Archive for February 16th, 2010

Everybody loves a Good Insurgency.

16 February 2010
At the turn of the millennium I got an opportunity to visit remote areas in Mizoram, Manipur & Nagaland in the company of Russian designers of the Tehri Dam project on Bhagirathi & Bhilangana rivers. We visited prospective dam sites along with officials of North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (a PSU). I heard then about dam related Environmental Impact Assessment studies and was witness in an area to how the submergence levels are marked in relation to prospective dam heights & impounded water levels, and how the ecological damages are estimated. I also read avidly out of curiosity the EIAs of Tipai Mukh & Tuiwai projects. I was pretty much disturbed by what I saw & read. Though I had no knowledge about how the EIA processes work, it was quite clear that the whole approach was cavalier and entire process was treated with disdain – a nuisance to be finished off by going through required motions. But that was not the only shocking thing I learnt. Some areas we visited were in regions where serious insurgencies held sway. Presence of paramilitary forces such as Assam Rifles was ubiquitous. Yet, it was business as usual. When I got people talking a reality emerged that was beyond my wildest imagination. Contractors, NEEPCO, Government Officials, Security Agencies, Insurgents, etc were all happy secretively because of the bonanza that was to be made. Insurgency is an extraordinary situation, so ordinary laws didn’t apply. Government taxes & the people pay under the laws of the country. Insurgents too taxed people by the unwritten law that they made – pay up or…., sort of protection money or safe passage toll. I was told there was a systematic parallel administration for tax collection run by the outfits opposed to Government of India. Government machinery was happy because laws of the land either became completely elastic or simply disappeared as inexpedient. Employees of NEEPCO told that even their PSU employer had evolved mechanisms to buy peace and top echelons were happy with the state of affairs because it gave them unthinkable financial freedom due to insurgency. In retrospect, I could, echoing P Sainath, call it : Everybody loves a Good Insurgency.

Fast forward to 2010, and from North East to Chhattisgarh; we now travel in the company of Smita Gupta & Tribhuvan Tiwari of Outlook India. Date change, Place change, but a variation of the theme still plays out in the Bastar Division.

© The Outlook Magazine.
In their words :
“….we decide to visit a prosperous Vanvasi Kalyan Kendra (an RSS affiliate) leader I have met before in Raipur. It’s a happy choice: within minutes, his living room fills up with local politicos-cum-businessmen, interestingly a cross-party mix. A Congress municipal councillor, who runs a bus service among other things, says private business is prospering in all the Maoist-affected districts. What about the Maoists, the class enemies of big business? He laughs. “If the government wants,” he says, “the Maoists can be finished off very quickly. But no one wants that—neither the BJP nor the Congress. Go and see for yourself. And the traders and businessmen who live there are so happily ensconced there that they don’t want to leave.” I turn to our host: he nods in agreement, as does everyone in the room. Most businessmen in the state, they say, pay their “taxes” to the Maoists and, in return, are permitted to function unmolested. Later, in Jagdalpur, Pawan Dubey, editor of two local papers, confirms this. “Most businessmen,” he tells us, “have patrons among the state ministers, getting contracts, for instance, for building roads under the government’s Gram Sadak Yojana in Bastar, roads that are never built—so it’s a cosy arrangement.” CPI (Maoist) politburo member Kishenji confirmed as much in an interview last year—that the Maoists regularly collect taxes from the corporates and the big bourgeoisie”.
But this is only small part of the story. There articles are by far the most comprehensive report I have seen, probably the best reporting piece on OGH & Bastar. Both Smita and Tribhuvan like other journalists are to be commended for bringing out the Dark Secrets of Bastar Division (& other Operation Green Hunt areas) that both Union & State governments would love to keep imprisoned for ever in obscurity & neglect. That the State is hell bent upon seizing mineral riches of Dandakaranya at whatever costs, which of course will be borne by indigenous communities & ecology, is emerging at least in some front line magazines like Outlook & Tehelka. It is a sign of hope. Maoists too are far more attached to their ideology and rhetoric rather than the welfare of Adivasis becomes clear from the interview. Except hike in tendu leaves price, they could cite pretty little by way of help to tribes. The ‘welfare’ programs run by the Hindu Organizations seem designed to train militant cadres for realizing their Hindu supremacy goal with little real concern for their wards. Such children were herded to Raipur press club (http://searchlight-…s-welcome-napm.html) to demonstrate against Medha Patkar as a propaganda & publicity tool. It was an obscene attempt. All the actors on the scene seem to be baking their own bread on the funeral pyre lit for the ‘Adivasis and their culture’.
Following articles are a must read for anyone interested in knowing what really is going in the name of Operation Green Hunt (Click the headings to follow the link). You may also leave your comments on their articles on the respective web sites so that they know the risks they are taking are well worth it.
From Tehelka Magazine :
Indian Express trundles on unmindful of reality :
Appearing in the Supreme Court for the State of Chhattisgarh in Writ Petition (Criminal) 103/2009, Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam dramatically declared, “….every officer in the area is marked for death. Police officers leave for duty every day with a death band around their heads”. He then goes on to describe challenges faced by the police officers saying they are “working in the tough terrain of Naxal areas, sandwiched between helpless tribals and people who take law into their hands and terrorise villagers…. the forces were trying their best to protect the villagers from “greater harm. There is no oppressor or oppressed here”. A question may be asked how exactly are the security forces trying to protect the villagers. From all independent accounts it appears that security forces are doing precisely those things that they and most of the mainstream media are accusing Maoists of perpetrating. Security forces and Maoists both know the threats that they face from each other. But the sad fact is that poor Adivasis don’t even know that they are marked, or by whom, or for why or when.