ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Revolution or Rebellion?

Days and Nights in the Heartland of Rebellion by Gautam Navlakha (New Delhi: Penguin), 2012; pp 272,Rs 299.

No less a person than our prime minister has repeatedly called it “the greatest menace to our democracy and our path of development”. Yet the author of this first-hand report on the activities and inspiring vision of the Maoist party in its bases in the Dandakaranya region of central India shows Maoists developing and empowering the poorest, the most neglected and oppressed group/s in our society, in a determined and systematic manner. The present finance minister had remarked that the Maoists were blocking development and conspiring to keep the poor tribals of the region out of the ambit of development that unhindered mining would have brought about, an observation that is likely to be challenged by “civil society” groups familiar with the region and its people. Indeed the “development” promoted by the Indian state is apparently regarded by the tribals as the greatest menace to their lives and livelihoods, and has been grimly resisted by the putative beneficiaries in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Jharkhand with unconcealed hatred and uncompromising tenacity.

The first 25 pages of the book are devoted to deflating various myths floated by the ruling-class media and the government against Maoists. It turns out that at bottom the fighting in the area has arisen out of the eagerness of bureaucrats and politicians to promote the interests of greedy corporates, resulting in hundreds of memoranda of understanding (MOUs) that threaten to evict millions of tribals from the region they have inhabited for millennia and drive them to destitution and death. At stake is a mineral-rich land from where 30 million tonnes of coal worth $3.2 billion had been exported by illegal mining companies in the five years up to 2009. Operation Green Hunt is not so much against Maoism as against resistance to this enormous plunder, now to be legalised through the MOUs (p 44ff). (Navlakha has bluntly called it a “war” by a state on its own people and from the other side of the barrier it is perceived as a justified armed struggle by an oppressed and deeply aggrieved people to preserve their lands, their identity and their dignity.) The Maoists have been the catalytic agents in the process of empowering the tribal people to work and fight for their own security and development, about the success of which the report does not leave the reviewer in any doubt. The Maoists, of course, have a broader and more forward-looking agenda and the tribal armed struggle is only an initial phase in the programme of a protracted revolutionary war. Personally I cannot see how the programme is to be extended to other regions of the country, for the same tactics are unlikely to succeed – in vastly different environments, and I am not privy to methods of mobilisation and struggle they might have worked out for other regions. A lot depends on their success in that task, even the ultimate sustainability of the success in Dandakaranya.

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