Wednesday, April 21, 2010

India’s gravest threat

G S VasuFirst Published : 21 Apr 2010 10:56:00 PM ISTLast Updated : 21 Apr 2010 12:25:41 AM IST

I am amused by the nature of the discourse that has taken place ever since the Maoists carried out the biggest ever attack on Indian security forces in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh last fortnight. Did the CRPF men walk into a trap? Should we use the army? Will use of unmanned aircraft help? These have been the typical questions that have been raised but we are unwilling to discuss why this is happening.

And I am not the only one who is amused. In the wake of the Chhattisgarh incident, I visited a senior police officer with considerable experience in handling Naxalite issues, and to my surprise, he too was amused. He asked me a counter question: “What else do you think will happen when thousands of acres are given away to companies and lakhs of tribals are displaced? They are bound to fight back.” Feigning innocence, I asked him if this aspect is ever discussed in Delhi where plans are made to ‘root out the menace of Naxalism’. No, he replied. It is always about how many platoons should be sent, where and what kind of weapons they should be armed with.

This despite having the plain facts before us. It is now four decades since we saw ‘Spring Thunder’. During this period, some 10,000 people, supposedly Maoists, have been killed in encounters, thousands of crores have been spent on deploying forces and equipping them with modern weaponry, but all that we managed to do is to help the movement spread from one district in one state to over 200 districts in 15 states. I would not give the credit for this to the Maoists. It is the Indian state and its economic policies which are creating Maoists as we speak.

During my travels in Telangana, I happened to visit a Special Economic Zone that has displaced about 1,000 people. Their lands, abutting a national highway, were taken away by the government for sums ranging from Rs 18,000 to Rs 60,000 per acre. As construction began, the same farmers turned into coolies working for daily wages of Rs 100, carrying brick and sand on the same land they had once tilled. As the chief minister turned up to inaugurate a company’s unit, police fenced off the village to keep the oustees at bay lest they create trouble. It reminded me of the Indo-Pak border.

In another district, another company has been given close to 10,000 acres for an SEZ. All that the farmers got was around Rs 50,000 per acre while the SEZ promoter is now said to be quoting Rs 50 lakh per acre to those intending to set up a unit there. In the Agency areas of Visakhapatnam district, a government enterprise took up the responsibility of mining bauxite and handing over the ore to a foreign company for smelting because the law prevents private firms from exploiting natural resources in tribal areas. This is a Machiavellian way to circumvent the Constitution and the protection it offers to people who are vulnerable to exploitation. Most of the companies favoured with such SEZs have, as a quid pro quo, invested hundreds of crores in business ventures in which the powers-that-be have an interest. Who is to remind our rulers of the oath they take when they assume office that they will bear ‘true faith and allegiance to the Constitution’ and work ‘without fear or favour, affection or ill will’? And, tomorrow, if all those affected by these projects become Maoists, who are we to blame?

That is not all. Today, in the rural areas, our primary health centres don’t function, and government hospitals in towns and cities are on the verge of collapse. Every year, in the Agency areas of Andhra Pradesh, tribals die in the hundreds of curable diseases such as diarrhoea or malaria. Who cares for them? We have placed our healthcare system firmly in the control of corporate hospitals. We don’t care when tribal women are raped by security forces as is happening in the Agency areas of AP or Chhattisgarh but the molestation of a middle or upper middle class woman in Mumbai or Delhi becomes front page news for our media. I don’t condone the latter but this only reflects our class bias. Are we saying it is acceptable or tolerable for tribal women to be raped?

The same holds good for education. Gone are the days when government-run residential schools and colleges produced top rankers. Like healthcare, profit-oriented companies today control education and those who can’t get into their schools are made to feel they do not deserve to study. Thanks to globalisation, several sections have been pushed to the brink. Debt-ridden farmers and weavers are driven to suicide. In the cities, small businesses are being edged out by big companies selling everything from vegetables, footwear, milk and broomsticks to gold and petrol. Today, we have corporates which show off their stinking wealth by dumping thousands of crores on fashion shows like the Indian Premier League. Once upon a time we used to talk disapprovingly of the politician-businessman nexus. Now businessmen themselves get elected to legislatures and dictate our policies.

The revolutionary writer Vara Vara Rao was candid to tell me that it’s the government’s policies — displacing tribals to benefit MNCs — that have largely strengthened the Maoist movement, be it in Lalgarh, Orissa or Chhattisgarh. What globalisation and market fundamentalism have done in many South American countries should teach us the perils of our current economic policies, provided we are willing to learn from the experience. When Maoists held talks with the Y S Rajasekhara Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh five years ago, two of their main demands were: (a) implementation of land reforms and (b) laws meant to protect tribals and their rights over land. It is ironic that a group which does not believe in the Constitution had to tell a constitutionally-elected government what to do.

The fact is that city lights are not the real India. They are just a façade beneath which a volcano is bubbling. When our Union home minister talks of restoring order in Naxal-dominated areas, he does not seem to realise what the causes of disorder are. At some point, inflation, unequal distribution of income and corruption — our vice-president believes that corruption is a threat to national security while our prime minister thinks it is the Maoists — are bound to threaten social stability and state power too. The police officer I met very casually remarked to me that as long as Manmohanomics prevails, Maoism will survive, irrespective of how many forces you deploy and how many Naxalites you kill. The time has come for the Indian intelligentsia to debate whether Manmohanomics or Maoism is the gravest internal security threat.

About the author:
G S Vasu is the resident editor of The New Indian Express, Andhra Pradesh and is based in Hyderabad

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