Salwa Judum: The state as instigator of war between peoples

It has been one of the criticisms of the Left Front government in West Bengal that at one point during the Nandigram episode the state stood aside while two groups of the farming community engaged in armed violence.

That this did happen for a week or so is true enough, the defensive shamefacedness of the West Bengal government notwithstanding.

What is, however, deeply disingenuous is the fact that the raucous hullabaloo about that lapse should have been and continues to be raised by political forces that have demonstrably instituted a civil war among tribal communities in the BJP-led state of Chattisgarh. All true to the British-colonial pattern of killing two birds with one stone; namely, getting Indians to fight among themselves while creaming off the fruits of their labour.

For more than a year now the government in Chattisgarh, supported, it must be said, by some local Congress stalwarts, has quarantined some fifty thousand tribals in make-shift camps away from their homes, provided them arms of primitive make, and obliged them to fight the naxalites—all against their will.

These marginalized unfortunates are thus used as human shields behind whom the state hides both its impotence and its unwillingness to redress the circumstances which make naxalism possible and which oppress the tribal communities seamlessly.

 The armed groups thus formed are called salwa judum.

It is instructive to recall that the great successes of the right-wing hindu majoritarians in the state of Gujarat owed to similar protracted indoctrination: there the disenfranchised mill workers and deforested adivasis were told that their misery owed not to the exploitation engendered by class-rule but to the muslims who were usurping all their opportunities of employment and trade.


In pursuance of a report on the goings-on (salwa judum) submitted by a group of public-spirited civil society intellectuals, the matter landed in the supreme court of India,

Most hearteningly, the court has now pronounced that the state in Chattisgarh is clearly guilty of criminalizing society and of abetment in the crimes thereof. Interestingly, some print media who remain entirely in sympathy with the neo-liberal economic policies of the government in Delhi and in the states, have lauded the court pronouncement editorially (Hindustan Times, April 2).

Yet neither the honourable supreme court nor those sections of the urban elite who sense the dangers inherent in such a collapse of ‘order’ and of the legitimacy of the state, unsurprisingly, go as far as to entertain any macro-historical question bearing on such a collapse.

Be it the dispossession of tribals from forest rights, or of small farming communities from land rights, or the guzzling of mineral and water resources in the hinterlands by multinational corporations who have now acquired a fatal stake in the seeds and food industry, none of this is seen to be at the bottom of the violence that now afflicts sizeable parts of India.   Such a read is duly ascribed to Leftist propaganda which is then seen to be instigating the ‘red terror’ called naxalism.

The state is thus faulted just for its failure actually to put down such terror by a concerted force of arms—a demand that, incidentally, is never made in the case of the fascists pogroms routinely conducted by the right-wing Hindutva forces against religious minorities. Be it Guajrat, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan where muslims and christians are constantly subject to one harassment or the other, often involving the desecration and arson of their places of worship, laws continue to be passed making the freedom of worship and propagation—guaranteed by the Constitution of India—as hazardous as can be.

These historical concatenations involve a tragic paradox.

At a time when the ‘developed’ western world is beginning to see and to rue the ravages wrought upon the earth by unmitigated capitalism, the ruling classes in India wish to do nothing as much as to repeat all those procedures of capitalist social development that inform the history of the modern west. We resent very much the fact that we should be asked to abort that grand opportunity in   cutting down on greenhouse emissions and other unsustainable forms of production by those who have had their day in the sun, and, truth to tell, who even now are unwilling to practice what they preach.

There may well be the truth of envy and of accumilated historical wrong in such resentment; the fact nonetheless remains that the luxury of replicating the history of the ‘developed’ west is no longer an option that countries like India can afford.

For one thing, the resource base neither of land nor of water allows the thought; for another, so gruesome has become the hold of multinational corporate wealth over these as well as elementary sustenance levels of food that the ravages of international finance capital, if permitted the play that ‘globalisation’   intends  it should, spells doom to the very existence of the nation-state and to its soverign rights to manage its own affairs to the good of the mass of its population (supposing that to be an object at all).

Indeed, the argument strenuously propagated by international finance institutions—all at the service of American national interests as those interests are conceptualized by the American establishment—that joining in with the global gravy train promises to bring most bonanzas to the ‘developing’ world has now run thinner than thin; to the extent that notable erstwhile advisers to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, including some Nobel laureates, are no longer willing to buy their own best advice of yore. In political terms, the repudiation of that paradigm is nowhere more in evidence than in the sequential victory at the hustings the world over of forces that have thus far been in the doghouse.


The two major political formations in India—Congress and the BJP—nonetheless remain wedded to the dream of superpower greatness which we are told ad nauseum necessitates a continued recourse to ‘reform’ (read a faithful implementation of the terms of the Washington Consensus of 1990).

No surprise that perfectly sold-out private channels and other print media ascribe such things as the violence and vigilantism in India’s hinterland not to neo-liberal economics but indeed to a deplorable insufficiency of it. In one and the same breath, cocksure but amusingly ignorant anchors thump the microphone to charge the government of the day for being queasy on ‘reform’ and uncaring of the poverty that afflicts some three fourths of India’s population who spend less than a dollar a day.

Just as, in the meanwhile, the government sloganises about the common man while fully implementing the agenda of the super-rich.

Where then is the surprise that naxalism and the ever-widening rash of social unrest in not just far-off swathes of India but here in Delhi as well is seen not as a problem related to or issuing from India’s chosen political economy but as a law -and-order problem. To an extent that scions of India’s new middle-class when polled by media channels endorse wholeheartedly the practice of ‘encounter killings’ by ‘ace’ cops—instant liquidations of human beings who have neither been brought to trial nor pronounced guilty by a court of law.

The whole idea is to clean the realm of such nuisance as impedes the full and free reign of the ‘meritorious’ entrenched. Organised vigilantism is thus seen as the need of the hour. And none better than the salwa judum kind which pits one nuisance against its counterpart, leaving the ‘developers’ to do the job they do best—fleece on all sides.

What is not sufficiently registered is the fact that vigilantism can happen from both ends of the social spectrum. As indeed is happening with feverish pace.

If to the corporates the state loses legitimacy when it fails to orient policy to its garguantian appetites, to the mass of Indians it loses legitimacy when it fails to deliver either equity or justice, as seems to happen most of the time. The result of that is that the sphere within which the state carries any conviction dwindles with every passing day: it loses to globalised predators, and it loses to its own people. And its pathetic balancing rhetoric as between the requirements of ‘development’ and of ‘inclusive’ growth  increasingly seems just that—pathetic rhetoric.


It is to be much doubted that states like India, all the hype notwithstanding, can escape major upheavals unless the hitherto unquestioned assumptions behind the Capitalist way of life are subject to critique and amelioration (at the least); and by amelioration is not meant some cosmetic doling out of benefits towards hustings time. 

For this rethink to happen, no time seems more propitious than now when the American economy—that indubitable model—is in recessionist doldrums, and when, perish the thought, ‘regulation’ seems to have overtaken its free flight.

Nothing short of setting and pursuing altered social and community goals, of reconceptualising the value of labour, land, forest wealth, the distributive agencies and institutions that are thus far mere pawns in the hands of those that succeed evermore in centralizing capital, the reassessment of the cosequences that must ensue (indeed are ensuing) if adequate water and food sustenance is denied three fourths of Indians, and if they continue to be consigned to ignorance and ill-health without credible recourse is likely to address the situation that bids fair to spread from the hinterlands to the metropolises. 

When the corporates are so told, their predictable riposte is to snigger that a recipe for redistributing poverty is yet again being peddled.

It is time they pondered that the tiger is now roaming the cities, and salwa judums are but a poor remedy.


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