights activists are soft on the Maoists, romanticise the Maoists and so on. Why doesn’t someone ask if our honourable politicians and security experts are soft on police torture and extra judicial killings?

Television is not interested in a serious discussion – all they want are whipping boys. The sight of Arnab Goswami mocking Prof. Haragopal for giving an “academic analysis” was especially nauseating, compounded by his showing off about “Emily Durkheim” (sic!). Why bother to have a panel at all, if only hysterical calls for the army to be sent in to wipe out the Maoists count as ‘analysis’, and every other viewpoint is seen as biased?

The media’s vocabulary is also very limited. I remember a particular excruciating interview with Binayak Sen where he said he “decried” violence and the anchor repeatedly asked him if he “condemned” it. As far as I know, the two words mean roughly the same thing. Nowadays, even before the media asks me, I start shouting “I condemn, I condemn.” I wake up in my sleep shouting “I condemn.” I am scared to use other words to describe complex emotions, because the media is unable to understand anything else. More:

Romancing the revolution

Hartosh Singh Bal at 3quarksdaily:

Sixty-five years or so after India’s independence, conflicts that question the idea of a constitutional republic do not show any signs of dying down. A few deservedly get some attention, such as the one in Kashmir. The others, for instance the events in the northeast, hardly get noticed in the rest of India, leave alone the rest of the world. What is common to most of these conflicts is that they are localized along India’s borders where ideas of ethnicity, religion and belonging are contested. There is, however, one such conflict that escapes these categories – the armed struggle against the Indian state by Left-wing guerillas interchangeably termed Maoists or Naxalites.

Till recently the outside world had paid little attention to this conflict which stretches through a large part of the forested belt of central India, a belt also occupied by forest-dwelling tribes subsumed under the label `tribals’. As narratives of an emerging, liberalizing India have lost their novelty, correspondents both foreign and Indian have suddenly discovered a counter-narrative in the Maoists. Unfortunately though, the tribals already badly done in by the Indian state and the Maoists are being used again, as props in stories that show them as noble savages rescued from exploitation by gun-wielding Marxists. More:

Why I’d rather not be Anna

While his means might be Gandhian, Anna Hazare’s demands are most certainly not, writes Arundhati Roy in The Hindu

If what we’re watching on TV is indeed a revolution, then it has to be one of the more embarrassing and unintelligible ones of recent times. For now, whatever questions you may have about the Jan Lokpal Bill, here are the answers you’re likely to get: tick the box — (a) Vande Mataram (b) Bharat Mata ki Jai (c) India is Anna, Anna is India (d) Jai Hind.

For completely different reasons, and in completely different ways, you could say that the Maoists and the Jan Lokpal Bill have one thing in common — they both seek the overthrow of the Indian State. One working from the bottom up, by means of an armed struggle, waged by a largely adivasi army, made up of the poorest of the poor. The other, from the top down, by means of a bloodless Gandhian coup, led by a freshly minted saint, and an army of largely urban, and certainly better off people. (In this one, the Government collaborates by doing everything it possibly can to overthrow itself.) more

Chasing a chimera

Despite brave words from home minister P Chidambaram, the Indian government has failed to uproot the red flag of Maoism in large swathes of India, writes Praveen Swami in The Hindu

Eleven weeks after the annihilation of an entire company of the Central Reserve Police Force in a Maoist ambush in April 2010 near the village of Tarmetla — the largest single loss India has ever suffered in a counter-insurgency campaign — Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram had fighting words for the consultative committee which exercises parliamentary oversight of his Ministry. Mr. Chidambaram said the Chief Ministers of the four States worst hit by Maoist violence — Chhattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal and Jharkhand — had agreed to set up a unified command centre for joint operations. The Centre would help strengthen the police infrastructure and provide helicopters. The Planning Commission’s Member-Secretary would head an Empowered Group to monitor development projects in the most affected areas, thus draining the swamps of backwardness in which the Maoists thrived. “The government is confident,” he concluded, “that the problem of Left wing extremism will be overcome in the next three years.” Nothing that has happened since Mr. Chidambaram’s July 2010 address gives reason to believe his assertion. India’s Maoist insurgency has become progressively more lethal: last year, the MHA says, 1003 people were killed, up from 908 in 2009 and 721 in 2008. more

Is there a ban on reporting bad news from India?

The Independent‘s Asia correspondent, Andrew Buncombe, disagrees with  Arundhati Roy that foreign journalists in India have been asked not to report “negative” news.

Andrew Buncombe

It was the writer and activist Arundhati Roy who set foreign journalists in India busily chattering recently. In an interview with Stephen Moss in the Guardian, Ms Roy was discussing the Maoist and Adavasi “resistance” to encroachment on tribal lands. Mr Moss, asked her why, “we in the West don’t hear about these mini-wars?”. Ms Roy replied: “I have been told quite openly by several correspondents of international newspapers, that they have instructions – ‘No negative news from India’ – because it’s an investment destination. So you don’t hear about it. But there is an insurrection, and it’s not just a Maoist insurrection. Everywhere in the country, people are fighting.”

Mr Moss’s response was: “I find the suggestion that such an injunction exists – or that self-respecting journalists would accept it – ridiculous. Foreign reporting of India might well be lazy or myopic, [Thanks Stephen, that's very decent of you.] but I don’t believe it’s corrupt.”

I’ve been thinking about what both of them said, and discussing the matter with some colleagues based in India. I’ve never received a “no bad news” order from London and the colleagues I spoke with insisted that neither had they. Several things struck me:

In the last decade or so India has certainly been successful in re-branding its international image. Where once it was seen as a hopeless, overwhelmingly poor country, there has instead been focus on a newly aspirational middle-class and economic progress, the new “Shining India”. As a result, there are fewer stories about malnutrition (which still haunts huge numbers of Indians) but more about new airlines, coffee shops, call centres, the World Is Flat, eight per cent growth and the attendant changing structure of society, especially in urban India. Though things have probably shifted too much, the change in focus is understandable enough; the media is always looking for something new, something different, to report on. I also think that in India – as elsewhere in the world – the priorities of Western corporations sometimes find their way into the news agenda; every month or so, some article will ask when India will finally allow the likes of Wal-Mart and Tesco to operate here. More:

Arundhati Roy: ‘They are trying to keep me destabilised. Anybody who says anything is in danger’

Stephen Moss in The Guardian:

This is not an ideal beginning. I bump into Arundhati Roy as we are both heading for the loo in the foyer of the large building that houses her publisher Penguin’s offices. There are some authors, V S Naipaul say, with whom this could be awkward. But not Roy, who makes me feel instantly at ease. A few minutes later, her publicist settles us in a small, bare room. As we take our positions on either side of a narrow desk I liken it to an interrogation suite. But she says that in India, interrogation rooms are a good deal less salubrious than this.

Roy, who is 50 this year, is best known for her 1997 Booker prize-winning novel The God of Small Things, but for the past decade has been an increasingly vocal critic of the Indian state, attacking its policy towards Kashmir, the environmental destruction wrought by rapid development, the country’s nuclear weapons programme and corruption. As a prominent opponent of everything connected with globalisation, she is seeking to construct a “new modernity” based on sustainability and a defence of traditional ways of life.

Her new book, Broken Republic, brings together three essays about the Maoist guerrilla movement in the forests of central India that is resisting the government’s attempts to develop and mine land on which tribal people live. The central essay, Walking with the Comrades, is a brilliant piece of reportage, recounting three weeks she spent with the guerrillas in the forest. She must, I suggest, have been in great personal danger. “Everybody’s in great danger there, so you can’t go round feeling you are specially in danger,” she says in her pleasant, high-pitched voice. In any case, she says, the violence of bullets and torture are no greater than the violence of hunger and malnutrition, of vulnerable people feeling they’re under siege. More:

Also read FT interview

Mao-Mao Bhai-Bhai

From my friend Kunda Dixit‘s travel blog, EastWest at Nepali Times:

The images by Mustafa Quraishi of the Indian Maoist war could be straight out of our own insurgency from 1996-2006. The vegetation and red earth of rural Andhra Pradesh could be Dang Valley, the women guerrillas could be Tharu, the casual way in which firearms are carried by female fighters handling babies or walking in the forest are images familiar to us in Nepal.

The images are hung along the middle of the hall with the Frames of War exhibition of the Nepal conflict along the walls. Having them together forces one to look for the similarities, and how the Indian state seems to view the insurgency just as our own government and security forces did back then.

Here is a picture by Mustafa Quraishi of a woman guerrilla in Orissa holding a baby in a village. Compare with Kiyoko Ogura’s photograph from Rolpa of a Nepali Maoist woman fighter also holding a baby. More:

Amitava Kumar interviews Arundhati Roy

In Guernica:

Arundhati Roy speaking at Harvard University in April 2010. Image under CC

Guernica: How old were you when you first became aware of the power of words?

Arundhati Roy: Pretty old I think. Maybe two. I heard about it from my disappeared father whom I met for the first time when I was about twenty-four or twenty-five years old. He turned out to be an absolutely charming, unemployed, broke, irreverent alcoholic. (After being unnerved initially, I grew very fond of him and gave thanks that he wasn’t some senior bureaucrat or golf-playing CEO.) Anyway, the first thing he asked me was, “Do you still use bad language?” I had no idea what he meant, given that the last time he saw me I was about two years old. Then he told me that on the tea estates in Assam where he worked, one day he accidentally burned me with his cigarette and that I glared at him and said “chootiya” (cunt, or imbecile)—language I’d obviously picked up in the tea-pickers’ labor quarters where I must have been shunted off to while my parents fought. My first piece of writing was when I was five… I still have those notebooks. Miss Mitten, a terrifying Australian missionary, was my teacher. She would tell me on a daily basis that she could see Satan in my eyes. In my two-sentence essay (which made it into The God of Small Things) I said, “I hate Miss Mitten, whenever I see her I see rags. I think her knickers are torn.” She’s dead now, God rest her soul. I don’t know whether these stories I’m telling you are about becoming aware of the power of words, or about developing an affection for words… the awareness of a child’s pleasure which extended beyond food and drink.

Guernica: How has that early view changed or become refined in specific ways in the years since?

Arundhati Roy: I’m not sure that what I had then was a “view” about language—I’m not sure that I have one even now. As I said, it was just the beginnings of the recognition of pleasure. To be able to express yourself, to be able to close the gap—inasmuch as it is possible—between thought and expression is just such a relief. It’s like having the ability to draw or paint what you see, the way you see it. Behind the speed and confidence of a beautiful line in a line drawing there’s years of—usually—discipline, obsession, practice that builds on a foundation of natural talent or inclination of course. It’s like sport. A sentence can be like that. Language is like that. It takes a while to become yours, to listen to you, to obey you, and for you to obey it. I have a clear memory of language swimming towards me. Of my willing it out of the water. Of it being blurred, inaccessible, inchoate… and then of it emerging. Sharply outlined, custom-made.

Guernica: As far as writing is concerned, do you have models, especially those that have remained so for a long time?

Arundhati Roy: Do I have models? Maybe I wouldn’t use that word because it sounds like there are people who I admire so much that I would like to become them, or to be like them… I don’t feel that about anybody. But if you mean are there writers I love and admire—yes of course there are. So many. But that would be a whole new interview wouldn’t it? Apart from Shakespeare, James Joyce, and Nabokov, Neruda, Eduardo Galeano, John Berger, right now I’m becoming fascinated by Urdu poets who I am ashamed to say I know so little about… But I’m learning. I’m reading Hafiz. There are so many wonderful writers, my ancestors that have lived in the world.More:

India’s bold and brilliant daughter

Arundhati Roy took the world by storm 14 years ago with her book, The God of Small Things. Today, she is India’s harshest critic and its most fearless activist, writes Ian Jack in The Guardian.

Arundhati Roy will turn 50 this year. I hope to be excused of sexism (would one write this of a man?) when I say that she looks no more than 35 at most. Her vitality has always been striking. I remember her from one of her early visits to London as a slight, supple woman with an Indian cotton bag slung over her shoulder, and gleaming skin and hair that suggested yoga and aerobics, yoghurt and juice made from fresh limes. My wife had baked scones in her honour. Roy looked at the scones as though they might be deep-fried Mars bars, but eventually and daintily conceded to try one. In her bag was the manuscript of a first novel that was to make her famous and (by the standards of writers) rich, and though some of that future could have been predicted (the manuscript had caused a stir among publishers), no one could have foreseen the Booker prize and editions in 40 languages. What has happened since the success of The God of Small Things is even more surprising. Among Indian public intellectuals, a bright category that includes the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Roy is probably now her country’s most globally famous polemicist, as both a writer and speaker. Her essays are published across the world – the Guardian published a recent one in five parts – and she can pack out a big venue in New York and still have a few thousand listening outside. more

A nation consumed by the state

Ramachandra Guha in Outlook:

Let me begin with two epiphanies. A few years ago, I visited a book fair held on the seafront in Kochi. The local publishers were represented, as were Indian and foreign firms. In between the stall of Oxford University Press and a shop stocking Malayalam translations of the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin, I came across a man selling, of all things, pickles from Bikaner. His wares were contained in large open buckets, one containing aam ka murabba, another shalgam ka achar. I asked the young man how he had come from a far northern desert to participate in a book fair in this southern port. “Maine suna ki Keral mein mela lag raha tha,” he answered, “aur maine socha ki wahan ek dukan khol doon (I heard that there was some kind of fair on in Kerala, so I thought I would bid for a stall there).” Thus spoke a pickle-man in a salad bowl nation, adding his charmingly naive logic to an apparently illogical country.

Some months after this encounter, I was travelling by car from Patiala to Amritsar. It was a hot day, and the countryside was monotonous. I fell asleep, and woke when the car slowed down. We were now in the market town of Khanna. I scanned the buildings and their signs. One, particularly, caught my attention: it read, ‘Indian Bank, Khanna Branch, Head Office, Rajaji Salai, Chennai’. I was charmed and uplifted, sentiments that (especially for the young) perhaps need explaining. For ‘Rajaji’ was C. Rajagopalachari, the scholar-statesman who had been Governor-General of India, chief minister of Madras State, founder of the free-market Swatantra Party and author of best-selling versions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. In his person, he embodied all the Punjabi stereotypes about the Madrasi; he was slight, wore thick glasses, had never played a single sport or consumed an alcoholic beverage, and was vegetarian. Yet here was evidence of his enduring legacy in the Punjab, where—as that sign informed me—there were many whisky-guzzling, chicken-eating Sikh farmers banking their savings in an institution headquartered in Chennai on a road named after a dhoti-wearing, rasam-drinking, austere Tamil scholar.

The poet Wallace Stegner once remarked that “the tracing of ideas is a guessing game. We can’t tell who first had an idea—we can only tell who first had it influentially, who formulated it in some form, poem or equation or picture, that others could stumble upon with the shock of recognition”. So it is with the idea of India. Rabindranath Tagore used the phrase in a letter to a friend in 1921, writing that “the idea of India is against the intense consciousness of the separateness of one’s own people from others, which inevitably leads to ceaseless conflicts”. There may have been others who used the phrase before him. But it was only in 1997, when Sunil Khilnani used it as the title of his wonderful book, that his fellow citizens stumbled with a shock of recognition at what the idea of India represented. More:

Unsaid words

In Open magaine, Babita Pandey talks to Rahul Pandita about her husband journalist Hemchandra Pandey who was killed alongwith Maoist leader Azad in a police ‘encounter’ at Adilabad district, Andhra Pradesh.

“For the first time in my life,” says Babita Pandey, “I had a wifely chat with Hem a night before he was to leave for Nagpur.” They discussed how they never took a holiday in their eight years of marriage, she says. “I told him that there were so many things that had been left unsaid in our relationship, and that we needed to plan our lives.” She remembers his putting aside the book he was reading and smiling at her. She remembers his words. “He said our life is a part of the larger events that shape this society, and that it cannot be separated from what’s happening in India or elsewhere in the world.” more

The Binayak Sen case

The sin of Binayak Sen

Sudeep Chakravarti, author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country, in Open:

Does offering Binayak Sen hospitality in my home this past summer— an hour’s conversation and two glasses of kokum sherbet—constitute helping the Maoist cause, or an unlawful activity? In the eyes of law and justice as we know it in Chhattisgarh, it probably does.

We chatted about the need for Sen, then out on unconditional bail granted by the Supreme Court of India in May 2009, to rest after two years in jail; for his wife to recuperate from a tangle with cancer; and for the family to spend time together after a treacherous separation. I also suggested to Sen, a doctor who trained at Christian Medical College, Vellore, and human rights activist, that he begin to put his thoughts down on paper or into a tape recorder. What he had to say of his experiences in Chhattisgarh over several decades would make compelling reading. I offered to help him in the endeavour of a book.

I have two reliable witnesses: Sen’s wife Ilina and elder daughter Pranhita, who would both swear we did no wrong. In Chhattisgarh, this probably wouldn’t fly in the face of government gumption. In the last week of December, a Sessions Court in Raipur handed down to Sen on the flimsiest of evidence a sentence of life imprisonment for unlawful activities.

He was seen as aiding Maoists, first by visiting jailed Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal—with the written permission of Chhattisgarh police, and as representing the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, of which he was a vice-president. Then he was purported to have sent letters from Sanyal to a Kolkata-based businessman called Piyush Guha. A postcard from Sanyal found in Sen’s home—and presented as evidence—by the police contained details of Sanyal’s health and legal issues, and duly carried the seal of the jail authorities. The clinching testimony of Sen’s complicity was apparently provided by a cloth merchant, who claimed to have overheard conversations. More:

The case against Binayak Sen

A judge has found doctor and activist Binayak Sen guilty of sedition, criminal conspiracy and collusion with Maoists. Excerpts from his judgment in The Indian Express:

Image: The Indian Express

ARRESTS

4. The prosecution’s case in brief is that on 6 May 2007, following the orders of the SP, Raipur, a message was sent through the police control room, Raipur, to all police stations that SHOs concerned will frisk and inspect suspicious persons, suspected vehicles, hotels, lodges, inns, restaurants in their areas… Following the directive, a team of Ganj-Raipur police station under SHO B S Jagrit went out on a patrol on 6 May 2007. Around 4.10 pm they spotted the accused Piyush Guha rushing towards Raipur railway station… Naxali literature and periodicals were found inside his bag… After he failed to give a satisfactory reply, he was brought to Ganj station, where he was thoroughly questioned and his blue-black bag was inspected, in which besides the Naxali literature mentioned above, two periodicals related to Naxal support and programmes, Prabhat Patrika and three handwritten letters, two in English and one in Bengali, were found. The letters were addressed to another Naxali leader and were written encouraging terror and Naxal activities. An amount of Rs 49,000 was also recovered from Guha… During subsequent investigation, Guha said he had received the three letters from accused Binayak Sen. During investigation it was revealed that the letters related to Naxal activities were given to Sen in jail by imprisoned accused Narayan Sanyal; these were handed over by Sen to Guha to be mailed to secret code numbers mentioned in the letters.

EVIDENCE

5. During investigation and a search of Sen’s home, a postcard written by Sanyal to Sen, a letter by Naxal commander Madan Barkade imprisoned in Central Jail, Bilaspur, to Sen addressing him as “Comrade”, (and) eight CDs containing the conversation between Sen and women and children in villages of Salwa Judum and Narayanpur were seized… besides a letter written in English, a booklet containing objectionable articles related to banned Naxal groups, and a CPU. During investigation it was found that Naxal Narayan Sanyal, who is a member of the politburo in the biggest Maoist-Naxal organisation, committed violent Naxal activities and “sedition” during his stay in jail with the support of Sen and Guha, and Sanyal (was involved in) violent activities and gathering money by spreading Naxalism in urban and plains areas with the support of Guha and Sen … accused Sen… was arrested through a production warrant. More:

Also read in Mint:

Intellectuals and activists, including Noam Chomsky, Romila Thapar, Prabhat Patnaik, Ashok Mitra, Mushirul Hasan and Arundhati Roy, have stepped up protests against the “shocking” imprisonment of rights activist Binayak Sen and demanded immediate hearing of his appeal after granting him bail.

What if Arundhati Roy won the Nobel Peace Prize?

Rupa Subramanya Dehejia in WSJ:

“This year’s Nobel Peace Prize goes to Arundhati Roy for championing the cause of oppressed minorities in India, particularly Kashmiris and Maoists.”

This may be a dream for some and a nightmare for others but how would Indians react to this scenario? After all, in recent years, to most observers, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has been making bold and politically charged statements in their choice of laureates. So it would not be an outlandish possibility if Ms. Roy were to win or at any rate be shortlisted in the near future.

Much has been said, mostly critical, of China’s reaction to the awarding of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident and pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo. China has called him a “criminal” guilty of “inciting subversion of state power” and doing “everything possible to sabotage China’s development and stability.” Many national leaders, much of the international media and political activists all over the world think of Mr. Xiaobo as a champion of human rights and democracy through non-violent protest and therefore fully deserving of this prize.

Optics are everything and all depends on your perspective. Outside India, Ms. Roy is a darling of social activists on the left but is decried and reviled by many in India for her provocative statements that appear to question what many consider sacrosanct Indian values. Most recently, at a convention of political activists on Kashmir, she stated that Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. And earlier this year, she made remarks that were widely construed as sympathetic to the Maoist insurgency. More:

Naxalism is good, say over half in Andhra Pradesh: TOI poll

A poll conducted by the Times of India and IMRB finds a largely sympathetic view of naxalites in the formerly Maoist-dominated Telangana region as well as condemnation of the government and the means it is employing to tackle the problem.

India’s biggest internal security threat, as the Prime Minister famously described it, may be worse than you thought. That’s because even in Andhra Pradesh, where the battle against the Maoists has apparently been won, it turns out that the government is losing the battle for the minds and hearts of the people.

It’s a debate that’s been raging within the Congress, and outside it. Should the government adopt a largely law-and-order attitude towards the Maoists and deal with them like criminals or should the focus be more on cutting the ground from under their feet through a development agenda that wins over the population of the affected areas?  more

 

India’s hidden war

How India’s economic rise turned an obscure communist revolt into a raging resource war. Jason Miklian and Scott Carney in Foreign Policy:

The richest iron mine in India was guarded by 16 men, armed with Army-issued, self-loading rifles and dressed in camouflage fatigues. Only eight survived the night of Feb. 9, 2006, when a crack team of Maoist insurgents cut the power to the Bailadila mining complex and slipped out of the jungle cover in the moonlight. The guerrillas opened fire on the guards with automatic weapons, overrunning them before they had time to take up defensive positions. They didn’t have a chance: The remote outpost was an hour’s drive from the nearest major city, and the firefight to defend it only lasted a few minutes.

The guards were protecting not only $80 billion-plus worth of mineral deposits, but also the mine’s explosives magazine, which held the ammonium nitrate the miners used to pulverize mountainsides and loosen the iron ore. When the fighting was over and the surviving guards rounded up and gagged, about 2,000 villagers who had been hiding behind the commando vanguard clambered over the fence into the compound and began emptying the magazine. Altogether they carried out 20 tons of explosives on their backs — enough firepower to fuel a covert insurgency for a decade.

Four and a half years after the attack in the remote Indian state of Chhattisgarh, the blasting materials have spread across the country, repackaged as 10-pound coffee-can bombs stuffed with ball bearings, screws, and chopped-up rebar. In May, one villager’s haul vaporized a bus filled with civilians and police. Another destroyed a section of railway later that month, sending a passenger train careening off the tracks into a ravine. Smaller ambushes of police forces on booby-trapped roads happen pretty much every week. Almost all of it, local police told us, can be traced back to that February night.

The Bailadila mine raid was one of India’s most profound strategic losses in the country’s protracted battle against its Maoist movement, a militant guerrilla force that has been fighting in one incarnation or another in India’s rural backwaters for more than 40 years. Over the course of the half-dozen visits we’ve made to the region during the past several years, we’ve come to consider the attack on the mine not just one defeat in the long-running war, but a symbolic shift in the conflict: For years, the Maoists had lived in the shadow of India’s breakneck modernization. Now they were thriving off it. More:

The peril of having your words rendered suspect and aired nationally

Arundhati Roy in Outlook:

While the Indian government considers deploying the army and air force to quell the rebellion in the countryside, strange things are happening in the cities. On June 2, the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights held a public meeting in Mumbai. The main speakers were Gautam Navlakha, editorial consultant of the Economic and Political Weekly, and myself. The press was there in strength. The meeting lasted for more than three hours. It was widely covered by the print media and TV. On June 3, several newspapers, TV channels and online news portals like rediff.com covered the event quite accurately. The Times of India (Mumbai edition) had an article headlined ‘We need an idea that is neither Left nor Right’, and the Hindu’s article was headlined ‘Can we leave the bauxite in the mountain?’ The recording of the meeting is up on YouTube.

The day after the meeting, PTI put out a brazenly concocted account of what I had said. The PTI report was first posted by the Indian Express online on June 3 at 1.35 pm. The headline said: ‘Arundhati backs Maoists, dares authorities to arrest her’. Here are some excerpts:

“Author Arundhati Roy has justified the armed resistance by Maoists and dared the authorities to arrest her for supporting their cause. ‘The Naxal movement could be nothing but an armed struggle. I am not supporting violence. But I am also completely against contemptuous atrocities-based political analysis. It ought to be an armed movement. Gandhian way of opposition needs an audience, which is absent here. People have debated long before choosing this form of struggle,’ said Roy, who had saluted the ‘people of Dantewada’ after 76 CRPF and police personnel were mowed down by Maoists in the deadliest attack targeting security forces. ‘I am on this side of line. I do not care…pick me up put me in jail,’ she asserted.”

Let me begin with the end of the report. The suggestion that I saluted the “people of Dantewada” after the Maoists killed 76 CRPF and police personnel is a piece of criminal defamation. I have made it quite clear in an interview on CNN-IBN that I viewed the death of the CRPF men as tragic, and that I thought they were pawns in a war of the rich against the poor. What I said at the meeting in Mumbai was that I was contemptuous of the hollow condemnation industry the media has created and that as the war went on and the violence spiralled, it was becoming impossible to extract any kind of morality from the atrocities committed by both sides, so an atrocity-based analysis was a meaningless exercise. I said that I was not there to defend the killing of ordinary people by anybody, neither the Maoists nor the government, and that it was important to ask what the CRPF was doing with 27 AK-47s, 38 INSAS, 7 SLRs, 6 light machine guns, one stengun and a two-inch mortar in tribal villages. If they were there to wage war, then being railroaded into condemning the killing of the CRPF men by the Maoists meant being railroaded into coming down on the side of the government in a war that many of us disagreed with. More:

Arundhati Roy on Maoists

Video of the public lecture by Arundhati Roy and Gautam Navlakha June 2 in Mumbai, organised by the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights. It’s in 18 parts.

We can do without her moral certificates

In Mail Today, political philosopher Jyotirmaya Sharma, professor at Hyderabad University, critiques Arundhati Roy‘s long piece in Outlook on the Maoists, ‘Walking with the Comrades’.

Arundhati Roy’s essays remind me of two people. Their length and their tone of moral certitude remind me of Arun Shourie, the journalist. He landed ultimately in the BJP and now endorses every crime and misdemeanour of the BJP, including the 2002 post-Godhra riots and Narendra Modi’s role during that period. The second person that Roy’s writings remind me of is Carl Schmitt.

Those unfamiliar with Schmitt would do well to remember that he was Hitler’s apologist, wrote tracts that supported the Nazi regime. He found liberal democracy and parliamentarianism impotent and mediocre ways of organizing human societies. But even today, he is studied seriously for suggesting that in the age of technology, the only political relationship that is feasible is the one between friend and foe. The political for him lies in identifying the enemy and eliminating the enemy. There is, therefore, always an in-group and an out-group, those who belong and those who do not.

While Roy might use the word `fascist’ as a term of abuse, she is hardly aware that she, perhaps unconsciously, shares much with one of the most articulate and thoughtful apologists of the Nazi regime.

In romanticizing the naxals and justifying their violence, she is merely a victim of a philosophy that designates virtue and moral superiority to one section of the population and delineates the rest as morally and ethically compromised. It would be perfectly right to say that the naxals imitate the criminality of the state (a phrase paraphrased from Marx, no less), but to justify violence as a legitimate means of redressal of grievances is plainly silly. More:

Waiting in Nepal

Manjushree Thapa in The New York Times:

In her 1967 travelogue, the Irish writer Dervla Murphy described my homeland, Nepal, as a country that had just emerged from centuries of isolation, and was baffled about how to be part of the modern world. Most of what the Nepalese — and she — did was to wait for something to happen.

“We waited endlessly for everything,” Ms. Murphy wrote. “For glasses of tea to be carried on trays from the bazaar, for a policeman’s bunch of keys to be fetched from his home down the road, for an adjustable rubber stamp which would not adjust to be dissected (and finally abandoned in favor of a pen), for a passport officer to track down Ireland (whose existence he seriously questioned) in a dog-eared atlas from which the relevant pages had long since been torn, and for the chief customs officer, who was afflicted by a virulent form of dysentery, to withdraw to a nearby field between inspecting each piece of luggage.”

The main wait in Nepal, at present, is for an end to the nationwide general strike that began on Sunday. The Maoists, who led our Constituent Assembly until losing their coalition partners last year, have trucked tens of thousands of party cadres into Katmandu to enforce the strike. They are trying to stage what they call a “people’s movement” to form an all-party government — with the Maoists in control. More:

A tribal belief that maims — and kills — hungry children

A section of the front page of The Hindustan Times: Children show their scars in the photo by Arvind Kumar Sharma.

B Vijay Murty in The Hindustan Times:

A barbaric method of maiming and inadvertently killing hungry children in tribal India shows how the nation is failing its poorest and furthering the Maoist rebellion.

Children with distended bellies, characteristic of malnutrition and disease, routinely have red-hot iron rods plunged into their sides by superstitious, poverty-stricken tribal parents in the belief it will cure all stomach ailments.

Fatally injured or infected during this primitive procedure, several children die — there are no official figures — in a state where 17 of 24 districts are simultaneously classified by its own government as “food insecure” and “highly affected” by Maoists, who bank on the collapse of governance to aid their growing influence.

This is the belief: A child with a protruding belly has worms, which can be killed by plunging a red-hot iron through the sides of the stomach. More:

The man who would be king (for a second time)

Gyanendra was so unpopular when he ascended to the throne after the massacre of the Nepalese royal family that the country soon became a republic. Now he wants to return. Andrew Buncombe from Kathmandu in The Independent:

In a large room garishly furnished with a bright yellow carpet in Kathmandu’s Narayanhiti Palace, King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah appears to be smiling. It is not the real former monarch, of course. Since the spring of 2008 when Gyanendra was unceremoniously forced from his throne, the last in a line of Hindu monarchs stretching back 239 years, the only royalty to be found in this jarringly designed 1960s palace-turned-museum exist in photographs and portraits, such as the one in which the former ruler appears to be suppressing a grin. But is it an omen? Perhaps so. Two years after he was stripped of his title and ordered from his palace as the Himalayan nation declared itself a republic, the former king wants his old job back.

Seizing on seemingly widespread discontent with Nepal’s political parties and growing public anxiety over everything from power cuts to the failure to agree a constitution, the 62-year-old apparently believes he may be the solution to Nepal’s problems. In his first proper interview since losing his throne, Gyanendra recently claimed he did not believe the institution of Nepal’s monarchy was over. “I don’t think it has ended… When you turn the pages of history of the nation, such coming and going has been consistent,” he told a local television channel. More:

Mao vs. Gandhi in Chhattisgarh

Salil Tripathi in the Wall Street Journal:

Maoist insurgents ambushed Indian security forces in the dense forest region of Chhattisgarh state in central India on Tuesday, killing over 70 troops of the Central Reserve Police Force. Analysts are calling it the worst single-day loss in fighting domestic insurgencies.

But despite such massacres, not everyone in India regards the Maoists with horror. One such apologist is the talented and articulate novelist Arundhati Roy who has, since her Booker Prize-winning 1997 novel “The God of Small Things,” focused on bigger things, such as attacking Indian economic reforms, foreign investment, free markets, the United States and Israel.

In a rambling 19,500-word essay published a week ago in Outlook magazine in India and the Guardian newspaper, Ms. Roy writes of recent experiences following the Maoists in the Dandakaranya forest, near where the security forces were ambushed this week. The piece was headlined “Gandhi, but with guns.”

The comparison is obscene. Not only does it suggest an amoral nihilism, it also represents a rewriting of history. A Gandhian with a gun is as absurd as a Maoist pacifist. India’s founding father Mohandas Gandhi may not have been as perfect as some would make him out, but he did believe that only the right means could be used to reach an end, however noble. In 1922 he suspended a nationwide civil disobedience movement, when some Congress followers burned a police station in Chauri Chaura, killing over a dozen policemen and officers. Maoist ideology is precisely the opposite: The ends justify the means. More:

From The Independent: Who are the Naxalites?

What do the rebels want?

Theoretically, the leadership of the movement says they are committed to a “protracted armed struggle” in order to seize power from the state. Yet the Maoists also stress that they are fighting to protect the rights of India’s most oppressed communities, the adivasis or tribal people, and dalits, or untouchables, whose land and resources have often been taken by Indian and international corporations. While some of the rebel leaders were originally educated urbanites, their rank-and-file fighters are made up overwhelmingly of tribal people and other marginalised people. The government routinely claims that the rebels are opposed to development and progress, yet GN Saibaba, an activist and professor at Delhi University, said: “The government has no other explanation to offer for why there is an uprising. It is not true that the Maoists are against development but the questions they ask is ‘whose development’ and ‘what sort of development’.” More:

Clock ticks for Nepal to settle its future

Jim Yardley from Kathmandu in The New York Times:

For anyone living in a country where reforming health care is regarded as an insurmountable challenge, consider the political calendar in the struggling Himalayan republic of Nepal. By May 28, or roughly four months off, the entire country must be reorganized.

First, a new constitution has to be drafted to reaffirm fundamental rights for Nepalese citizens, restructure the national government and create states in a country where none previously existed. The positions of president and prime minister (the king has been deposed) must be clarified: Should the country have a directly elected, powerful executive? Or should a parliamentary system prevail?

Then there is the army. Or armies. Two of them. One is the Nepalese Army. The other is the People’s Liberation Army controlled by the country’s Maoists. For a decade, the two sides fought a savage guerrilla war. Now the peace plan stemming from a 2006 accord calls for blending them together, except no one can agree how to do it, so both armies remain intact, resistant to civilian oversight and increasingly testy. More:

Arundhati Roy: in defence of India’s Maoists

From Outlook:

Arundhati Roy

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 has 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 Aggarwal, 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. More:

Maoist who went to India’s best school

From the Indian Express:

They had not seen him in years but today, when the frail, white-haired, 60-plus was being led away by police, many recognised Kobad Ghandy instantly. There was no mistaking him despite the white hair – he was the “Doon School boy” from the “huge house at Worli Seaface in Bombay” who went on to chase chartered accountancy in London before quitting it all to return home.

And after all these years, he was suddenly on TV screens, arrested for being a key politburo member of the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist). Police said Ghandy was assigned the task of spreading Maoist influence in urban areas, running its publication wing. He was also alleged to have been in touch with global ultra-Left organisations.

The transformation of Ghandy always puzzled friends who recalled his “privileged childhood” from “a well-to-do Parsi family” in Worli Seaface. “His father was a top official in a big pharmaceutical company. They were affluent, had a huge house and quite a lifestyle in Bombay then,” said one of his friends. More:

The Kobad Gandhy I knew

Jyoti Punwani in the Hindustan Times:

Kobad Ghandy was among the three who signed as witnesses at my marriage. His family’s ice cream was served there, much to the distaste of older guests who frowned at the strawberry chunks in a dessert supposed to be smooth and synthetic.

Kentucky’s – a name straight from ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ – was one of the two companies to introduce fresh fruit ice cream in Mumbai; its strawberries were sourced from Mahabaleshwar, where the Ghandys owned a hotel.

Fresh strawberry was the flavour that rewarded us at the end of our study circle afternoons in the vast, empty expanse of Kobad’s sea-facing flat. And scrambled eggs with sausages was the breakfast Kobad served before sitting down to explain Marx’s confounded ‘Wage, Labour, Capital’.

Decades later, whenever Kobad and wife Anuradha met, he made it a point to cook the special chicken she relished. Such meetings were rare, because both were underground Naxalites, working in different areas. And on the extremely rare occasions that Kobad dropped in from nowhere to meet his old friends, he would hover round the kitchen, picking up cooking tips and cooking himself. More:

Previously in AW:

‘The astonishing embrace of nonsense’

Armed with the experience that tackled Punjab militancy, “supercop” KPS Gill reports on Lalgarh for the Telegraph. In a daring attack, Maoist rebels, who are expanding their influence across the country, had “captured” this rural town  just 170 km (100 miles) from Kolkata, the capital of the communist-ruled state of West Bengaland, and declared it a “liberated zone”.

kpsgillAs I briefly toured West Midnapore district during the police action in Lalgarh (I was prevented from going into the affected area on “security” grounds), the most dramatic lessons of the crisis, through all its phases – the slow build-up over seven months of state denial, appeasement and progressive error; paralysis in the face of rising Maoist violence; and the final, almost effortless resolution, as the rebels simply melted away in the face of the first evidence of determined use of force – were abundantly clear to me: the complete absence of historical memory in the institutions of the state, and the need for each administration to repeatedly reinvent the wheel.

The West Bengal government is not the first to go through this fruitless cycle; or the first to allow immeasurable harm to be inflicted on its citizens as a result of what is nothing more than the suspension of common sense. Right from my days in Assam, I have seen this cycle afflict virtually every administration confronted with the threat of terrorism across the country – even in theatres of eventual and exceptional counter-terrorism success.

After visiting Midnapore and talking to various people, including police officers, I learned that the operations essentially comprised marching into areas supposedly infested by Naxalites. In the early 1970s, when the Naxalites started setting up cells in the district that I was then heading in Assam, we had relied on building up intelligence so as to pinpoint the hideouts of the Naxalite leadership. I recall that we had identified 85 such places, and when we raided these places, we were able to arrest 74 Naxalites, virtually breaking the back of the movement in the state. More:

The hungry tide

Reading Sudeep Chakravarti‘s nuanced account of India’s Maoist movement, Toral Gajarawala wonders why the country’s Anglophone novelists have so persistently avoided the crisis of nationalism it represents. From the National:

red-sunIn Siddhartha Deb’s English-language novel An Outline of a Republic, a journalist from Calcutta is sent to the Indo-Burmese border to investigate an insurgent group called the Movement Organised to Resuscitate Liberation Struggle (MORLS). As he travels to the edge of the country via Delhi, Calcutta, Imphal and Kohima, his progress is slowed by broken-down buses, bribes and border patrols. Along the way, we hear scattered rumours about the “ultras”, as the revolutionaries are called, but we see them in just a single archival photograph. In Moreh, a small city along the border, the journalist spots some armed men in camouflage in a forest clearing, “but it was impossible to tell if they were a government unit or an insurgent outfit”. We never meet members of MORLS, or learn much about their political programme. We do, however, learn quite a bit about the journalist: in the end, the insurgency in the Northeast serves as a backdrop for his story, his search, his demands.

Sudeep Chakravarti’s Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country is not a novel, but it follows a similar journey: the slow voyage of a journalist (Chakravarti himself) towards the dark heart of an Indian rebellion. In this case, the insurgents in question are the country’s Maoist guerrillas, often referred to as the Naxalites. In documenting the current state of the Naxalites, Chakravarti does what Indian literature in English has avoided doing for the last five decades; that is, he investigates (often at the level of daily experience) a political movement that exists outside of the electoral, the parliamentary and the sanctioned – and poses serious questions about the future of a country. More: