Arundhati Roy on Enclosure

By on 02/25/2010 in Uncategorized

Via Iain Boal – whose forthcoming book, The Long Theft: Episodes in the History of Enclosure, is going to rock the world – comes this lengthy and studied analysis from Arundhati Roy on the process of enclosure in India, and the criminalisation and extermination of people whose only crime is to live above certain minerals.

———-

Mr Chidambaram’s War
Arundhati Roy
Outlook India

The low, flat-topped hills of south Orissa have been home to the Dongria
Kondh long before there was a country called India or a state called
Orissa. The hills watched over the Kondh. The Kondh watched over the hills
and worshipped them as living deities. Now these hills have been sold for
the bauxite they contain. For the Kondh it’s as though god has been sold.
They ask how much god would go for if the god were Ram or Allah or Jesus
Christ?

Perhaps the Kondh are supposed to be grateful that their Niyamgiri hill,
home to their Niyam Raja, God of Universal Law, has been sold to a company
with a name like Vedanta (the branch of Hindu philosophy that teaches the
Ultimate Nature of Knowledge). It’s one of the biggest mining corporations
in the world and is owned by Anil Aggarwal, the Indian billionaire who
lives in London in a mansion that once belonged to the Shah of Iran.
Vedanta is only one of the many multinational corporations closing in on
Orissa.

If the flat-topped hills are destroyed, the forests that clothe them will
be destroyed too. So will the rivers and streams that flow out of them and
irrigate the plains below. So will the Dongria Kondh. So will the hundreds
of thousands of tribal people who live in the forested heart of India, and
whose homeland is similarly under attack.

In our smoky, crowded cities, some people say, “So what? Someone has to
pay the price of progress.” Some even say, “Let’s face it, these are
people whose time has come. Look at any developed country, Europe, the US,
Australia—they all have a ‘past’.” Indeed they do. So why shouldn’t “we”?

In keeping with this line of thought, the government has announced
Operation Green Hunt, a war purportedly against the “Maoist” rebels
headquartered in the jungles of central India. Of course, the Maoists are
by no means the only ones rebelling. There is a whole spectrum of
struggles all over the country that people are engaged in—the landless,
the Dalits, the homeless, workers, peasants, weavers. They’re pitted
against a juggernaut of injustices, including policies that allow a
wholesale corporate takeover of people’s land and resources. However, it
is the Maoists who the government has singled out as being the biggest
threat. Two years ago, when things were nowhere near as bad as they are
now, the prime minister described the Maoists as the “single-largest
internal security threat” to the country. This will probably go down as
the most popular and often-repeated thing he ever said. For some reason,
the comment he made on January 6, 2009, at a meeting of state chief
ministers, when he described the Maoists as having only “modest
capabilities” doesn’t seem to have had the same raw appeal. He revealed
his government’s real concern on June 18, 2009, when he told Parliament:
“If left-wing extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural
resources of minerals, the climate for investment would certainly be
affected.”

Who are the Maoists? They are members of the banned Communist Party of
India (Maoist)—CPI (Maoist)—one of the several descendants of the
Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), which led the 1969 Naxalite
uprising and was subsequently liquidated by the Indian government. The
Maoists believe that the innate, structural inequality of Indian society
can only be redressed by the violent overthrow of the Indian State. In its
earlier avatars as the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in Jharkhand and
Bihar, and the People’s War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists had
tremendous popular support. (When the ban on them was briefly lifted in
2004, one-and-a-half million people attended their rally in Warangal.) But
eventually their intercession in Andhra Pradesh ended badly. They left a
violent legacy that turned some of their staunchest supporters into harsh
critics. After a paroxysm of killing and counter-killing by the Andhra
police as well as the Maoists, the PWG was decimated.. Those who managed to
survive fled Andhra Pradesh into neighbouring Chhattisgarh. There, deep in
the heart of the forest, they joined colleagues who had already been
working there for decades.

Not many ‘outsiders’ have any first-hand experience of the real nature of
the Maoist movement in the forest. A recent interview with one of its top
leaders, Comrade Ganapathy, in Open magazine didn’t do much to change the
minds of those who view the Maoists as a party with an unforgiving,
totalitarian vision, which countenances no dissent whatsoever. Comrade
Ganapathy said nothing that would persuade people that, were the Maoists
ever to come to power, they would be equipped to properly address the
almost insane diversity of India’s caste-ridden society. His casual
approval of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka was
enough to send a shiver down even the most sympathetic of spines, not just
because of the brutal ways in which the LTTE chose to wage its war, but
also because of the cataclysmic tragedy that has befallen the Tamil people
of Sri Lanka, who it claimed to represent, and for whom it surely must
take some responsibility.

Right now in central India, the Maoists’ guerrilla army is made up almost
entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such
chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with
sub-Saharan Africa. They are people who, even after 60 years of India’s
so-called Independence, have not had access to education, healthcare or
legal redress. They are people who have been mercilessly exploited for
decades, consistently cheated by small businessmen and moneylenders, the
women raped as a matter of right by police and forest department
personnel. Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in large
part to the Maoist cadre who have lived and worked and fought by their
side for decades.

If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so because a government
which has given them nothing but violence and neglect now wants to snatch
away the last thing they have—their land. Clearly, they do not believe the
government when it says it only wants to “develop” their region. Clearly,
they do not believe that the roads as wide and flat as aircraft runways
that are being built through their forests in Dantewada by the National
Mineral Development Corporation are being built for them to walk their
children to school on. They believe that if they do not fight for their
land, they will be annihilated. That is why they have taken up arms.

Even if the ideologues of the Maoist movement are fighting to eventually
overthrow the Indian State, right now even they know that their ragged,
malnutritioned army, the bulk of whose soldiers have never seen a train or
a bus or even a small town, are fighting only for survival.

In 2008, an expert group appointed by the Planning Commission submitted a
report called ‘Development Challenges in Extremist-Affected Areas’. It
said, “the Naxalite (Maoist) movement has to be recognised as a political
movement with a strong base among the landless and poor peasantry and
adivasis. Its emergence and growth need to be contextualised in the social
conditions and experience of people who form a part of it. The huge gap
between state policy and performance is a feature of these conditions..
Though its professed long-term ideology is capturing state power by force,
in its day-to-day manifestation, it is to be looked upon as basically a
fight for social justice, equality, protection, security and local
development.” A very far cry from the “single-largest internal security
threat”. Since the Maoist rebellion is the flavour of the week, everybody,
from the sleekest fat cat to the most cynical editor of the most sold-out
newspaper in this country, seems to be suddenly ready to concede that it
is decades of accumulated injustice that lies at the root of the problem.
But instead of addressing that problem, which would mean putting the
brakes on this 21st century gold rush, they are trying to head the debate
off in a completely different direction, with a noisy outburst of pious
outrage about Maoist “terrorism”. But they’re only speaking to themselves.

The people who have taken to arms are not spending all their time watching
(or performing for) TV, or reading the papers, or conducting SMS polls for
the Moral Science question of the day: Is Violence Good or Bad? SMS your
reply to…. They’re out there. They’re fighting. They believe they have
the right to defend their homes and their land. They believe that they
deserve justice.

In order to keep its better-off citizens absolutely safe from these
dangerous people, the government has declared war on them. A war, which it
tells us, may take between three and five years to win. Odd, isn’t it,
that even after the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, the government was prepared
to talk with Pakistan? It’s prepared to talk to China. But when it comes
to waging war against the poor, it’s playing hard. It’s not enough that
Special Police—with totemic names like Greyhounds, Cobras and
Scorpions—are scouring the forests with a licence to kill. It’s not enough
that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force
(BSF) and the notorious Naga Battalion have already wreaked havoc and
committed unconscionable atrocities in remote forest villages. It’s not
enough that the government supports and arms the Salwa Judum, the
“people’s militia” that has killed and raped and burned its way through
the forests of Dantewada leaving three hundred thousand people homeless,
or on the run. Now the government is going to deploy the Indo-Tibetan
Border Police and tens of thousands of paramilitary troops. It plans to
set up a brigade headquarters in Bilaspur (which will displace nine
villages) and an air base in Rajnandgaon (which will displace seven).
Obviously, these decisions were taken a while ago. Surveys have been done,
sites chosen. Interesting. War has been in the offing for a while. And now
the helicopters of the Indian air force have been given the right to fire
in “self-defence”, the very right that the government denies its poorest
citizens.

Fire at whom? How in god’s name will the security forces be able to
distinguish a Maoist from an ordinary person who is running terrified
through the jungle? Will adivasis carrying the bows and arrows they have
carried for centuries now count as Maoists too? Are non-combatant Maoist
sympathisers valid targets? When I was in Dantewada, the Superintendent of
Police showed me pictures of 19 “Maoists” who “his boys” had killed. I
asked him how I was supposed to tell they were Maoists. He said, “See
Ma’am, they have malaria medicines, Dettol bottles, all these things from
outside.”

What kind of war is Operation Green Hunt going to be? Will we ever know?
Not much news comes out of the forests. Lalgarh in West Bengal has been
cordoned off. Those who try to go in are being beaten and arrested. And
called Maoists of course. In Dantewada, the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram, a
Gandhian ashram run by Himanshu Kumar, was bulldozed in a few hours. It
was the last neutral outpost before the war zone begins, a place where
journalists, activists, researchers and fact-finding teams could stay
while they worked in the area.

Meanwhile, the Indian establishment has unleashed its most potent weapon.
Almost overnight, our embedded media has substituted its steady supply of
planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about ‘Islamist Terrorism’
with planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about ‘Red Terrorism’.
In the midst of this racket, at Ground Zero, the cordon of silence is
being inexorably tightened. The ‘Sri Lanka Solution’ could very well be on
the cards. It’s not for nothing that the Indian government blocked a
European move in the UN asking for an international probe into war crimes
committed by the government of Sri Lanka in its recent offensive against
the Tamil Tigers.

The first move in that direction is the concerted campaign that has been
orchestrated to shoehorn the myriad forms of resistance taking place in
this country into a simple George Bush binary: If you are not with us, you
are with the Maoists. The deliberate exaggeration of the Maoist ‘threat’
helps the State to justify militarisation. (And surely does no harm to the
Maoists. Which political party would be unhappy to be singled out for such
attention?) While all the oxygen is being used up by this new doppelganger
of the War on Terror, the State will use the opportunity to mop up the
hundreds of other resistance movements in the sweep of its military
operation, calling them all Maoist sympathisers. I use the future tense,
but this process is well under way. The West Bengal government tried to do
this in Nandigram and Singur but failed. Right now in Lalgarh, the Pulishi
Santrash Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee or the People’s Committee
Against Police Atrocities—which is a people’s movement that is separate
from, though sympathetic to, the Maoists—is routinely referred to as an
overground wing of the CPI (Maoist). Its leader, Chhatradhar Mahato, now
arrested and being held without bail, is always called a “Maoist leader”.
We all know the story of Dr Binayak Sen, a medical doctor and a civil
liberties activist, who spent two years in jail on the absolutely facile
charge of being a courier for the Maoists. While the light shines brightly
on Operation Green Hunt, in other parts of India, away from the theatre of
war, the assault on the rights of the poor, of workers, of the landless,
of those whose lands the government wishes to acquire for “public
purpose”, will pick up pace. Their suffering will deepen and it will be
that much harder for them to get a hearing. Once the war begins, like all
wars, it will develop a momentum, a logic and an economics of its own. It
will become a way of life, almost impossible to reverse. The police will
be expected to behave like an army, a ruthless killing machine. The
paramilitary will be expected to become like the police, a corrupt,
bloated administrative force. We’ve seen it happen in Nagaland, Manipur
and Kashmir. The only difference in the ‘heartland’ will be that it’ll
become obvious very quickly to the security forces that they’re only a
little less wretched than the people they’re fighting. In time, the divide
between the people and the law enforcers will become porous. Guns and
ammunition will be bought and sold. In fact, it’s already happening.
Whether it’s the security forces or the Maoists or non-combatant
civilians, the poorest people will die in this Rich People’s War. However,
if anybody believes that this war will leave them unaffected, they should
think again. The resources it’ll consume will cripple the economy of this
country.

Last week, civil liberties groups from all over the country organised a
series of meetings in Delhi to discuss what could be done to turn the tide
and stop the war. The absence of Dr Balagopal, one of the best-known civil
rights activists of Andhra Pradesh, who died two weeks ago, closed around
us like a physical pain. He was one of the bravest, wisest political
thinkers of our time and left us just when we needed him most. Still, I’m
sure he would have been reassured to hear speaker after speaker displaying
the vision, the depth, the experience, the wisdom, the political acuity
and, above all, the real humanity of the community of activists,
academics, lawyers, judges and a range of other people who make up the
civil liberties community in India. Their presence in the capital
signalled that outside the arclights of our TV studios and beyond the
drumbeat of media hysteria, even among India’s middle classes, a humane
heart still beats. Small wonder then that these are the people who the
Union home minister recently accused of creating an “intellectual climate”
that was conducive to “terrorism”. If that charge was meant to frighten
people, to cow them down, it had the opposite effect.

The speakers represented a range of opinion from the liberal to the
radical Left. Though none of those who spoke would describe themselves as
Maoist, few were opposed in principle to the idea that people have a right
to defend themselves against State violence. Many were uncomfortable about
Maoist violence, about the ‘people’s courts’ that delivered summary
justice, about the authoritarianism that was bound to permeate an armed
struggle and marginalise those who did not have arms. But even as they
expressed their discomfort, they knew that people’s courts only existed
because India’s courts are out of the reach of ordinary people and that
the armed struggle that has broken out in the heartland is not the first,
but the very last option of a desperate people pushed to the very brink of
existence. The speakers were aware of the dangers of trying to extract a
simple morality out of individual incidents of heinous violence, in a
situation that had already begun to look very much like war. Everybody had
graduated long ago from equating the structural violence of the State with
the violence of the armed resistance. In fact, retired Justice P.B. Sawant
went so far as to thank the Maoists for forcing the establishment of this
country to pay attention to the egregious injustice of the system.
Hargopal from Andhra Pradesh spoke of his experience as a civil rights
activist through the years of the Maoist interlude in his state. He
mentioned in passing the fact that in a few days in Gujarat in 2002, Hindu
mobs led by the Bajrang Dal and the VHP had killed more people than the
Maoists ever had even in their bloodiest days in Andhra Pradesh.

People who had come from the war zones, from Lalgarh, Jharkhand,
Chhattisgarh and Orissa, described the police repression, the arrests, the
torture, the killing, the corruption, and the fact that in places like
Orissa, they seemed to take orders directly from the officials who worked
for the mining companies.. People described the dubious, malign role being
played by certain NGOs funded by aid agencies wholly devoted to furthering
corporate prospects. Again and again they spoke of how in Jharkhand and
Chhattisgarh activists as well as ordinary people—anyone who was seen to
be a dissenter—were being branded Maoists and imprisoned. They said that
this, more than anything else, was pushing people to take up arms and join
the Maoists. They asked how a government that professed its inability to
resettle even a fraction of the fifty million people who had been
displaced by “development” projects was suddenly able to identify 1,40,000
hectares of prime land to give to industrialists for more than 300 Special
Economic Zones, India’s onshore tax havens for the rich. They asked what
brand of justice the Supreme Court was practising when it refused to
review the meaning of ‘public purpose’ in the Land Acquisition Act even
when it knew that the government was forcibly acquiring land in the name
of ‘public purpose’ to give to private corporations. They asked why when
the government says that “the Writ of the State must run”, it seems to
only mean that police stations must be put in place. Not schools or
clinics or housing, or clean water, or a fair price for forest produce, or
even being left alone and free from the fear of the police—anything that
would make people’s lives a little easier. They asked why the ‘Writ of the
State’ could never be taken to mean justice.

There was a time, perhaps 10 years ago, when in meetings like these,
people were still debating the model of “development” that was being
thrust on them by the New Economic Policy. Now the rejection of that model
is complete. It is absolute. Everyone from the Gandhians to the Maoists
agree on that. The only question now is, what is the most effective way to
dismantle it?

An old college friend of a friend, a big noise in the corporate world, had
come along for one of the meetings out of morbid curiosity about a world
he knew very little about. Even though he had disguised himself in a
Fabindia kurta, he couldn’t help looking (and smelling) expensive. At one
point, he leaned across to me and said, “Someone should tell them not to
bother. They won’t win this one. They have no idea what they’re up
against. With the kind of money that’s involved here, these companies can
buy ministers and media barons and policy wonks, they can run their own
NGOs, their own militias, they can buy whole governments. They’ll even buy
the Maoists. These good people here should save their breath and find
something better to do.”

When people are being brutalised, what ‘better’ thing is there for them to
do than to fight back? It’s not as though anyone’s offering them a choice,
unless it’s to commit suicide, like the 1,80,000 farmers caught in a
spiral of debt have done. (Am I the only one who gets the distinct feeling
that the Indian establishment and its representatives in the media are far
more comfortable with the idea of poor people killing themselves in
despair than with the idea of them fighting back?)

For several years, people in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West
Bengal—some of them Maoists, many not—have managed to hold off the big
corporations. The question now is—how will Operation Green Hunt change the
nature of their struggle? What exactly are the fighting people up against?
SEZ who: Is it development?

It’s true that, historically, mining companies have almost always won
their battles against local people. Of all corporations, leaving aside the
ones that make weapons, they
probably have the most merciless past. They are cynical, battle-hardened
campaigners and when people say ‘Jaan denge par jameen nahin denge (We’ll
give away our lives, but never our land)’, it probably bounces off them
like a light drizzle on a bomb shelter. They’ve heard it before, in a
thousand different languages, in a hundred different countries.

Right now in India, many of them are still in the First Class Arrivals
lounge, ordering cocktails, blinking slowly like lazy predators, waiting
for the Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) they have signed—some as far
back as 2005—to materialise into real money. But four years in a First
Class lounge is enough to test the patience of even the truly tolerant.
There’s only that much space they’re willing to make for the elaborate, if
increasingly empty, rituals of democratic practice: the (rigged) public
hearings, the (fake) Environmental Impact Assessments, the (purchased)
clearances from various ministries, the long-drawn-out court cases. Even
phony democracy is time-consuming. And time, for industrialists, is money.

So what kind of money are we talking about? In their seminal,
soon-to-be-published work, Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the
Aluminum Cartel, Samarendra Das and Felix Padel say that the financial
value of the bauxite deposits of Orissa alone is 2.27 trillion dollars.
(More than twice India’s Gross Domestic Product). That was at 2004 prices.
At today’s prices it would be about 4 trillion dollars. A trillion has 12
zeroes.

Of this, officially the government gets a royalty of less than 7 per cent.
Quite often, if the mining company is a known and recognised one, the
chances are that, even though the ore is still in the mountain, it will
have already been traded on the futures market. So, while for the adivasis
the mountain is still a living deity, the fountainhead of life and faith,
the keystone of the ecological health of the region, for the corporation,
it’s just a cheap storage facility. Goods in storage have to be
accessible. From the corporation’s point of view, the bauxite will have to
come out of the mountain. If it can’t be done peacefully, then it will
have to be done violently. Such are the pressures and the exigencies of
the free market.

That’s just the story of the bauxite in Orissa. Expand the four trillion
dollars to include the value of the millions of tonnes of high-quality
iron ore in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and the 28 other precious mineral
resources, including uranium, limestone, dolomite, coal, tin, granite,
marble, copper, diamond, gold, quartzite, corundum, beryl, alexandrite,
silica, fluorite and garnet. Add to that the power plants, the dams, the
highways, the steel and cement factories, the aluminium smelters, and all
the other infrastructure projects that are part of the hundreds of MoUs
(more than 90 in Jharkhand alone) that have been signed. That gives us a
rough outline of the scale of the operation and the desperation of the
stakeholders. The forest once known as the Dandakaranya, which stretches
from West Bengal through Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, parts of Andhra
Pradesh and Maharashtra, is home to millions of India’s tribal people. The
media has taken to calling it the Red corridor or the Maoist corridor. It
could just as accurately be called the MoUist corridor. It doesn’t seem to
matter at all that the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution provides
protection to adivasi people and disallows the alienation of their land.
It looks as though the clause is there only to make the Constitution look
good—a bit of window-dressing, a slash of make-up. Scores of corporations,
from relatively unknown ones to the biggest mining companies and steel
manufacturers in the world, are in the fray to appropriate adivasi
homelands—the Mittals, Jindals, Tata, Essar, Posco, Rio Tinto, BHP
Billiton and, of course, Vedanta.

There’s an MoU on every mountain, river and forest glade. We’re talking
about social and environmental engineering on an unimaginable scale. And
most of this is secret. It’s not in the public domain. Somehow I don’t
think that the plans that are afoot to destroy one of the world’s most
pristine forests and ecosystems, as well as the people who live in it,
will be discussed at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Our
24-hour news channels that are so busy hunting for macabre stories of
Maoist violence—and making them up when they run out of the real
thing—seem to have no interest at all in this side of the story. I wonder
why?

Perhaps it’s because the development lobby to which they are so much in
thrall says the mining industry will ratchet up the rate of GDP growth
dramatically and provide employment to the people it displaces. This does
not take into account the catastrophic costs of environmental damage. But
even on its own narrow terms, it is simply untrue. Most of the money goes
into the bank accounts of the mining corporations. Less than 10 per cent
comes to the public exchequer. A very tiny percentage of the displaced
people get jobs, and those who do, earn slave-wages to do humiliating,
backbreaking work. By caving in to this paroxysm of greed, we are
bolstering other countries’ economies with our ecology.

When the scale of money involved is what it is, the stakeholders are not
always easy to identify. Between the CEOs in their private jets and the
wretched tribal Special Police Officers in the “people’s” militias—who for
a couple of thousand rupees a month fight their own people, rape, kill and
burn down whole villages in an effort to clear the ground for mining to
begin—there is an entire universe of primary, secondary and tertiary
stakeholders. These people don’t have to declare their interests, but
they’re allowed to use their positions and good offices to further them.
How will we ever know which political party, which ministers, which MPs,
which politicians, which judges, which NGOs, which expert consultants,
which police officers, have a direct or indirect stake in the booty? How
will we know which newspapers reporting the latest Maoist “atrocity”,
which TV channels “reporting directly from Ground Zero”—or, more
accurately, making it a point not to report from Ground Zero, or even more
accurately, lying blatantly from Ground Zero—are stakeholders?

What is the provenance of the billions of dollars (several times more than
India’s GDP) secretly stashed away by Indian citizens in Swiss bank
accounts? Where did the two billion dollars spent on the last general
elections come from? Where do the hundreds of millions of rupees that
political parties and politicians pay the media for the ‘high-end’,
‘low-end’ and ‘live’ pre-election ‘coverage packages’ that P. Sainath
recently wrote about come from? (The next time you see a TV anchor
haranguing a numb studio guest, shouting, “Why don’t the Maoists stand for
elections? Why don’t they come in to the mainstream?”, do SMS the channel
saying, “Because they can’t afford your rates.”)

What are we to make of the fact that the Union home minister, P.
Chidambaram, the CEO of Operation Green Hunt, has, in his career as a
corporate lawyer, represented several mining corporations? What are we to
make of the fact that he was a non-executive director of Vedanta—a
position from which he resigned the day he became finance minister in
2004? What are we to make of the fact that, when he became finance
minister, one of the first clearances he gave for FDI was to Twinstar
Holdings, a Mauritius-based company, to buy shares in Sterlite, a part of
the Vedanta group?

What are we to make of the fact that, when activists from Orissa filed a
case against Vedanta in the Supreme Court, citing its violations of
government guidelines and pointing out that the Norwegian Pension Fund had
withdrawn its investment from the company alleging gross environmental
damage and human rights violations committed by the company, Justice
Kapadia suggested that Vedanta be substituted with Sterlite, a sister
company of the same group? He then blithely announced in an open court
that he too had shares in Sterlite. He gave forest clearance to Sterlite
to go ahead with the mining despite the fact that the Supreme Court’s own
expert committee had explicitly said that permission should be denied and
that mining would ruin the forests, water sources, environment and the
lives and livelihoods of the thousands of tribals living there. Justice
Kapadia gave this clearance without rebutting the report of the Supreme
Court’s own committee.

What are we to make of the fact that the Salwa Judum, the brutal
ground-clearing operation disguised as a “spontaneous” people’s militia in
Dantewada, was formally inaugurated in 2005, just days after the MoU with
the Tatas was signed? And that the Jungle Warfare Training School in
Bastar was set up just around then?

What are we to make of the fact that two weeks ago, on October 12, the
mandatory public hearing for Tata Steel’s Rs 10,000-crore steel project in
Lohandiguda, Dantewada, was held in a small hall inside the collectorate,
cordoned off with massive security, with a hired audience of 50 tribal
people brought in from two Bastar villages in a convoy of government
jeeps? (The public hearing was declared a success and the district
collector congratulated the people of Bastar for their cooperation.)

What are we to make of the fact that just around the time the prime
minister began to call the Maoists the “single-largest internal security
threat” (which was a signal that the government was getting ready to go
after them), the share prices of many of the mining companies in the
region skyrocketed?

The mining companies desperately need this “war”. It’s an old technique.
They hope the impact of the violence will drive out the people who have so
far managed to resist the attempts that have been made to evict them.
Whether this will indeed be the outcome, or whether it’ll simply swell the
ranks of the Maoists remains to be seen.

Reversing this argument, Dr Ashok Mitra, former finance minister of West
Bengal, in an article called ‘The Phantom Enemy’, argues that the “grisly
serial murders” that the Maoists are committing are a classic tactic,
learned from guerrilla warfare textbooks. He suggests that they have built
and trained a guerrilla army that is now ready to take on the Indian
State, and that the Maoist ‘rampage’ is a deliberate attempt on their part
to invite the wrath of a blundering, angry Indian State which the Maoists
hope will commit acts of cruelty that will enrage the adivasis. That rage,
Dr Mitra says, is what the Maoists hope can be harvested and transformed
into an insurrection. This, of course, is the charge of ‘adventurism’ that
several currents of the Left have always levelled at the Maoists. It
suggests that Maoist ideologues are not above inviting destruction on the
very people they claim to represent in order to bring about a revolution
that will bring them to power. Ashok Mitra is an old Communist who had a
ringside seat during the Naxalite uprising of the ’60s and ’70s in West
Bengal. His views cannot be summarily dismissed. But it’s worth keeping in
mind that the adivasi people have a long and courageous history of
resistance that predates the birth of Maoism. To look upon them as
brainless puppets being manipulated by a few middle-class Maoist
ideologues is to do them something of a disservice.

Presumably Dr Mitra is talking about the situation in Lalgarh where, up to
now, there has been no talk of mineral wealth. (Lest we forget—the current
uprising in Lalgarh was sparked off over the chief minister’s visit to
inaugurate a Jindal Steel factory. And where there’s a steel factory, can
the iron ore be very far away?) The people’s anger has to do with their
desperate poverty, and the decades of suffering at the hands of the police
and the ‘Harmads’, the armed militia of the Communist Party of India
(Marxist) that has ruled West Bengal for more than 30 years.

Even if, for argument’s sake, we don’t ask what tens of thousands of
police and paramilitary troops are doing in Lalgarh, and we accept the
theory of Maoist ‘adventurism’, it would still be only a very small part
of the picture.

The real problem is that the flagship of India’s miraculous ‘growth’ story
has run aground. It came at a huge social and environmental cost. And now,
as the rivers dry up and forests disappear, as the water table recedes and
as people realise what is being done to them, the chickens are coming home
to roost. All over the country, there’s unrest, there are protests by
people refusing to give up their land and their access to resources,
refusing to believe false promises any more. Suddenly, it’s beginning to
look as though the 10 per cent growth rate and democracy are mutually
incompatible. To get the bauxite out of the flat-topped hills, to get iron
ore out from under the forest floor, to get 85 per cent of India’s people
off their land and into the cities (which is what Mr Chidambaram says he’d
like to see), India has to become a police state. The government has to
militarise. To justify that militarisation, it needs an enemy. The Maoists
are that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalists what the Muslims are
to Hindu fundamentalists. (Is there a fraternity of fundamentalists? Is
that why the RSS has expressed open admiration for Mr Chidambaram?)

It would be a grave mistake to imagine that the paramilitary troops, the
Rajnandgaon air base, the Bilaspur brigade headquarters, the Unlawful
Activities Act, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and Operation
Green Hunt are all being put in place just to flush out a few thousand
Maoists from the forests. In all the talk of Operation Green Hunt, whether
or not Mr Chidambaram goes ahead and “presses the button”, I detect the
kernel of a coming state of Emergency. (Here’s a math question: If it
takes 600,000 soldiers to hold down the tiny valley of Kashmir, how many
will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of
people?)

Instead of narco-analysing Kobad Ghandy, the recently arrested Maoist
leader, it might be a better idea to talk to him.