Dantevada & War on Tribal Terror

The ghastly massacre of about 74 (or perhaps more; there is no universally acceptable figure) CRPF Jawans by the Naxals has evoked sharp reactions across political spectrum. While debates rage over what our attitude to the paramilitary forces, on whether the government should use Air Power against the Naxals or not, one needs to understand and analyse why the Maoists are on the suicidal course.

Reactions to the guerrilla ambush ranged from “its time we cracked down on these Maoists’ (the common response) to “these men were there to attack the Maoists so they must have expected to be ambushed” (the view of the radical chic lunatic fringe). But the entire political class is united for taking on the Maoists, whose insurgency has been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the biggest internal threat in recent years. The government, allies, former allies and BJP have supported the anti Naxal offensive.

But a small mention in the inside pages of my newspaper, of reprimand issued by the Congress in a rather restrained language against senior Congress leader and former Madya Pradesh CM Digvijay Singh caught my attention.

Little research and boom…. In his signed article in one of the English dailies, Digvijay differed with Chidambaram’s approach of treating the Naxalite issue as a law and order problem alone. He, in fact urged the government to frame its anti-Maoist strategy. In what seemed to be a rather personal attack, Digvijay wrote “I have known P Chidambaram since 1985 when we both were elected to Parliament. He is extremely intelligent, articulate, committed and a sincere politician, but extremely rigid once he makes up his mind. I have been a victim of his intellectual arrogance many times….” Making a reference to Chidambaram’s propensity to describe anyone critical of the Operation Green Hunt as Maoist sympathisers, Digvijay wrote there is a suspicion that “the real intend of the state’s strong action against the Maoists is to facilitate the mining giants that have signed MoUs with the state.”

Is this line of thinking a digression from the key issue of Maoist mayhem? Why the prime objective of the Maoists is to overthrow the State? Is it because they believe the State gives land to the mine owners to extract iron ore and other minerals and deprive the tribal of his traditional right to use the land and forest produce? Why are the Naxalite strongholds the Chhattisgarh, Jharkand, Bihar, Orissa, AP and Bengal belt, which is rich with natural resources? Are nearly all of the Maoist leaders not intellectuals from colleges and cities, who feel comfortable in the isolation of their forested hideouts and headquarters? Why are they able to brainwash the poor tribal people to rise and use bows and arrows, their traditional weapons, against the security forces as the first charge or line of attack prior to the second or third of well armed and well trained cadres? Why is the ‘calm, composed and competent darling of the India’s liberal media getting all worked up when it comes to tribals and unwashed Naxal Maoists? Why does he brand well meaning intellectuals as Naxalite-extremists? What prompted such a ghastly attack?

Let us recap the incidents before the ghastly attack. The Naxal’s had offered a 72-day conditional ceasefire to the government on Feb 25 2010, which the government scoffed at. Chidambaram termed the truce offer by the Maoist leader Kishenji as “bizarre”. When Chidambaram visited Lalgarh on April 4, everyone expected a series of confidence building measure to enthuse the Maoist cadres to eschew violence and return to main stream. But Chidambaram tried to pass the buck to states (He got a befitting reply from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who wanted him to work more and speak less and control his ‘tone and tenor’) In his usual style Chidambaram added that the Maoists were “cowards hiding in jungle” and fixed a 3 year timeframe for their elimination. The Maoists hit back in 48 hours, butchering the hapless CRPF Jawans. A rattled Chidambaram hurriedly termed the Maoists “savage” as if the whole issue hinged on the adjectives he used.

Immediately after taking over as Home Minister Chidambaram had mandated the Operation Green Hunt – to clear the tribal area of insurgent groups, hold the territory to ensure the Maoists can’t re-enter and, finally prepare the ground for development projects by ‘civilian agencies’. Read again, this sure doesn’t read like a mandate for counter insurgency mission in the jungles where paramilitary forces are expected to ‘fight guerrillas like a guerrilla’ and not capture or hold territory. But then for whom is this mandate intended?

A look at the interests of the London based MNC – Vedanta Resources Plc, (www.vedantaresources.com), one of the World’s largest mining company – gives enough clues. Of India’s total Aluminium capacity of 1.3 million tonnes, Vedanta’s share is 0.3 million tonnes. Its 0.5 million tonne smelter in Orissa’s Jharsuguda is getting commissioned and the company will ultimately create 1.6 million tonnes of smelting capacity there, to be backed by a 5 million-tonne alumina refinery at Lanjigarh and a power complex of 3,750 MW. Its subsidiary BALCO (Bharat Aluminium Company, the erstwhile public sector unit put on the block, as far back as in 2001, by the NDA Government and controlling stake acquired by Sterlite Industries, a group company of Vedanta for consideration of Rs. 551.50 crores) has its capacity upgraded to 1 million tonnes.

In Lanjigarh alone Vedanta has access to bauxite deposits of 75 million tonnes and the government has promised an equally large deposit nearby. A 5 million tonne refinery is justified provided links to bauxite deposits lasting for about 50 years can be acquired. Orissa, where most of Vedanta’s aluminium action is to unfold, has an estimated 1.7 billion tones of reserves. Vedanta claims to free deposits because of the world’s single largest smelter it is committed to building at Jharsuguda. If Vedanta has its way all this capacity will be on the ground by 2013 and to realise its mission to ‘put India on the global metals and mining map’.

But there is problem. These reserves lie under the tribal forestland. It all depends if the ruling class can secure and deliver this land, a task Chidambaram has taken upon himself. But why Chidambaram is the points-man and why is all the parties of different hues steadfastly behind the Home Minster?

Answer to this goes back to 2003, when Chidambaram was cooling his heals, when NDA Government was in power. He represented Sterlite Industries (with 59.9% ownership with Vedanta) before the Bombay High Court, when it faced charges of avoiding customs duties and tax evasion. Shortly afterward Chidambaram became a director on the board of Vedanta and only surrendered this job on May 22, 2004 – a day before taking up the position of Finance Minister of India in the UPA Government.

The fact that our Honourable Home Minster P Chidambaram had a close relationship with Vedanta raises a serious question about the motive, agenda and mandate of Operation Green Hunt.

With an orchestrated neo-liberal media baying for ‘full-scale war’, Chidambaram have started gun-wielding area-domination operations. This time around commandos of the Special Action Force who have been specially trained to fight Naxals are deployed. Tribals are fleeing their villages but the political class is united in the fight. The BJP which rules the states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and in partnership in Bihar and Orissa has a lot at stake. The Left blames the Maoists for supporting Mamtha Banerjee and aiding their defeat in the last General Election, is looking for payback. Poor Mamtha yet again caught napping, thunders and declare that there are no Maoists in West Bengal.

So while ideological unity with the ‘war of tribal terror’ (let me borrow from my favourite President Bush) do not deserve even a modicum of attention, what behooves on the Government of India and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is to train adequate attention to economic welfare that can result wiping out of class struggle. Naxal movement sure is a class struggle. Let us stop the possibility of the emergence of a skewed national economic scenario that would leave certain sections of the population high and dry, while the mining giants plunder our natural resources in the name of ‘putting India on the global metals and mining map’.

If the Maoists believed in shooting their way to revolutionary glory, Chidambaram seems to believe in shooting off his mouth and jumping the gun with his thoughtless rhetoric. The aspect, poor Digvijay Singh couldn’t articulate well is the lack of ‘moral authority’, blatant ‘high-handedness’ and even graver ‘conflict of interest’ on the part of the Home Minister.

Illustration Credit : The Red Corridor courtesy Wikipedia.

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