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Crunch Time for India: Who Speaks for the People?


I

 

As violence in four or five Indian states—Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal—comes to a boil, the State blames the Maoists and the Maoists blame the State.

 

The hardliners in government and outside who advocate using the army and, yes, air-power, in these regions are dubbed bloodthirsty rightists hand-in-glove with national and international corporate interests by sections of civil society opinion, and opinion-makers who counsel against a military approach to the “Maoist” problem are in turn maligned as clandestine Maoist sympathizers who are deemed to deserve all the rigours of  the  Unlawful Activities Act.

 

While these contentions occupy centre-stage in the media, the tribal populations in the affected regions continue to suffer from both ends. And if ever that suffering finds mention, it does so as a very subsidiary incidental   On either side of the contention, the fight seems so much more for occupying or reclaiming territory than for the  hearts and minds of the  people who have lived there for aeons. 

 

The only choice the adivasis seem to have is to make a determination from day to day as to which side they might be more secure for the contingent moment. Even as such determinations do not render them much more than  “flies to wanton boys” who kill them  for the larger purpose of either saving  the State from those who would overthrow it or of forging a new State wherein they would be equal partners in its ownership.

 

II

 

It may be time to record some straightforward  perceptions, and  hope that these find some purchase among those who  are on the side of the tribals rather than of the State or the Maoists.

 

Yes, there is little doubt that the State over the last two decades has come to represent more and more blatantly the interests of the greedy wall street Gekkos. The money-bags, homegrown and of foreign vintage, who  rule  its deliberations and its political economy want everything and at any cost.  So that whatever laws there exist for the protection of forests, fertile lands in the possession of rightful owners and users, mineral wealth buried underneath that the Constitution stipulates is the natural property of the people (recently so  adjucated by the Supreme Court of India in back-to-back judgements), for environmental protection of  all these and water resources as well, are deemed to be a rank nuisance standing in the way of “national development” and rapid GDP growth.

 

Such interests require that the State not interfere with this marauding activity, but be nonetheless at the ready to quell  "misguided busybodies" who resist their operations.  A form indeed of homegrown colonialism wherein an unequal ownership of resources is thought coterminous with the  laws of nature, and where the state apparatus have but the one task of keeping the natives in their place.  The natives in this case being the real natives called the adivasis—if you like, analogues of the  native Americans of the nineteenth century.  Those were “red,” these are considerably darker, and thus even less deserving from a racial point of view.

 

It is not a wonder that elements even within the ruling party not only see the truth of this, but off and on have been picking up courage to make the point, to the chagrin of the current minister of Home affairs who seeks a broader mandate from his government to go hammer and tongs at the Maoists, army, airforce and all, but thankfully doesn’t get that mandate yet.

 

Even more hearteningly, in two recent landmark judgements, the Supreme Court of India has boldly enunciated these truths—one bearing on the internecine feud between the Ambani brothers (see my “Return to the People What is the People’s” Znet, May 10), and the other since, calling upon the State to make “land losers beneficiaries of acquisition” (The Hindu, May, 17) by dumping the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894, and orienting industrial and mining activity to the benefit not just of the marauders but of the local populations as well by making them long-term stake-holders.

 

III

 

The questions that the Maoists must ask themselves with greater selflessness than they may have  are  the following:

 

Is a hinterland warfare calculated to overthrow the State best suited to altering “the condition of India”?

 

Does such warfare in any objective assessment of  the State they oppose  stand  a chance of  success in any teleological sense?

 

Or is it more advisable to weaken not the armed might but the hegemony of the State by working  patiently to build  a peaceful. democratic mass movement in these regions, and extend that movement to link up with oppressed peoples through the length and breadth of India?

 

We do not think hinterland warfare is the answer to the  perfidious content and operation of the Indian State.

 

We think that far from any real prospect of  overthrowing the State, such insistence only risks more and more alienating  masses of Indians from those who may have their welfare at heart, both because  violence is abhorrent in itself, and because such violence is realistically seen to have no objective prospect of success, except in according greater justification to the State to unleash greater violence.

 

And, in a country as big and as diverse as India it would be nothing but abysmal cynicism to argue the case that the more violence the State unleashes the better the prospects of defeating it through armed struggle.

 

Not less significantly, not many are clear as to what dispensation might emerge in the unlikely possibility that the State truly is overthrown.  And not without reason.  Like it or not,  there are few examples  available here to enthuse those who share the critique that the Maoists offer of the State. Nor does China offer a heartening instance.  How does it help the cause of justice to have a State under totalitarian political control but dedicated to profiteering on a humongous scale? Like it or not, the collapse of the Soviet Union did lead to exposures of unlovely things in the erstwhile “socialist” world, such as have tended to make bourgeois democracy a  lesser evil, warts and all.

 

As far back as 2006, this writer had pleaded with the Maoists to ponder the events in Nepal (“India, Nepal, and Left Praxis,” Znet, May 6, 2006).  It can hardly be argued that Indian Maoists are better placed in a subcontinental land like India than their counterparts were in a small and vastly more homogenous country like  Nepal.

 

IV

 

And the questions that the State must ponder are the following:

 

How much longer do you think you can run a democracy only in name?

 

Are you not struck by the prophetic admonition that Ambedkar had given you on the very day the  Constitution was promulgated in 1950—that  precisely what we see happening now in 2010 would inevitably happen if India remained merely a political democracy, yielding one person/one vote but refusing to graduate to a social and economic democracy as well, wherein  one person/one vote would transmogrify into one/person/one vote/one value?

 

Do you imagine it is the Maoists alone who are fighting you?  You  say you allow democratic opposition; but what is the fate of those who have chosen to oppose you democratically and peacefully?  Do you not relegate and trample over them?  Do you ever remember an Irom Sharmila who has been fasting for a decade on one single just demand in Manipur?  And what of those thousands who have sought to peacefully resist your marauding onslaught as you build unconscionable dams, protect the murderous perpetrators of genocide, be it in Bhopal or Gujarat or wherever, or who face you with bare bones in Orissa to protect their land and inheritance from the tycoons who would rape the land for wealth?

 

How long do you expect to run this democracy which leaves half its children malnourished and incapacitated for the right to life, which leaves half its women anaemic and illiterate, where in absolute terms the poor outnumber the poor of any country in the world?  Where  indeed  some ten billionaires own more assets than some 400 million Indians?

 

Where upper castes still rub the lower ones in the dust, where kangaroo courts of puissant jats decree death sentences to those that would live their own lives as the law of the land allows them to, and draw cabinet ministers to their support?

 

Where farmers commit suicide by the lacs while you argue the case for multinationals who  seek to appropriate  Indian agriculture by the jugular?

 

Where despite your legislations, more than two-thirds of Indians cannot go to a doctor or buy the medicines they require, not to speak of adequately nutritious food? 

 

Where the biggest of big fish skim off thousands of crores of public money without the least hair loss?

 

Where all your claims on behalf of rationality and science are done in by scoundrels who  amass  millions as “godmen”, drawing sustenance from the allegiance of the highest on high?

 

Where whole communities feel at the receiving end of prejudice, while perpetrators of other hue find succor, protection, and excuse?

 

 And where those who speak for  justice  are dubbed enemies of the State?

 

V

 

It should be obvious that India needs to be reclaimed and rescued both from the State and those who engage in self-defeating hinterland warfare.

 

What would Gandhi have done?

 

Walk from end to end of this beleaguered country, building bonds of self-respect, courage, love, and peaceful mass reistance. 

 

We believe whether or not he would have succeeded  (at Champaran he did, would he have at the Poscoe site?), that is the way we need to go.  The cure for the ills of democracy is not a denial of democracy but insistently more democracy.

 

And more democracy can happen only when masses of people shame the State from its own hypocritical postulates and shame it into yielding  economic control of the wealth of the nation besides the right merely to cast the vote. And when men and women of all castes and all religions come together to say “NO” to brutal obscurantisms that flourish at the behest of the haves who can provide money for unleashing both  caste wars and religious riots.

 

And when men and women, remembering Gandhi, face those bullets, lose lives, but refuse to descend to the cruel bestialities practiced by oppressors of all persuasions and denominations.

 

Let the Indian democratic revolution begin.

 

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